Developer: Now Production.
: Released October 30th, 2012, for 3DS and DS at an MSRP of $29.99, and for Wii at an MSRP of $39.99. WiiU version to be released at later date.
: Rob Clay(RAC)
All images in this review are promotional images courtesy of Activision. Actual gameplay footage will differ.
On the heels of Fall of Cybertron, Activision releases Transformers Prime: The Game for the Nintendo platforms that didn't receive FoC. While High Moon Studios' game is aimed at adult gamers and fans, NowPro's Transformers Prime design choices clearly mark it as a game for younger Transformers fans.
The story is set sometime in the second season of Transformers Prime- though there's no specific point at which this particular combination of Decepticons was active and working together. It centers around the discovery of a Dark Energon-laden meteor, the Decepticons' attempts to harvest it, and the aftermath of the Autobots' attempts to stop them. A new character is introduced for the game: the Transformers Prime incarnation of Thunderwing. While this is his first appearance in the "aligned" continuity, he's defnitely more in his IDW mode here than in his Marvel G1 style.
The story is pretty well in line with a Transformers Prime episode, right down to the Autobots being outmanned, outgunned and searching for scattered Cybertronian artifacts on Earth. Of course, it's entirely self-contained and not directly dependent on any specific point in the season 2 continuity. The dialogue is by Dan Jolley,
who has worked on Transformers games before, but not on Prime. While a couple lines come across as clunky, (and they're clunky in what I'd describe as a very classic, comic-book way, which fits with his other writing credits) he has a good grasp of the characters and setting overall.
Gameplay and Control
Surprisingly, the Wii and 3DS versions of the game are nearly identical except for controls. While goals vary, the gameplay is split into stages for Robot or Vehicle mode. You can't transform to Robot Mode in the driving stages, but you can transform freely during the Robot-oriented stages which make up the bulk of the game. In fact, you'll have to in order to clear some of the stages. The bulk of the game plays like a brawler with some additional shooting elements- while it's quicker and easier to take some enemies out at range, melee attacks tend to be more damaging in general. Landing attacks fills your Upgrade meter, which when activated gives each Autobot a special weapon that gives longer melee combos and additional damage for a short period of time. Most of these aren't from the show in any way, with Arcee's arm-blades being the notable exception. Optimus Prime gets an axe as opposed to the sword his movie and Prime incarnations favor- fine by me since it's his signature weapon in most other continuities.
Controls are largely responsive, with a few quirks. The melee combo system is simple but generally effective, with three combos available using combinations of the A and B buttons. You fire your weapon with Y- holding the button gets you continuous fire, and tapping then holding gets you a charged shot. That gets a little bit tricky in boss fights and heavy crossfire. What is even trickier is that while you have a much-needed target lock, it's accomplished by holding the L button, meaning that throughout every boss fight and in fact for most of the game you will be clenching the 3DS at- for me at least -a very uncomfortable angle. Changing this from a hold to a toggle, an option that goes back at least as far as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time,
would have been a very welcome change. X transforms your Autobot, and the vehicular controls are fairly smooth. The jump button gets you the Vehicle Jump, a key gameplay move that smoothly transforms you from vehicle to robot and back. I do like how seamlessly transformation is incorporated into the gameplay in the Robot stages. The driving stages use the same basic controls, though in those stages where you have a human passenger you'll be unable to use the Vehicle Jump.
While these basic controls are the same for every Autobot, there are some variations in their gameplay- for example, Arcee is faster and has a high rate of fire where Bulkhead is slow and fires fewer shots, but ones with more power. The variations are there, but where Fall of Cybertron played up the differences between each Transformer in their gameplay style Transformers Prime: The Game tends to make the character selection for its stages a bit more arbitrary. There's no particular reason you couldn't put Bulkhead through an Arcee stage except that the story demands it be Arcee. A Free Mode with full character select would've been a nice bonus here.
Level design is where the game's most clearly aimed at kids. The first few stages are very straightforward. Literally: there is a straight path, and you move forward. The maps get a little more involved by the end, but there's pretty much always one way to go. The 3DS' bottom screen serves as a map, and lets you know clearly where every pickup, enemy and waypoint are located. There are some bits of the level design I particularly like, most notably in Ratchet's stage, where you have to use both Vehicle and Robot Modes to get through some brief puzzles. I suspect this is where the developers really wanted to take the game- their NES pedigree showing somewhat -but the requirements of an all-ages game kept them from taking it as far as I might have liked.
The difficulty does ramp up as you go, with the game throwing stronger and more numerous enemies at you towards the end. Naturally, the game's cannon fodder is the series': Vehicons. While the Car and Jet Vehicons are represented here, the game also adds Tanks, which are shielded, Helicopters, which are snipers, and Trucks, which generate melee-preventing energy fields. The latter are the last new type to be introduced and when combined with enough other enemies can be a source of mild frustration. In the classic brawler style, sometimes the enemies won't give you a chance to stand back up. But the bulk of the difficulty comes from boss fights, which can get difficult even with the superiority of the 3DS' controls over the Wii version. Fortunately, you're given the option to retry with an energy boost whenever you fail a mission. The game will even give you progressively more energy each time until you make it through.
Unlockables are represented in the form of a Gallery with concept art both from Transformers Prime the series and Transformers Prime: The Game. The most desirable unlockable content- the ability to play Decepticons in multiplayer and new multiplayer stages - are unlocked as you complete the game regardless of how well you do. I think that's a smart choice. The Cybertronian Artifacts you can find in each level unlock some of the Gallery extras, and the rest are unlocked based on your rating at the end of each level. Ratings are based on completion time, number of collection items picked up and health lost during the stage. The game also awards Emblems- basically achievements/trophies -for meeting certain conditions during a stage such as clearing a timed mission with time left on the clock. There's a lot to do for completists, but the benefits for completion get progessively less impressive with how difficult a goal is to achieve. In a game for kids, I think this is the right choice.
The Multiplayer modes are not as deep as Fall of Cybertron's, presented here more as a bonus than as a separate game unto itself. There are no real variations on character control, but the mode does give you the opportunity to control the Decepticons, which isn't possible in the main game. What it doesn't do is let two or more players select the same character, and I see a lot of potential arguments coming from that one for parents who buy their kids the Prime game. Multiplayer is only available by local wireless, but that may be just as well since lag of any kind would kill any fun you'd derive from playing online. In case you don't know anyone else with a copy of the game there's also the option to fight the CPU solo, which I appreciate. First of the three modes is Brawl, a simple one-on-one fight that plays out much like the boss battles of the main game. Energon Match gives you a small sliver of life in a timed match and gives points for killing the enemy as well as penalties for being killed. Emblem Battle puts an "emblem" (a flag, for multiplayer purposes) in the playfield and gives you points for holding onto it. You lose the emblem if you're hit, fall out of the arena, or die. You're also penalized ten points for every death. They're all interesting variations on the regular gameplay, but unlike the super-involving FoC multiplayer I can't see them becoming a full-time game after you've cleared Story Mode.
The graphics are quite good for a handheld. The characters are all modeled faithfully, though the fine details are a bit soft. I'm not sure if this is a limitation of the 3DS or simply how the characters were modeled, but I suspect it's the former. The detail level overall is probably that of a PS2 game from the beginning or middle of the console's life-cycle. The levels are crisply rendered and decently colorful, moreso on the levels Cybertronian in design.
The major graphical difference between the Wii and 3DS versions is the 3D display, which isn't really used to its fullest here. Primarily, the effect used is to give a feeling of depth between the HUD and the rest of the screen. As is the case with movies converted to 3D, this is probably a side-effect of the game not being specifically developed for the format. Since the hardware limitations of the 3DS give a much smaller effective viewing angle with 3D turned on, I was perfectly happy to leave it turned off for most of the game. In a way that's disappointing, but in another I'm glad to see a 3DS game not completely dependent on the 3D gimmick. It was far too late in the DS' run that developers learned to ignore the system's gimmicky options if they weren't helpful to the gameplay.
The series' theme is represented here, and the rest of the music seems to be original to the game. It serves its purpose fairly well, although I could do without heavy choral pieces for boss fights at this point- it's been done. I'm honestly not sure if sound effects are taken directly from the series or not, but they're close enough as not to sound out of place. What is
taken directly from the series is the voice cast, who do their usual good job with the parts. There's something in particular about Jeffrey Combs' laugh during Ratchet's Upgrade Mode combos that really amuses me. Peter Cullen's Optimus Prime performance is true to the Prime cartoon and hearing it in a game really drives home the idea that Fall of Cybertron Optimus is played as a much younger character- between the two games you get a much better idea of Cullen's range as an actor. Frank Welker slips into a more G1ish mode for Megatron at times, particularly during fight sequences, but that strikes me as true of the character in animation as well: the crazy, less-controlled G1 Megatron is always there trying to get out,
both in his characterization and in his voice. The most notable absense from the game is Agent Fowler- I guess Ernie Hudson was not available when the game was put together, be it because of schedule or finances. But I do appreciate that Fowler was simply left out of the game altogether rather than recast. The production values on the game are high, all told.
While the natural impulse would be to compare Transformers Prime: The Game to Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, and I've done that here in a limited fashion, it's really not the same kind of game. FoC represents a highly polished big-ticket game made by adult fans for adult fans, where Prime is a reasonably well-made licensed game that has to be fun for kids first and hopefully entertaining for adults as well. The gameplay is solid with a few frustrating tics, and the overall presentation is better than the average licensed game- it's clear that care was taken to make the game look and sound like Transformers Prime. Since the two games are identical, I recommend the 3DS version over the Wii release if you have both systems; the Wii motion controls don't seem to add much to the game, and unlike the 3DS' 3D effects, they can't be turned off. On the 3DS, Transformers Prime: The Game is a Good game.