It seems like the Autobots and Decepticons have been waging war since before I was born. Wait - that's because they have! The latest iteration of the 28-year-old series, "Transformers Prime", has earned three Daytime Emmys and has shown no signs of slowing down. Is "Transformers Prime: The Game" a welcome addition to the Transformers canon, or is it a mere money-grab attempt to cash in on the success of the show? Let's find out!
Unlike its brand brethren “War for Cybertron” and “Fall for Cybertron”, Transformers Prime: The Game is an adventure accessible exclusively through the eyes of the Autobots. However, the player does get the opportunity to control five different protagonists throughout the game's thirteen chapters: Optimus Prime, Arcee, Bulkhead, Bumblebee, and Ratchet.
Every Autobot controls the same way in both battle and vehicle mode. In battle mode, B is your jump button, A is your melee attack button, Y allows you to fire a laser charge at Decepticons, and if you hold it down it will charge up into a larger blast. X let’s you do what you came to do – transform! R brings up a shield that can withstand some enemy attacks and L allows you to lock onto enemies during combat. I enjoyed the combat control scheme quite a bit, the only exception being the X button’s use as the transform button, which I would frequently hit by mistake during battles. Seeing as I didn’t use the shield much during the game, I would have preferred the right trigger be responsible for my characters’ namesake ability as opposed to the X button.
The controls in vehicle mode are a bit more limited. Your X button will send you back into battle mode, your Y button still fires lasers and your L button still allows you to target Decepticons. The B button allows you to jump into your battle stance for a moment then land back in your vehicle mode, a nifty feature that allows you to cross great distances more effectively. The A button performs two functions in vehicle mode. If you hold it down, your engine will charge and upon releasing the button you’ll get a speed boost that will send your Autobot charging forward. A quick tap of the A button will make the character perform a quick transform back into battle mode that doubles as a melee attack, cool for speeding up on enemies then smacking them out of nowhere. The instruction manual claims that double-tapping (or holding – I tried both) the R button will enable your vehicle to do a 180 spin, but I was never able to get this ability to work. It didn’t hinder my ability to play the game, although it would’ve been pretty sick to spin on the fly as often as I wanted.
As far as responsiveness goes, I never had issue with buttons performing their dictated actions in either mode (except for the aforementioned R button issue in vehicle mode). The D-pad takes some getting used to as the primary motion scheme, but that’s more the fault of the DS’s lack of an analog stick than the design of the game. A design feature that did severely underwhelm me, though, was the very limited utilization of the touch screen. An Autobot symbol that can be activated once you’ve collected enough Synergon in-game (or as you inflict/take damage to/from Decepticons) rests on the screen until its able to be used. When you tap it, your character goes into a super-charged mode for a brief period where their melee attacks are stronger and their laser blasts are fully charged up. The rest of the touch screen is dedicated to a map that I honestly paid no attention to for about 98% of the story. The game’s linear design makes the map an unnecessary bonus, and I felt that space could have been used to add another feature or two to the Autobot experience.
Where the game excels is in its combat system. Transformers Prime: The Game is a simple enough beat ‘em up, but the game’s various methods of battle add some flavor to the one-track minded progress of the story. Want to go head-to-head with Megatron using nothing but your melee button? Have at it. Want to remain in Arcee’s motorcycle form for the entire duration of a level using nothing but a laser for combat? Do it. The transforming element, in addition to the two primary forms of attack, all culminate into an experience that actually makes you feel like you’re contributing to something as opposed to mindlessly pushing one button the entire time to take out enemies. Battles are frequent, accounting for (this is a rough estimate) about 85% of the playing experience, and I never found the actual fighting to be dull. The other 15% of game time is spent either racing against a clock to escape from something or racing to save a child or item from an overhead Decepticon that you have to shoot down. These elements were nice discourses from the primary action, although I found myself struggling quite a bit during the shoot-down scenes because it was hard to discern what directions and how far my lasers were headed, it seeming somewhat random when they would make contact with the enemy.
The battles are fun, but do present constant frame rate issues when things are getting really heated. This was never a detriment to my defeating an opponent, but it was annoying to strike an enemy and then immediately be fighting another without any fluid confirmation that the one I had been fighting was defeated. This problem was not aided by the camera, which for the most part did a fine job of keeping up with things, but (again) in intense conflicts became confused and overactive. This required a near-constant use of the targeting button (L) during battles throughout the game.
The story didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me and seemed like it was thrown together and fitted around the game as opposed to being built alongside it. It was presented with a blend of cinematics and stills with dialogue recorded alongside each. I assume the still frames were used to trim costs, but I would have enjoyed it more if Activision had opted for completeness in one or the other. The stills actually look nice and the dialogue matches up nicely with them, so a game told completely via that method would not have been significantly worse, and would have been more stabilizing as far as the story presentation is concerned.
Prime’s biggest undoing is that it’s simply too short (I completed the entire story in 1 hour and 48 minutes) and offers little beyond its fun fights to really deserve being labeled a decent game. Aside from one boss battle in the middle of the game that was ridiculously difficult by comparison, the title was really easy. No options are present that allow the player to increase the difficulty, and there’s no incentive to replay the chapters (which can be accessed individually as you beat them during the story) after you beat them besides increasing the rank you’re given after beating it, which is an incentive based solely on your own pride. If you want to attain an A ranking on each chapter, by all means go for it. You won’t get anything extra for your efforts, though. One final gripe I have with the game is its lack of multiplayer. This game could have flourished as a fun little two+ player action brawler/shooter, especially if online play was incorporated, but alas not even local multiplayer is included.
At its current price ($25), I can’t recommend Transformers Prime: The Game based mostly on how little of a game you actually receive. I’d say I’m average as far as game-playing skills are concerned and I was able to beat the game in under two hours. I enjoyed the game for what it was, and if there had been a bit more there (another hour or two of game play, legitimate incentives to replay the chapters, multiplayer) I would feel good calling Transformers Prime: The Game a legitimately above-par licensed DS title. If you’re a big fan of the series or are in need of a quick time killer, I’d wait for this one to meet the bargain bin before you give it a go.