There have been many iterations of Hasbro’s Transformers franchise. Since Generation 1 in the 1980s, there have been good incarnations (Beast Wars) and really bad versions (Robots in Disguise). The latest, Transformers Prime, is the best series in years. Despite taking cues from the designs in Michael Bay’s movies, the characters are likable and the action is harder hitting than even the original airings during my childhood.

Those who haven’t watched the cartoon, but love the franchise, will feel at home immediately thanks to the participation of Peter Cullen (Optimus Prime) and Frank Welker (Megatron) reprising their roles from the original series. The story starts abruptly, with the Decepticons towing an enormous hunk of Dark Energon, a powerful, but unstable power source that Megatron is working to harness.

The Autobots arrive on the scene, and after a battle, send the meteor crashing to earth in pieces. It holds a nasty surprise, the broken body of Thunderwing servant of galactic terror Unicron. The heroes are scattered across the globe and (unsurprisingly) their human friends disobey Ratchet’s orders and go after them. Jack, Miko and Raf are three of the most likable human characters in a Transformers series since Spike and Sparkplug.

Each level features one of the members of “Team Prime.” While each of the characters controls identically and features the exact same melee combos, they sport different speed and strength levels. Bumblebee and Arcee are zippy but don’t pack as hard a punch. Optimus and Bulkhead are slower, but hit hard.

One of the biggest problems in Transformers games is the enemy design. With the exception of boss fights, you’ll be up against nameless Vehicons (cars and tanks) and Insecticons. These become tedious to fight, but the levels are brief enough that you’ll be getting to the point of each mission and switching characters fast enough that the plot keeps moving. The dialog is well-written and well-acted by every member of the cartoon cast, which includes Jeffery Combs, Gina Torres, Steven Blum and Kevin Michael Richardson.

Unfortunately, there are some very odd choices in the combat. For instance, locking on to an enemy requires players to hold the Left bumper. This is an uncomfortable hand position, and it would have been far wiser for this function to be a toggle. Additionally, you can charge your ranged fire, but instead of just holding the Y button, in order to make it happen you have to press, and then press and hold. It is very hit-or-miss.

What’s interesting is that Altron, the developer of the DS version included these smart changes. They should have shared some of the wisdom with NowPro, the team behind the 3DS appearance. In all other regards though, playing on the newer console is the way to go. The voice acting is identical, but the cutscenes offer more video (instead of stills). The sound effects are more robust, and the combat is peppered with incidental one-liners.

Both versions keep things from getting stale with a mixture of combat and pursuit sequences. These are slightly different between the two versions, with the DS title looping scenery and requiring use of vehicular mode ranged weapons. The 3DS version  is designed with automotive dashes from point A to point B, which means that they have a finite length. The same thing can’t be said for Altron’s work.

The 3DS version offers a multiplayer option for four players locally or for solo combat against up to three AI opponents.  There are three modes: A point-based deathmatch, a no-respawn deathmatch and a capture the flag variant that awards points based on how long each player holds it. The inclusion of a mechanism to play alone gives this mode more legs, but it’s still only a side-dish to the main course.

Nothing that either of these titles does is terribly remarkable, and there is no reason to even consider them if you aren’t a fan of the franchise. For those that have been following the latest series, the story here is worth your time. The action isn’t special, but it’s serviceable. The experience feels like playing one of the well-developed story arcs from the show, and with the entire voice cast on-hand. This one is for the fans, and all others simply need not apply.

 

Here’s the Rundown:

+ Good story and presentation
+ Solid sound, especially in the voice acting department
+ Short missions are perfect for portable play
- With the exception of bosses, enemies have no personality
- Combat isn’t terribly interesting
- Some odd control choices

 

 

 

6 and 6.5 represent a game that doesn’t do anything spectacular or drastically fails to meet the high expectations people had for it. These scores are for games that you would only recommend to diehard fans of the series or genre, something that the average gamer wouldn’t miss very much if he/she skipped it. A game in this range has rental written all over it.

Transformers Prime was developed by NowPro and published by Activision. It was released on October 30, 2012, for Nintendo 3DS (primary play) and Nintendo DS. Copies were provided by the publisher to RipTen for the purposes of review.