WhileÂ Transformers: Dark of the Moon epitomized everything that’s wrong aboutÂ licensedÂ movie tie-in games, High Moon Studios was able to deliver quality interactiveÂ Transformers experiences for publisher Activision in their original takes on the property withÂ War for Cybertron and this year’s sequel,Â Fall of Cybertron. Instead of porting those to the Wii U, Activision instead enlisted developer Nowpro to port over their Wii/3DS titleÂ Transformers Prime.
Unfortunately, the move for the cartoon-based video game isn’t a good one and Transformers Prime may just be the worst game at the worst price for Nintendo’s new console. Read on for our review.
As its title indicates,Â Transformers Prime is based on the animated series of the same name, and tells the story of Megatron and his endless army of Decepticon minions attempting to mine the secrets of a meteor just above Earth to access a secret (and very large) weapon. The introduction of the game sees the heroic Autobots putting a dent in Megatron’s plans as the meteor crashes down to Earth, opening the game to both space and ground-based environments.
Players take control of Team Prime and throughout the campaign’s missions, play as Bumblebee, Ratchet, Arcee, Bulkhead and of course, their leader, Optimus Prime. The rest of the cast is rounded out by annoying human charactersÂ Jack, Miko and Raf, and like their Cybertronian counterparts, are all voiced by the actors from the series. This level of authenticity (Peter Cullen’s “Roll out!”)Â is the sole highlight of a game which is otherwise, ripe with poor, horrid design and visuals.
Transformers Prime on the Wii U is a port of the same game that came to the DS, 3DS and Wii, and from a graphical and gameplay standpoint, appears that way despite the Wii U’s more powerful processing capabilities. TheÂ first option upon startup is whether or not to use the GamePad and it doesn’t make a difference whether you skip because its features are limited. The touchscreen is not supported for menus so players will use the standard analog sticks and buttons to navigate and within the game itself, the GamePad is used to keep track of score and time so players can see if they’re close to hitting the benchmarks for an “A” grade at the end of each mission. High scores are rewarded with unlockables and collecting Cybertron artifacts in-game unlock gallery items. These are mostly meaningless unless your’e a diehard fans of the series.
In terms of gameplay, the touchscreen has two interactive features. The first is an ‘Upgrade’ button that can be touched during select fight sequences, granting theÂ player character a limited boost in power and speed, and a 5-hit combo option. The other is using the GamePad as a steering wheel of sorts during predefined chase sequences. The boost ability is a welcome feature as there’s a lack of gameplay variety otherwise at any given moment. The driving sequences on the other hand are burdensome due to course designs, how the vehicles react to walls and obstacles, and poor controls which make the simplest of tasks more difficult than they should be. It’s a shame because the GamePad would ideally lend itself to driving sequences and will likely do so as the Wii U gets more racing titles in the future.
Missions involve fighting Decepticons or destroying objects, over and over again. Every sequence is a grind through small linear set pieces, walled off with invisible barriers, and combat is relegated to firing the same weapon repeatedly or button-mashing “A” to perform combos – they’re the same for all of the characters. Timing them is crucial, otherwise players may find themselves frequently swinging at nothingness thanks to the incomplete and not-fleshed-out combat system. In multiplayer, players who don’t time their own hits will get hit themselves with a series of practically unblockable melee strikes.
There’s no progression system, no unlockable, upgradeable or changeable weapons. Clunky, limited controls, a lack of variety in combat and driving sequences is made even worse with how little players can actually do with the Transformers characters and how little variety there are in the enemies (and enemy AI). Each of the main five playable heroes (there’s an additional six for multiplayer) essentially have the same two melee buttons and a ranged laser weapon, differentiated only by animations and character models. There is however, a noticeable difference in the characters in vehicle mode but theÂ empty level designs and closed off areas give little room for players to take advantage.
Players cannot look up or down when in bot mode and when in car mode on the driving-only segments, have limited control over the speed of the vehicle and steering. The most frustrating part of the game is that itÂ pulls players out of it constantly to load segments or show little cut scenes, and it happens in intervals of seconds, not minutes.
Transformers Prime also ships with a multiplayer component that like most Wii U launch titles, doesn’t take advantage of the system’s online capabilities. It instead supports four players across three different modes, with splitscreen functionality and CPU bots filling out the other players.
There’s Brawl (be the last man standing), Battle for Energon (time limit with respawns and limited health) and Emblem Match (capture and hold the emblem) and the maps need to be unlocked via the campaign before being available for multiplayer play. While it does offer more fun than playing the campaign, it’s just as shallow, uninspired and unimaginative.
The unfortunate reality is that Transformers PrimeÂ is two generations behind the competition in its features, gameplay and graphics. It’s a boring and ugly game not built for consoles with an outrageous $50 price tag so if you don’t own a DS or 3DS, wait for the bargain bin or for the comparable Android/iPhone experience.
Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes.