Long-time Transformers fans have enjoyed a renaissance of sorts this console generation, with the Cybertron games offering a vision of the robots in disguise that those of us who grew up with the old cartoon could get behind in our capacity as grumpy old men.
Keen to serve fans of all ages, Activision has turned its attention to the younger crowd with Transformers Prime, a Nintendo-exclusive title that draws on the universe of the eponymous show for a colourful bash-em-up. Slick and well produced, Prime has its heart in the right place and in many ways does justice to its source material — as far as plot, writing and talent go, it might as well be a straight-to-Blu-ray episode of the show — but with surface-deep design can't satisfy skilled players on gameplay alone. Which in some ways is fine, because this game is just not meant for that crowd.
The Decepticons are predictably up to no good, so it's of course down to the Autobots and their annoying kid sidekicks to beat evil faces in before Megatron's plot comes to fruition. Alternating between Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Arcee, Ratchet and Bulkhead (with only microscopic differences between them in how they play), the game mixes up rudimentary 3D platforming with vehicle chase/escape sequences and arena combat, splitting the game into three distinct experiences. More often than not, stages comprise a mix of these segments to keep things fresh, mostly with success in that regard — but because you'll never be doing one thing for too long, no part feels all that outstanding and instead frequently shallow, likely to allow inexperienced players to get through what is no doubt their very own "My First Transformers" Game.
Linear platforming, for instance, demands very little skill to conquer and as long as you can climb some stairs you'll be A-OK. Occasionally the Autobots will need to flit in and out of vehicle mode to make a jump or two, but there's really little reason otherwise to zoom around in car form. Vehicle portions fare little better, amounting to dodging death from above along slow-moving tracks. Again, novice players will have no trouble here and probably won't even notice but the severe simplicity runs the risk of boring others.
Combat has a little more depth to it, but only just so: a mere three melee combos are available alongside a chargeable blaster and temporarily powering up, allowing a small degree of personality to what mostly amounts to bashing the A button (in the Wii version this is mapped to non-stop waggling, the only real difference between the two), throwing up the occasional shield and maybe ramming into someone in vehicle form. With no progression or unlockable attacks, combat plateaus early and doesn't budge.
The Autobots are quite powerful when a combo lands but it feels all too easy to get sucked into a loop of getting walloped. The slightest touch will tailspin you into an animation loop of falling down, where you can do virtually nothing until enemies stop hitting you as you slowly get back up, lending an air of frustration to melee combat — even more so when enemies come at your bro(bot) from both near and far.
When the relatively brief campaign is over and done with, players can either go back and earn top ranks and unlock emblems or dig into the four-player local multiplayer modes. The three modes on offer aren't anything you haven't seen before, but there is still some pleasure in bonking friends over the head as cartoony Autobots or Decepticons, or — if going solo — whacking the AI.
Transformers Prime looks quite pleasant, doing a fine job of capturing the show's "edgy" vibe, and the amount of voice work and cinematics crammed in put this in the upper echelon of kids games. It's just a shame that it doesn't play as well as it looks.
Transformers Prime is aimed squarely at the younger/casual Transformers crowd and anyone that falls under that umbrella will likely get a kick out of making Optimus punch Megatron in his stupid face, although the further you stray outside of that demographic the less there is here for you. The game largely accomplishes what it sets out to do and pulls off some generally impressive presentation, but with its sights set on rudimentary mechanics it struggles to satisfy beyond being a semi-adequate tie-in to the show.