The long-running Transformers franchise has shifted, morphed and diverged enough to certainly live up to its name since debuting in 1984: the original Generation 1 adored by long-time fans and purists, Beast Wars, a few Michael Bay interpretations and loads of comic books and video games. Much of the fiction's focus nowadays is on the cartoon Transformers: Prime, to which Activision has turned its attention to for a Nintendo-exclusive title that draws on the universe of the eponymous show for a colourful bash-em-up. Transformers Prime hopes to attract a younger crowd than the HD Cybertron games of the descending generation; 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-disc 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 a button on the GamePad and Pro Controller or non-stop waggling of the the Wii Remote, throwing up the occasional shield and maybe ramming into someone in vehicle form. With little in the way of 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 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 devious AI.
The Wii U version bridges the minor control and display differences between the Wii and 3DS versions, making it the platform of choice. Players can use either the Wii Remote, Pro Controller or GamePad to play, the latter showing simple level statistics when playing on the big screen or supporting off-screen play for a quasi-portable experience.
Unsurprisingly, Transformers Prime looks far more pleasant on Wii U than on Wii or 3DS, doing a more complete job of capturing the show's "edgy" vibe — rough edges are smoothed out, and improved shadows and textures make characters just that bit more vivid. Coupled with the amount of voice work and cinematics crammed in, this one places among the upper echelon of presentation for kids games. It's just a shame that it doesn't play as well as it looks.
Transformers Prime feels most at home on Wii U: increased visual fidelity makes it more striking and true to the cartoon than the cruder Wii and 3DS editions, and predictable yet appreciated flexibility offered by the GamePad brings a bundle of convenience. Just as on other platforms, though, the game is aimed squarely at the younger/casual Transformers crowd. While anyone that falls under that umbrella will likely get a kick out of making Optimus punch Megatron in his stupid face, the further you stray outside of that demographic the less there is here to grab your attention for very long. The game largely accomplishes what it sets out to do and pulls off some generally impressive presentation, but with sights set on rudimentary mechanics it struggles to satisfy beyond being a semi-adequate tie-in to the show.