Since 1984, the Transformers have been gracing the toy shelves and the homes of many men, women (yes they do collect them) and children across the globe. They’ve gone through many incarnations, from Generation 1, through several Japanese only lines, Beast Wars, a reboot of the continuity in the form of Armada, and yet another new continuity on the big screen in ’07. Yes, I know, for all you fellow Transformers geek’s out there, I left a few out. I have to keep some form of sanity here.
In that 25 year span, fans have had a number of games for varying consoles thrown at us, including the Commodore 64, the NES, the PlayStation, PC and even the new next-gen consoles. Unfortunately, most of these games have ranged from mediocre to down-right terrible. From the barely playable platformer to the pretty looking Armada adaptation and the rushed and somewhat annoying recent movie adaptation, fans have gotten the shaft. Will this, the 25th Anniversary of the franchise, be the one that turns this trend of terrible Transformers triviality around? Let’s take a look at some of the best and worst we’ve seen over the years and see who’s taking on the mantle this time around.
Starting with the first several Transformers games, we have to look to the Commodore 64 and the NES or Famicom. The Commodore 64 game, The Transformers: Battle to Save The Earth hit US shores in 1986, but like most of the Transformers games from here on out, the controls were terrible. It looked surprisingly good on the system, and was one of the first games to feature actual voice work. However, if you weren’t a fan, it wasn’t for you. Even if you were a fan that game probably wasn’t for you. The NES or Famicom recieved a Japanese only release in ’86 entitled Transformers: Convoy no Nazo or, “Mystery of Comvoy” on the box. Yes, they mispelled the Japanese name of Optimus Prime on the cover. It also recieved some of the worst reviews I’ve ever seen for a game. Most fans play it once, then burn their clothes and cry on the floor of their showers after having played it. Hey, at Least Rodimus Prime is unlockable. Oh wait, it’s just Ultra Magnus with Rodimus’ color scheme.
Going forward a few generation, we come across two Beast Wars games. One was a fighting gamecalled Beast Wars Transmetals and the other a 3D action game called Beast Wars: Transformers. The action game focused more on the early run of the show and it was not all that impressive. The controls were clunky, there was a distinct lack of voice talent from the show, and visually it was a terrible mess. Transmetals fared a bit better in the voice talent department and the fighting game aspects made it stand out. The controls weren’t too bad for a fighting game on the PlayStation and the N64, but visually, even for both systems at the time, there wasn’t much going on. Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter, this was not. Both games had little success and were quickly forgotten. There was also a Japanese only release of a GameBoy Color fighting game about this time, that actually plays pretty well, but it was not very pretty. Being in Japanese only kind of hinders most gamers outside of that country from understanding what the hell is going on in the game, but at least it is region free The other side of the coin is that it focuses on Beast Wars II, a Japanese only Beast Wars series that fans in the US, or other countries, have even seen, which really limits its audience. (Editor’s Note – Beast Wars II and Beast Wars Neo are vastly superior to the US Beast Wars, both in terms of toys and animation. LeoConvoy and Takotank rule! -Alex)
Several cartoon/toy series came and went, like the god awful Beast Machines without a game in sight, until Armada. Atari and Melbourne House got involved and gave us simply, Transformers. What resulted was one of the BEST looking games for the PS2 that has come out before or since. Few games on the PS2 have been able to match or exceed it. The environments were gorgeous, the ‘Bots and ‘Cons looked fantastic, and it really pushed the PS2 in terms of what it could do. What limited the game was a lack of, well, variety. You were stuck playing the Autobots, only had three of them to choose from, and then only five or six environments to drive/run around in. The controls were pretty tight, but the enemy AI was either terrible or way too advanced and the physics needed more work. The lack of ‘Con playability didn’t make a lot of Transformers fans very happy and unfortunately the Cybertron follow-up was scrapped. The Armada game was released well into the Energon series of the show and toyline. Melbourne House and Atari were going to just jump on board again with Cybertron, but alas Hasbro pulled the plug beause of the.
Another Japan only Generation 1 game popped up around the same time as the Armada game. It was called Transformers: Tatakai and it focused less on platforming or action aspects. Instead it went with a beat ’em up style of gameplay featuring many fan favorite characters from Generation One. The game is in both English and Japanese, and the character designs are spot on to their TV show counterparts. Yet the game was released only in Japan, much to many a Transformers fan’s chagrin. Actually it turns out this is a good thing, because Tatakai is terrible. You do not want to import this game. Any sense of nostalgia will not get you around the craptastic controls, the idiotic team and enemy AI and the seemingly repeating canyon you have to fight your way through over and over again. The actual in-game visuals leave much to be desired as well. Do yourself a favor and watch those gorgeous CGI cut scenes on YouTube and leave it at that. There will be less frustration and if you don’t already have a modded PS2, less cash flushed down the toilet.
Now we’re up to 2007 and the new live action movie was coming out, so of coursewe recieved a movie game to go right along with it. Activision handed things this time. Traveller’s Tales decided to hand off the handheld development to other people and focused on the next-gen and PS2 games. The end result was something akin to Grand Theft Autobot or Decepticon Row without any real customization. It’s a Sandbox game with missions and the option to play either side. They’ve got the voice talent from the film and the highlight is the return of the original Megatron’s voice actor, Frank Welker. The game loosely follows the film’s plot, the graphics are decent, but the actual gameplay reduces what should be a fun game ends up becoming an exercise in frustration. Weapons that could tear a hole in the sides of buildings seem to do nothing to the robots you fight, reducing almost every fight after the first few missions into a full on brawl. This wouldn’t be so bad if the camera wasn’t terrible and the controls were tighter. If they were going to make it more of a brawler, they could have given you more options other than to mash one button over and over or throw something at the enemy. The missions also had a few dismal showings. One of them had you follow a helicopter through the city over and over again as Optimus Prime. It was boring and could have been handled in a cutscene far more effectively. And don’t get me started on your ability to target anything at all, ever. Because it’s nearly impossible unless you’re not moving.
The DS fared better with it’s translation, splitting up either side and letting you customize out your character rather than play through a roster. The PSP, however, was privy to one of the worst ports I’ve ever seen or played on my favorite handheld. I kept the PS2 and PC versions and play them rarely, mainly due to the ever annoying reminders of missions to be completed while I’m looking for hidden objects in the level, the shoddy controls and almost unforgivable lack of a widescreen option that has been on about 90% of the PS2 titles I’ve played in the last 3 years.
In 2008, Transformers Animated hit the DS. It’s gotten decent ratings but it is still nothing really earth-shattering. Few if any people in the Transformer community talk about it and even fewer gamers I know mention it. There are no signs of this leaving the DS for other platforms any time soon either. Now that we’re here in 2009 and the sequel to the smash hit of 2007 is barreling down on us with promises of Michael Bay’s brand of awesome.
So what are video game and Transformer fans getting for the 25th Anniversary and the release of a new film? Why another movie tie-in game of course! Activision announced this one back at E3 in 2008 and little has been heard about it since, which is probably not a good sign. What we do know is that it’s going multi-platform, and will either carry the moniker Transformers 2 The Ultimate Battle or Transformers Revenge of the Fallen, matching the film’s title. The game looks to loosely follow the film’s plot, much like the first game, and although Activision is publishing it, a new developer, Luxoflux, has taken the reigns. To which I replied upon reading the news announcement last year, WHO? I’ll get back to Luxoflux in a minute.
One thing I haven’t touched on and by now you’re probably asking yourself, what would make a great Transformers game? Or rather, what are my standards? I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the games and their history and what’s coming, but what really would make a great Transformers game to me? I’d like something with an adventure/sandbox feel to it with tight combat that actually makes use of the robots weapons and abilities you see plastered all over their tech-specs on the back of the boxes. When you transform, it’s fast and only requires the push of one button and you can do it whether you’re on the ground, moving, stationary or on top of a building. I’d like a decent story line to go with it and to be able to play on either the ‘Bots or the ‘Cons side. And I’d also like it to take me a little bit more than 8 hours to beat it. That may be asking too much on that end. Another thing – if the game is going to feature humans, I want to be able to squish those fleshies under the heel of my giant Transformer foot. That might push the rating a bit but it’s a bit more realistic. Activision and Luxoflux have a lot to live up to. (Editor’s Note – I just want Grimlock or Predaking. -Alex)
Luxoflux does have an interesting, if varied, game development career under their belt. Recently with Kung Fu Panda, the True Crime series, Shrek 2, and Vigilante 8. They’ve got some experience with the movie tie-in. games at least. So what kind of a game are we getting? At this point, no one but Activision, Luxoflux and Hasbro know. Hopefully it’s a bit better than the first live action game and a lot better than the NES game from Japan. It’d be nice to be really proud of a Transformers game sitting on my shelf instead of just attributing it to the collection of figures dispersed around my computer desk. Give us an excellent movie tie-in game Luxoflux. I dare you, no I implore you. Make this the year we get a fantastic Transformers game.