Review: Transformers Prime: The Game (Nintendo 3DS)

Transformers Prime: The Game
Developer: NowPro
Publisher: Activision
Genre: Action Platformer
Release Date: 10/30/2012

I was a huge fan of the first generation of Transformers. I had nearly the entire series of figures made on both sides of the Pacific, most of G2, a lot of Beast Wars, beast Wars 2, Beast Wars Neo (Wooly Mammoth Convoy!) and even some of those terrible Beast Machines. Then in mid 2002, I sold the whole collection piece by piece and never looked back. I still have a few like my original Ultra Magnus and Menasor, but for the most part, aside from the old cartoons, I haven’t really cared too much about Transformers, especially with some of the bad cartoons (and even worse Michael Bay) movies that have been released. I do have Transformers Prime in my Netflix queue, but I’ve yet to watch an episode. Still. Frank Welker back as Megatron? Peter Cullen as Optimus? The Rock as Cliffjumper? Jeffrey Combs as Ratchet? That’s an awesome cast. So when we received three different versions of the game here at Diehard GameFAN, I ended up picking up the 3DS version. It was my first introduction to the Transformers Prime universe and although it wasn’t the best experience…it did have its moments.

Let’s Review

1. Story

Transformers Prime: The Game takes place within the same continuity as the TV show, although I’m not sure when this is supposed to occur. It has elements of past series like Dark Energon and mentions of Unicron, and so even though I have never watched an episode of Transformers Prime, I never had a problem understand what was going on and who was who.

The plot is pretty simple. During a routine battle between the Autobots and Decepticons, a giant Transformer is unleashed. A Scion of Unicron, Thunderwing is badly damaged but still has the burning desire to destroy the Matrix of Leadership. Over thirteen chapters, you will play as various Autobots (Bulkhead, Bumblebee, Arcee, Prime, and Ratchet) trying to foil Decepticon plans and keep Thunderwing grounded. It’s a very paint by numbers story, but it works well and kids will love it. I also enjoyed that Thunderwing looks just like the original G1 toy (although much larger) and had roughly the same personality as in the Simon Furman penned comics. So older Trans Fans like myself will have in-jokes and homages to enjoy that the kids won’t get.

The game is thirteen chapters long and in each chapter you have to play as a specific Autobot. No switching. Beating each chapter unlocks the next one, along with possible “Emblems” (think trophies), movies, artwork and playable characters for multiplayer. All in all, it’s a pretty generic action platformer story, but NowPro makes good use of the Transformers Prime license, and that’s all fans will really ask of them.

Story Rating: Decent

2. Graphics

I was actually impressed with the in-game video. There is a lot of cut scenes, especially for a 3DS game, and the quality of these scenes are top notch. It’s like watching a CGI cartoon and best of all, after you’ve beaten the game, you will have unlocked all fifty-eight movies and can watch them at your leisure. No more having to play the game. Yay!

The in-game graphics are nowhere as good unfortunately. You can tell who all the Transformers are, but there is very little detail given to them, the generic Decepticon cannon fodder or any of the backgrounds. The maps in the game are especially terrible and sometimes unusable because of how poorly they are done. The game often looks like it could be a Game Boy Advance title rather than a 3DS one.

Finally, the 3DS slider really doesn’t do much here. I had to play the game with the slider off because whenever I turned it on, the graphics either got blurry or you’d get the mirror image effect that occurs on games that really didn’t make use of the 3DS’s visual capabilities. So even though this is a 3DS game, leave it in 2D.

All in all, a thumbs in the middle. The in-game graphics are well below what the 3DS is capable of, but the cut-scenes are tremendous.

Graphics Rating: Decent

3. Sound

The audio is probably the best aspect of Transformers Prime. All the voice actors are here to reprise their roles and they did a marvelous job. I hated the human children, but that’s because they are this generation’s Daniel & Wheelie. Yuck. Still, all the robots sounded great and I love the in-joke of having Herbert West voice the Autobot medic. It was also great to hear the classic transformation sound from the G1 cartoon every time a robot transformed. Go nostalgia.

Besides the voice acting, there isn’t a lot to talk about. The music in the game is forgettable but not bad by any means. It’s like elevator music where it’s there in the back of your head, but you really aren’t paying attention to it. Sound effects are generally the same. Weapons all make the same noise. All the robots in auto form sound the same and all the Decepticons in plane form (Including Soundwave and Megatron? What the heck?) sound similar as well. There isn’t a lot of variety in the sound effect department at all, but what’s here is inoffensive and will largely be ignored in favor of the top notch voice acting. Anyway.

Sound Rating: Enjoyable

4. Control and Gameplay

Sadly, this is where the game completely falls apart. I hated PLAYING Transformers Prime and even though it only took me four hours to 100% the game, the actual gameplay was terrible enough to make me curse up a storm. Now the game isn’t hard by any means. I only died a single time and that was playing as Bulkhead and I was trying to get through a maze, but the map and graphics were so bad I literally could not tell where I could go. Yuck.

In robot form, you have a melee button, a shooting button, a jump button and a button to change form. R activates your shield and pressing it twice lets you do a 180 spin in vehicle mode. L lets you lock on to an enemy. Unfortunately things didn’t always work out this way. I could never get the 180 spin to work and it is really needed because without fail, when you transform into a vehicle, you will be facing the wrong way and the vehicle controls are so bad that trying to do a 180 manually is literally impossible. Your turn will be so slow and wide that you are guaranteed to fall off a cliff and die. The lock-oh was spotty as well. When it actually worked (numerous times it just failed to actually click on), it will tend to lock on to the enemy that is the furthest away from your Autobot. That’s just terrible design. Especially when said Decepticon is so far away you can’t see it, but there are two or three right next to you. Ick. It’s also odd that the gun is much weaker than melee and you can pretty much go through the game without firing a shot except at bosses where it is required.

Vehicle mode is by far the worst. There is no gas or break, so driving is like a fifth rate racing game where you have little to no control over your movement. The segment where you have to drive are some of the worst racing bits I’ve ever encountered in a game and it really didn’t help that the graphics were bad enough that you couldn’t make out where you needed to go at times.

The Camera is pretty terrible too. You use the D-Pad to control it and due to the placement of the D-Pad and analog stick on the 3DS, it’s quite cumbersome to move the camera, run and attack. Even doing just movement of your Autobot and camera can be quite annoying. The camera also likes to take on a life of its own at time, especially when you are fighting multiple opponents or doing the platform jump segments. Nothing is more annoying that when the camera decides to spin off right as you make a jump so it’s now away in such a way that you can’t see your robot or the platformer you were aiming for. Same with combat where you lock on to a flying opponent but the camera shoots straight up so you can’t see anything.

Basically, there was nothing I really liked about playing this game. I’m not a fan of 3D action platformers to begin with, but this was especially bad in that the games controls utterly failed in the areas it needed to work the most. Even with these bits, it’s still a very easy game with each level lasting between six and twenty minutes. I beat the last boss (all three stages) in only ten, so that should tell you something. This just wasn’t a fun game to play and the problems with Transformers Prime were ones that could have been easily fixed, which makes it all the worst.

Control and Gameplay: Bad

5. Replayability

With seventy “emblems” to collect, each the equivalent of a trophy or achievement, you can definitely go back to levels you’ve already played and collect whatever you have missed, so even though the levels are quite short and easy, NowPro has at least provided a reason to replay the game. There are also markers hidden in each level (between one and three) which unlock things in multiplayer as well as concept art, so that too is another reason to replay levels. Of course, there are also the aforementioned video clips to watch, which means you can get the whole Thunderwing story without having to replay the game.

Finally there is multiplayer mode, which really is hard to talk about. It’s local wireless only and I never found anyone else to play against. We were sent three copies of the game, but one for the DS, one for the 3DS and one for the Wii, so we couldn’t even test it out against each other. As such, I can’t talk about this aspect of the game, but it is there to enjoy if you and your friends each purchase copies of Transformers Prime. Basically, there are reason to replay the game if you really enjoy it or are a completionist, but as you can do everything in under four hours, there’s still not a lot of content here.

Replayability Rating: Mediocre

6. Balance

Transformers Prime is a very easy game, even with all the control problems. It’s a kids game though; if it wasn’t easy enough for tykes to complete, we’d have a problem. Even with the camera, lock-on, driving, and maps issues, kids should be able to clear this and see all of the story on their own, which is great for them. They will probably die a few times, but it’s a video game and they should expect this. I don’t think too many will want to repeat the experience to get all the emblems though…

Again, it took me four hours to 100% the game (save for multiplayer related bits) and I got a S or A rating on nearly every level, in spite of my bitching and moaning about the controls. So while it’s easy for an adult and professional gamer like myself, I think it’ll be just easy enough that kids can beat it and feel like they’ve accomplished something without throwing down their 3DS in disgust. Older or very experienced gamers however, will find this a cakewalk.

Balance Rating: Decent

7. Originality

We’ve had a plethora of Transformers games over the past decade. I remember when we had was The Mystery of Convoy and I had to import that (and quickly wished I hadn’t). These things are dime a dozen and to be honest, the more adult games like War for Cybertron and Fall of Cybertron are far better games. But those games aren’t for kids; they’re for G1 fans like myself well versed in TF lore. So it’s about time the younger gamers had a Transformers game to call their own. It may not be very long, but it treats the Transformers Prime license with respect, and it’s a decent enough “lost episode” on its own that kids will enjoy it. Multiplayer will probably be a lot of fun for the younger gamers. But they’ll need to know multiple people that also own the same $29.99 cartridge. The game is also rather paint by numbers and follows the same pattern as most licensed platformers, but at least it’s Activision and Hasbro remembering that the core audience to keep Transformers alive are the kiddies.

Transformers Prim: The Game doesn’t do anything original or innovative, but it is nice that something other than the G1 license is getting made into a game, even if it’s only for Nintendo systems.

Originality Rating: Bad

8. Addictiveness

This is a hard category to judge. I really hate 3D platformers, especially when they control this badly. At the same time I really like Transformers and I had fun with the story being told here. I beat the game in three settings and my 3DS currently lists this as having the third longest average playtime (Only behind Spirit Camera and James Noir’s Hollywood Crimes out of the many, many games I’ve played on my system. Yet at the same time I didn’t enjoy playing this at all. The best way to look at it is that I railroaded through the game in long play sessions to just get the thing over with. Gamers more attached to the Transformers Prime license (or that just enjoy the game more for whatever reason) will probably have just a long play sessions, but for happier reasons. If gamers can find enough other people with the cart and can thus engage in multiplayer, that mode may, or may not, depending on lag, keep one glued to their DS as well. I’ll be kind and give this a thumb’s in the middle. Even though I didn’t enjoy this, there were aspects of the game I appreciated and fans of Transformers Prime will no doubt feel the same, but to a much higher degree.

Addictiveness Rating: Mediocre

9. Appeal Factor

Most Transformers fans will probably gravitate to Fall of Cybertron over Transformers Prime: The Game and with good reason. However, younger gamers or fans of the show might still want to check this out. There are only two problems. The first is that Transformers Prime is only available for Nintendo systems -the DS, the 3DS, the Wii and the new Wii U. So if you only own Sony or Microsoft systems, you can’t play this even if you wanted to and Transformers Prime is NOT a system seller. That limits the potential audience somewhat. The second problem is that the game isn’t that good. It’s not the worst game of the year by far. It’s merely a mediocre one that has some control detection and camera issues. This means Transformers fans aren’t missing anything by not picking this up save for a story that is a bit generic (albeit fun to see unfold). In other words, you have to be a pretty big Transformers Prime fan AND own a Nintendo based system to play this and out of that demographic, only a fraction will probably be glad they experienced this. You’ll also need multiple people with the same version of the game to experience multiplayer; otherwise that aspect of the game can’t even be touched. So there was definite potential for Prime to have a decent sized audience, but some release and design decisions limit that audience greatly.

Appeal Factor: Poor

10. Miscellaneous

At the end of the day you’re paying thirty dollars for a standard licensed 3D platformer. It suffers from the same problem most licensed platformers have, but it has a decent enough story to keep you interested. It’s too bad the game doesn’t make use of online for the multiplayer piece, as then anyone could use it. I don’t see the point in developing local co-op only for a handheld game unless you know it’s going to sell so well that most people with a handheld system will own a copy (See Pokémon – and even then it offers both versions of multiplayer/co-op). To complete everything in roughly four hours seems very short to me as all you are getting is an exceptionally linear game with very little substance behind it. Fans of the cartoon may get their money’s worth, but I think that’s about it. The game pales in comparison to other, recent Transformer video games. There was a lot of potential here; it just didn’t live up to it. Even just letting you replay the game with different Autobots on each level would have been something neat and a reason to replay the game. Unfortunately, there’s nothing like that here.

Miscellaneous Rating: Bad

The Scores:
Story: Decent
Graphics: Decent
Sound: Enjoyable
Control and Gameplay: Bad
Replayability: Mediocre
Balance: Decent
Originality: Bad
Addictiveness: Mediocre
Appeal Factor: Poor
Miscellaneous: Bad
FINAL SCORE: Below Average Game!

Short Attention Span Summary
Transformers Prime: The Game is your typical 3D licensed platformer. It’s a mostly inoffensive linear affair that suffers from not receiving enough time, money or quality put into it. The story is a paint by numbers affair with an homage to an obscure G1 toy that was prominent in the original comic book series. The visuals are hit or miss (great cut scenes, terrible in-game visuals) and it’s nice to see the voice actors for all the characters playing their parts and giving it their all here. Unfortunately the game is too short (four hours or less), too linear and suffers from bad input detection and a terrible camera for it to be recommended at full MSRP. It’s also very easy, so only younger gamers will have any challenge getting through this, even in spite of multiple control issues. If you’re a fan of the cartoon it might be worth it to pick this up but everyone else can feel free to let this one sit on the racks.



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