More Than Meets the Eye
Since last year’s blockbuster movie, Transformers fever has died down a bit. Still, the morphing robots’ cartoon TV show continues, so developer A2M decided to use that as the basis for its new DS title, Transformers Animated: The Game. A 2-D platformer with puzzle and racing elements, it can be interesting at times, but ultimately it’s a little too tedious to be worthwhile, especially for its (presumably) young target audience.
There are 20 levels total, and each is played in one of two ways. Most of them work like basic platformers, but with a twist: you control three characters at once, switching between them with the L and R buttons. Bumblebee is the only character who can jump, and he also shoots electric bolts. Bulkhead is big and powerful (he’s heavy enough to depress some floor buttons by standing on them), he can push and pull objects, and he has a projectile he can hurl. Finally, Optimus Prime can rappel and throw an axe with a curve to reach out-of-the-way switches. (None can transform, which is more than a little weird, considering that’s the series’ name and the robots’ defining characteristic.)
In these stages, you run around, taking advantage of each character’s special attributes to reach new areas. Once you get to a new place with one character, you need to find a way to bring the other characters too because all three need to get to the end of the stage to pass to the next one. It is quite similar to LEGO Batman in that regard, except that when you pave the way for the other characters, they don’t follow automatically; you have to take control of them and steer them over, which sometimes can be a little annoying. It would be nice if the game had a “follow” command.
Also like Lego Batman, this game is quite forgiving. A repair bot named Ratchet will fix downed Transformers up to three times before it’s game over (you’ll be hearing Lego Batman comparisons a lot in this review).
These platform-style stages take anywhere between three and ten minutes to complete, depending on whether you get stuck. Occasionally, the problem is that all the tools for solving the puzzle are in front of you, and you just need to get all your guys using the right abilities in the right places to pass the stage. But more frequently, the issue is that you’ve gotten pretty far in the stage, your robots are spread all over the place, and it’s hard to tell where they are relative to each other (despite the little icons indicating what general direction the non-selected characters are in) and what they need to do.
So, you grab each of your three Transformers individually and roam around until something happens. Sometimes, it’s easier just to start the stage over from scratch. A map of the whole stage (they are available through Activision’s website, but not within the game), more intuitive level design, or even just the ability to zoom out and view more of the stage at once could have fixed this and saved players a lot of frustration.
The game breaks up these stages with the occasional driving stage (again like LEGO Batman). Most of the time you’ll take control of Prowl, who looks and functions like a vehicle until you stand him up by pushing a button. You’ll usually be staying on the track, trying to avoid cars, and standing up every once in awhile to attack enemies. These stages are a lot more action-packed than the others, but they’re very easy and repetitive.
The game differs from LEGO Batman, however, when it comes to controls. When building games for the DS, especially games that really only need one screen, one of the biggest issues developers must face is whether and how to use the touch screen. Lego Batman handled the question clumsily, putting all the action on the top screen but still making the player touch the bottom one now and then, basically (and unnecessarily) turning the touch screen into another button.
Transformers Animated: The Game, by contrast, puts the whole shebang on the bottom screen (the top one does contain some information, such as how many of your three repairs you’ve used and how much life each character has left). This way, the game uses the touch screen to its full potential. For example, with Optimus Prime, you can trace the path you want your thrown axe to follow. And with Bumblebee, you can touch an enemy to fry it with your bolt. In the racing stages, you can touch enemies to attack them when you’re standing up.
The game doesn’t fare quite so well in the graphics department. The 2-D action does take place in a 3-D-looking world, and there’s a decent amount of texture and detail for the DS, but there’s nothing very compelling about that world. The visuals don’t do much to draw you in; there’s not much style or flair. The racing stages, which use the standard behind-the-car view, look only about as impressive as ancient Mode 7 games like F-Zero and Super Mario Kart. The driving stages supposedly take place in 22nd century Detroit, but there’s no obvious indication of this.
The sound in this game is acceptable. It has the ’80s rock-style Transformers theme (“Transformers! More than meets the eye!”), and the various effects and background music sound sufficiently cartooney. The clang of a Transformer landing on a factory floor is particularly satisfying. There’s also a lot of voice acting between stages, and it’s reasonably well done (the show’s cast recorded the parts). Bumblebee mouths off when you select him, though, which is a little annoying.
As for the storyline, it’s something similar to what you’d see in an episode of the show. The Allspark, the magical gizmo that grants inanimate objects life in the Transformers universe, has been broken into three parts and scattered. The Transformers have to fight through a bunch of enemies to collect the pieces before the Decepticons do; otherwise, Earth and Cybertron (the Transformers’ home planet) will both be at risk. The game tells this story between the stages, through both brief cartoons and the aforementioned voice acted scenes (you’ll see the head of whoever’s speaking, along with the words, and accompanied by a voice reading the text).
Once you’ve worked your way through the story by beating all the levels, the game offers pretty much nothing in the way of replayability. There aren’t any secrets lurking, and once you’ve solved a puzzle, there’s not much of a reason to do it again.
A kid who loves the TV show might find Transformers Animated: The Game amusing for a little while, and some adults might enjoy the more challenging puzzles. However, most players who aren’t blinded by love for Transformers will probably find this title a bit boring. There are better games like this out there.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.8 Graphics
The 2-D action takes place in a 3-D world, but it doesn’t really draw you in. 4.8 Control
Excellent use of the touch screen. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
No complaints here. Fans will enjoy the theme song, the voice acting is good, and the sound effects work. 2.8
It’s tedious the first time, and there’s no incentive to play it a second.
3.5 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.