Rolling Out: A History of Transformers Games
The Transformers have been around for quite some time now, enthralling many of us in our childhood throughout the 80’s and sticking around in pop culture long enough to become a big and noisy, yet successful movie franchise. By the same token, the Transformers games have come a long way, starting off lousy but eventually growing into something of prosperity, leading into next year’s release of the recently announced Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, which will once again be handled by High Voltage Software.
That said, it’s time to take a look back at the best – and worst – Transformers games to see how far they’ve come over the years. Let’s start at the bottom…
Transformers: Convoy no Nazo (Famicom)
Following on the heels of the recently released animated film, the Transformers game for the Famicom (NES in Japan) turned out to be a tremendous dud. You play as Ultra Magnus – well, wait, you TRY to play as Ultra Magnus – as you take on flying and ground enemies, and eventually come face to face with…Decepticon systems? Oh yeah, Megatron shows up as well. The game was extremely rushed in its development, with incredibly hard difficulty (you died in one hit, and mostly by accident) and poor design choices. And the music? What music? It was the same tune over and over again. No wonder this game never got a release in the United States. It clearly didn’t deserve it.
Transformers: Beast Wars (PlayStation)
While the PlayStation (or PS One, in some circles) got its fair share of excellent games, it was also home to a number of sub-par licensed crap, mainly stuff like Transformers: Beast Wars. This third-person action shooter couldn’t really get anything right, with boring gameplay, tepid graphics where you could barely tell the enemies apart, and the kind of lackluster design that showed just how uninspired the developers at Hasbro Interactive were. Worse yet, the voice acting couldn’t even hold a candle to the animated series that the game was based on. The Transmetals follow-up didn’t fare much better either.
Transformers (PlayStation 2)
Before Activision got a hold of the franchise (to tie in with the movies), Atari attempted its own reboot with its own Transformers game, based loosely on the Armada animated series. You choose from three characters – Optimus Prime, Red Alert and Hot Shot – as they take on Megatron and attempt to rescue a series of Mini-Cons. Considering how horrid the Famicom game was, Transformers turned out to be pretty decent on PS2, though some gameplay elements were uninspired. But hey, we’ll take something playable any day of the week – especially compared to the games we mentioned above. We’re guessing some people do have taste.
Dreammix TV Fighters (GameCube, PlayStation 2)
Super Smash Bros. created quite a phenomenon when it came to multiplayer-based fighters featuring various popular characters from various games. Hudson Soft attempted to mimic this success – in Japan, anyway – with Dreammix, a game featuring recognizable characters from its own games, as well as Konami and Takara. Where else can you pit Megatron and Optimus Prime against the likes of Master Higgins (from Adventure Island), Bomberman, Simon Belmont, the Twinbee ship, and…Solid Snake? Import fans may want to hunt this down, but a full Transformers experience it’s not. Hell, even Super Smash it’s not.
Transformers: The Game (various consoles)
Activision took its first crack at the Transformers franchise in 2007, alongside the original live-action movie, and while we’ve certainly seen worse movie-licensed fare, a lot of folks were still trying to adjust to live-action robots at the time. Once they did, there was some fun to be had with the game, particularly with the decent visuals, the quality voicework (mostly provided by Optimus Prime veteran Peter Cullen and Megatron’s Frank Welker), and various Autobots and Decepticons to control. However, the tepid driving controls and repetitive missions were turn-offs, though the game did sell well better than expected. That led to…
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (various consoles)
Activision called upon Luxoflux, the veterans behind the Vigilante 8 series, to handle development on Fallen. The controls went a little more smoothly this time around, with the transition from robot to vehicle and back again handling much better than the first game. The graphics were compromised a bit, particularly battling bigger enemies, but sometimes that’s the price you pay when it comes to making a game experience better. It also split up campaigns, giving players the choice between Autobots and Decepticons, which definitely helped. In the end, though, it just didn’t have anything to push it past typical movie-licensed fare. On the bright side, at least it didn’t have gangsta robots or giant wrecking ball testicles.
Transformers: Cybertron Adventures (Wii)
For its next Transformers release, Activision opted to go with a more original storyline – one that revolved around Cybertron, rather than revolving around anything Megan Fox was doing. The Wii counterpart of that, Cybertron Adventures, was an on-rails shooter developed by Next Level Games. While it was certainly playable with its Wii-centric controls and looked pretty good, it felt like a pretty hollow experience overall, lasting just a few hours in gameplay before eventually going back and doing the same thing over again. Luckily, other system owners had a better game to turn to…
Transformers: War For Cybertron (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3)
Now we’re talking. Using the power of the Unreal Engine 3, the development team at High Moon Studios created an intricate world on Cybertron, dividing the storyline up between Autobots and Decepticons as they battled for control of their home planet. The design is utterly remarkable as you inch your way through the area, blasting enemies in both robot and car form. What’s more, Cybertron also introduced an engaging new multiplayer mode, where you could battle friends online through a variety of modes. The game became a big success, and for good reason. It’s the best Transformers game to date. Oh, and did we note that Peter Cullen came back again to voice Prime? Win!
Transformers: Dark of the Moon (various consoles)
With its latest movie-licensed game, which came out earlier this year, Activision once again gave High Moon full control. Though the results were pleasant enough to consider it good movie-licensed fun on Xbox 360 and PS3, it did come up short compared to Cybertron. The multiplayer is more limited this time around, as is the campaign, which will only take you a few hours to get through. Still, those versions fared much better than others. The co-labeled Stealth Force series on Wii and 3DS were terrible, consisting of crappy graphics and flawed controls that didn’t make them fun to play at all. If you must play this, go with the first versions we mentioned. They’ll hold you over until Fall of Cybertron arrives next year.
And that, folks, is more than meets the eye.