Review: Transformers Prime for 3DS is rusty but surprisingly well-oiled
Before we start, yes, Transformers Prime, out now from Nowpro and Activision, is an adaptation of a popular TV cartoon that’s been released under the same exact name for every last Nintendo console in existence, with little to no difference in basic content between each, despite the vast differences between the machines they’re played on. Yes, I will acknowledge that this a horrible formula for success, and yes, most games in this category are not only terrible but actually diminish the video game itself as a form of entertainment, but, defiantly, Transformers Prime does not suck. In fact, it’s pretty darn good for what it is; surprisingly so, even.
As far as what it actually consists of, it’s just your basic-but-very-well-executed 3rd person run and gun action brawler, with a satisfyingly deep melee combat system and the ability to seamlessly transform into various vehicles at will, being icing on the cake. Much like Transformers: War for Cybertron, the controls are extremely tight, fluid, and clean, especially for a game that seemed at first to be so superfluous. It really feels great to move around and fight as all the different characters, and each one has their own fairly well-developed and distinct play style. Each of the different vehicle forms also handles very nicely, and it was a joy to be able to try them all out, even more so because of how uniquely each one handles. The combo system is also very robust and varied, and the various enemy types each required their own specific strategy to defeat, almost to the point of becoming frustrating. A charge shot, an overdrive gauge, and the ability to switch between vehicle and robot forms mid-fight are also implemented, to disappointingly mixed results. However, aside from the odd overly challenging fight, my experience with combat and controls in this game was largely positive. This might not be the most original game there’s ever been, but gosh darn it, it sure is fun.
The story is also very simple, but it’s presented well, and it never really feels like the story has to fully take the backseat, constantly keeping pace with the polished gameplay, even though it was pretty clichéd and predictable. Plus, most of the voice actors from the show are in the game, including Peter Cullen and Frank Welker, the Optimus Prime and Megatron of old, respectively. The performances do not feel like they’re phoned in, either, despite the fact that the characters portrayed literally could not be more boring and unoriginal, and the story, while clear and easy to follow, was as derivative as they come. Basically, it’s just that Megatron is trying to collect these body parts from all over, so that he can rebuild this super-powerful ancient monster, and it’s up to good ol’ Optimus, the Autobots, and a trio of racially ambivalent children who are proficient in a variety of unbelievably complex skills to stop them.
Some people fight, you defeat a few bosses, there’s some jokes, and then (spoiler) the good guys win. Transformers Prime takes no risks, but it also means it doesn’t fail much. This game, while short, doesn’t just feel like some kind of portable knock-off of a “real” game, instead playing much more like something you might see in the later days of the PS2 era, when everyone knew the ins and outs of the system so well, it was pretty tough to make a bad game. It delivers a handheld experience that was once only possible on a console, and that’s pretty remarkable for a game of this pedigree.
Unfortunately, the area where Transformers Prime really does suffer is its graphics. Compared to pretty much any other game I’ve ever played on the 3DS, including a few downloadables, the textures are much too simple, and the models and animation feel like they’re about fifteen years old. The 3D effect was also pretty depressing. To my eye, it seems like it’s split into at most three separate flat planes, and ends up looking more like a paper doll puppet show than the moving diorama look of most better-produced games. It also isn’t very stable, and ended up hurting my eyes so badly that I had to turn off the effect completely for most of the game.
The graphical issues in this game are so constantly apparent that it makes it hard to enjoy the fully orchestrated score and the high quality voice-work. I’m not sure whether it actually was or not, but the soundtrack sounds so nice that I’d wager it might even be from the Transformers film series. Again, it’s like some pretty large weird problems keep what is largely a good experience from being in any way memorable, but there wasn’t really a moment I can think of where I wasn’t at least partially enjoying myself throughout the whole campaign.
Still, as I mentioned earlier, the game is short, and ends abruptly. The last boss fight is fun, if a little easy, but it doesn’t really feel like this game has enough meat to it. There’s a pretty extensive achievement-esque “emblem” system with some pretty demanding challenges, but the game isn’t interesting enough to keep replaying it for that long. There’s also a well fleshed-out multiplayer component, with three different game modes, a couple unlockable maps, and the option to play as all the Decepticons you’ve defeated in the single player story, all of whom also have very unique if less-balanced play styles, but two of the game modes are too chaotic to be enjoyable, leaving the “Energon Match” as the only viable option. It’s also nice that they allow you to play this mode with AI Bots, but the complete lack of online functionality is kind of a bummer.
Bottom line, Transformers Prime is a diamond in the rough, but not that shiny of a diamond. If you’re big into Transformers and you were going to buy this anyway, you’ll be pleasantly surprised, but otherwise, wait for it go down in price a bit before buying it, or rent it if there’s anywhere left in the world to do that. It’s not a bad game, but it’s not really a great game either, and nothing about it is really all that essential. It is legitimately fun, though, and try not to forget that when looking at what I rated it.