There’s nothing like looking back at 80’s cartoons. Today’s cartoon scene simply can’t keep up, as the old days were all about crazy, giant-sized robots and warriors battling against Cobra and such. Granted, a lot of companies have tried to cash in (cough cough Michael Bay) on said franchises, but only a certain few approach them with a certain sense of devotion. That’s kind of how I feel about Behaviour Interactive’s approach with Voltron: Defenders of the Universe. Leagues better than the since discontinued iPhone game, it actually relies a little bit on teamwork – and a whole lot of destruction. Sounds like a formula of success to me.
The story has you battling an evil overlord using one of five pilots who drive their own dedicated Lion vehicle. You heard that right – you don’t control a spaceship here, but a freakin’ Lion. As you go from stage to stage, you’ll shoot at everything in sight in pure twin-stick fashion. You'll occasionally use melee and “pounce” attacks on the stronger enemies, like armored tanks, and big enemies that don’t go down easily from a stream of gunfire. Each Lion differs from the next – some are better with long-range shooting, while others are stronger on the up-close front.
Regardless of who you pick, it’s teamwork that really counts. Voltron: Defender of the Universe is best served as a multiplayer affair. You can have four local players going at it with their own separate lions, or team up with up to five people in online play through Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network. This multiplayer set-up does get a little frantic – especially when the screen loads with enemies – but it’s also undeniably fun, similar to the way the old-school Ninja Turtle arcade games worked. Considering this is a budgetable game at $10, you really have little room to complain.
Now, things do get slightly confusing when you get to the Voltron segments. Once you complete a certain number of stages, the big guy appears, and you form him using certain QTE sequences that are mildly annoying, but over with quickly and without much consequence. From there, you have to choose which battle tactics you use against enemies, and then hit buttons at just the right time to execute attacks. Is it repetitive? Yes, but these could’ve been done much worse, like a mindless hack and slash – like the discontinued iPhone game. Besides, it’s sort of fun passing around responsibility for who calls what attack. (The game chooses players randomly from whoever’s playing.)
The shooting sequences are enjoyable, although there are times that the difficulty gets overwhelming, particularly on the game’s harder settings. This is where Voltron: Defender of the Universe leans so heavily on teamwork, and like any cool old-school game, it really is all the better for it. You could complete the game solo, but that takes a couple of hours at best. All you’ve got left to do is find all the innocent civilians to save and the special gems that unlock additional abilities within your lion. Really, just seek out some friends. There are plenty to go around online.
Though the visuals won’t win any awards on the downloadable front (particularly with games like Bastion and Limbo out there), they aren’t anything to scoff at. The animations are pretty cool, and the level layouts have their moments, particularly when you’re trying to locate power reactors. We could’ve done without the limited camera range in some cases, particularly when you’re trying to keep an eye on enemies behind you, but overall it’s not bad. Also, the Voltron segments are pretty cool, reminiscent of the classic cartoon. Speaking of that, the cinema sequences, rather than being recreated via lame CG, are restored from classic episodes of the show. Nice.
The music isn’t half bad, sounding like it was taken from the original anime episodes. The voicework, provided by the actors who worked on the show, is definitely service to fans everywhere. Still, we would’ve preferred a little more variety from the sound effects.
A lot of you may dismiss Voltron: Defender of the Universe for its simplicity, and, yeah, it’s a little shorter than it should’ve been. However, for 800 Microsoft points, you get a loyal dose of classic 80’s nostalgia, fashioned as a great twin-stick shooter. Furthermore, its multiplayer opportunities are plentiful, and a good dose of fun if you can find the right friends to play alongside you. It may not be as advanced as, say, Activision’s Transformers games, but it has enough retro charm to make it worth a purchase.
All that’s left to decide now is who says, “And I’ll form the head!” I’ll leave that debate to you guys.
[Reviewed on PlayStation 3]