Review: Transformers: Prime (Wii U)

Activision and Nowpro deliver a slightly enhanced version of this Wii port.

By Evan Campbell. Posted 12/07/2012 14:00 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
1-Up Mushroom for...
Solid plot, good game mechanics, authentic music and voices, players can actually transform, tighter controls with GamePad, and off-TV play functionality
Poison Mushroom for...
Average graphics (at least in HD), basic multiplayer and no online, a few rough edges in design

Editor’s Note: The following includes Joshua Johnston’s review of the Wii version with an additional section (and video) at the end that critiques the Wii U-exclusive features. The game content is the same between both versions.

It is hard to fathom a franchise that could deliver greater collective disappointment than Transformers has managed to do on Wii.  Through four games, a carousel of developers has defied the laws of physics, God, and common sense in their impossible capacity to produce four bad games that successively worse. The first Wii Transformers title, Transformers: The Game, was developed by Traveller’s Tales (architects of all things LEGO) and was quite pretty, although the beauty was overshadowed by poor mission design and terrible weapons balancing.  From there came the steady descent into perdition: Krome Studios’ Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, which was ugly and unwieldy; Transformers: Cybertron Adventures, an on-rails shooter that failed to mention it was an on-rails shooter, and Transformers: Dark of the Moon — Stealth Force Edition, a joyless cash-in courtesy of Behavior Interactive.

Most aggravating of all, none of the latter three even allowed players to transform.

With that as context, it was hard to be very excited about sitting down to play Transformers Prime: The Game.   On paper, this effort screamed of another cash-in, a licensed tie-in to the current incarnation of the TV franchise churned out by a an ostensibly unremarkable developer in Nowpro.  Somehow, though, the game is not the kind of awful its predecessors were.  While not perfect, it’s refreshingly decent, with a mix of light fun and fan-service that a franchise like this ought to have.

Transformers Prime draws from the source material of the show, chronicling the Autobots’ struggle to discover what lies within a mysterious asteroid that has crash-landed on earth.  The storyline mode plays exclusively from the Autobots side, a departure from previous Transformers games that proves refreshing.  The storyline has more focus and the drama actually feels comparable to a decent Transformers episode.  Players will find the storyline encompasses several major Autobots, including Optimus Prime, and is good for at several hours of play, about par for an action game of this type.  The levels alternate among the various Autobots and contain a sufficient variety of missions and settings so as to keep things pretty fresh from start to finish.

One big help to the game’s authentic feel is the sound.  For one, the full main cast from the TV show is intact here, from the iconic Optimus Prime / Megatron tandem of Peter Cullen and Frank Welker down to the likes of Star Trek alum Jeffrey Combs as Ratchet and Firefly / Serenity actress Gina Torres as Airachnid.  There is substantial dialogue and it is delivered with the same high level that one would expect from a veteran voice over cast.  (One nit here is the curious absence of subtitles.)  Behind them is a really good orchestrated soundtrack that is a combination of work from the show and music new to the game, and all of it is rich and atmospheric.

The graphics are not quite up to the level of the sound, although they are passable.  No Transformers developer has been able to duplicate the 2007 Traveller’s Tales Transformers: The Game when it came to graphical sorcery, and this game also comes up short in this department.  By Wii standards it’s not bad, and the game even manages a bit of cinematography here and there, but level detail is average at best and the character models are so-so.  The transforming animation feels a bit jerky and brief, lacking in the graceful feel of the TT title.

It’s hard to get too upset at transforming animations, though, since this is the first Transformers Wii game since 2007 to actually have it.  Nearly all of the game (with a couple of plot-specific exceptions) allows players to transform at will, and it is a welcome return for what ought to be a fundamental mechanic.  The visceral feel of shifting from robot to vehicle mode never gets old, and Transformers Prime makes it useful in some simple but ingenious ways.  For example, the game allows players to actually initiate a melee attack out of vehicle mode that sends the Autobot literally springing into robot mode to attack an opponent.  It’s not only a fun trip to race into an opponent and clobber him, but it’s also helpful in dispelling the energy shields that some foes deploy.

In fact, combat in general is rather enjoyable.  Each Autobot has melee and ranged attacks, with melee being more powerful and ranged having the self-evident advantage of distance.  Unlike the first two Transformers games, this one does not resort to stupid gimmicks to force players to use one over the other, and most battles — particularly the game’s formidable boss contests — will be fought with a steady combination of the two, peppering with ranged weapons from afar in between moments of hand-to-hand combat.  Targeting assist for ranged and melee attacks is effected by holding down the Z trigger (no IR); this works well enough although it would have been nice had the developer allowed players to toggle targeting on and off rather than forcing them to hold the trigger to keep the lock.  Likewise, melee is handled by shaking the Wii Remote and this works fine, although Classic Controller support would have also been welcome.  Rounding out combat and adding some depth to it are a few variants on regular attack combos  and an overdrive-style super attack mode that occasionally lets Autobots unleash powerful close quarters and ranged beatdowns.

Beyond the main storyline is a multiplayer mode that allows for a few different situations.  Completing certain achievements in the storyline mode unlocks a progressively larger lineup of multiplayer characters, including a few flying Decepticons.  It isn’t a terribly robust experience — there is no online and only two players can play at a time — but it is worth a few minutes of fun, at least.

As a whole, Transformers Prime: The Game is a decent, if imperfect licensed title that will not long last in the collective memory of Wii owners, but it still deserves some honorable mention for actually being fun, a word that could not be properly applied to any of its Transformer forebears on Wii.  With a lively plot, great voice acting, sensible combat, and the happy (if long overdue) return of transforming, Nowpro has reversed the agonizingly long, dark trend of poor Transformers games with a final Wii outing that is…  respectable.  For that, I say well done.

Wii U Enhancements?

Transformers Prime ends the Wii era with a step in the right direction for the franchise and also ushers in Nintendo’s new home console with a respectable — though fairly basic — port of the same experience.

Visually, the Nowpro-developed game shows its Wii roots with basic geometry, bland textures and flat environments. The title sports an extra shine, though, thanks to Wii U’s HD resolution, but overall nothing like character models or locales feature graphical upgrades. There’s also a fair amount of loading for this basically enhanced Wii game, demonstrating a lack of optimization for the new system.

Controls receive a bigger shakeup on Wii U. Motion-melee attacks get the boot for simple button presses on the Wii U GamePad, which utilizes the touch screen for stage information and a big upgrade attack button. The GamePad’s accelerometer also gets put to use from time to time for special driving sections. The tilting feels natural and intuitive but doesn’t greatly affect the experience in any way. So while overall unimaginative, the dual-stick setup still feels much better at handling the action in Transformers Prime — though Wii Remote and Nunchuk as well as Wii U Pro Controller compatibility is available.

The varied options are a nice addition, but most importantly, the game offers off-TV play. As a game geared toward children, allowing kids to play remotely is a fantastic feature. This is arguably the port’s biggest upgrade in the transition between consoles.

Activision and Nowpro definitely don’t pull out all the stops for Transformers Prime on Wii U, but it still stands slightly above the Wii version thanks to HD clarity, tighter controls with the GamePad and off-TV play.

Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.

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