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Transformers: The Game

Platform(s): Nintendo DS, PC, PSP, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Traveller’s Tales / Savage / Vicarious Visions

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NDS Preview - 'Transformers: The Game'

by Andrew Hayward on June 13, 2007 @ 4:00 a.m. PDT

Based on Hasbro’s Transformers property and upcoming live-action feature film from DreamWorks Pictures and Paramount Pictures, Transformers: The Game lets gamers control the outcome in the battle for Earth as they choose to protect it as Autobots or destroy it as Decepticons. Players will also experience the unstoppable power and massive scale of their favorite Robots in Disguise such as Bumblebee, BarricadeE and others.

Genre: Action
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Vicarious Visions
Release Date: June 26, 2007

Considering the massive success of the Nintendo DS platform, it is hardly shocking that a publisher would want to release multiple versions of a game based on an established property. Capcom is releasing three versions of Mega Man Star Force later this year that are largely interchangeable, and while Nintendogs was a fresh concept, its versions are four of a kind, though each game starts with a different set of canine companions.

The Autobots and Decepticons versions of Transformers for the Nintendo DS appear to follow the same path, but such is not (entirely) the case. Both versions of the game feature similar gameplay, visuals, and presentation, but the storyline for each version is completely distinct from the other, allowing players to choose between good (Autobots) and evil (Decepticons) with their purchase. Think of it as an interactive campaign contribution, albeit one you can't write off at the end of the year.

In each campaign, the user names a generic Transformer and takes on a specific persona, depending on the version. The Autobot protagonist is very eager to prove his worth to his superiors, while the hotshot Decepticon warrior works with an elder 'bot that constantly belittles him. It's not the most exciting stuff, but the sharp voice acting really improves the narrative aspects of the game. Over 1,400 lines were recorded between the two versions, with voice talents like Keith David, Mark Ryan, and Steven Jay Blum (Spike from "Cowboy Bebop") filling some of the key roles.

Transformers thrusts the player into a free-roaming hub, which contains access to all the missions and challenges in a given section of the game. Each version of the game features 20 missions, along with many more challenges, which are comprised of races, survival segments, and destruction objectives. As players take down enemy units, they will earn experience points to use to level up their character and unlock additional abilities. For example, the wall-climbing ability wasn't available right away, but after leveling up a bit, I was able to climb up to the roof of a building with the X button.

Like the console versions (and hopefully any game called "Transformers"), both the Autobots and Decepticons can change forms from an upright robot to some kind of vehicle. However, the DS versions actually one-up the console iterations in this respect, as the Autobots (if not also the Decepticons) can change into one of many different vehicles. It was not clear if this was an unlockable feature, but I was able to shift between roughly a dozen distinct four-wheelers through the menu screen, each with a customizable paint scheme. Transformation is executed by tapping the Autobot or Decepticon icon on the touch-screen, which serves as the HUD for the game.

Each version starts with a comprehensive tutorial, which may be necessary for figuring out the controls, transformations, and experience system. As the game is likely to be snapped up by a bevy of younger gamers, Transformers for the Nintendo DS features "a bit more hand holding" than the other versions, according to Rob Caminos, senior game designer at Vicarious Visions. Still, he claims the game is actually "very challenging," and that adults should have a good time with it, as well.

Both the Autobots and Decepticons will be able to interact with each other for four-player local wireless play, in which there are two game types: deathmatch and AllSpark Sports. Deathmatch is pretty much par for the course when it comes to DS action games; the match that I played had its moments, but with only two participants, it became a grating experience with little reward. Adding two more players to the mix would probably benefit the deathmatch experience, but don't expect anything revolutionary.

AllSpark Sports seems like an odd choice for a game about transforming robots in an all-out war for mechanical supremacy, but it may actually be the better of the two modes. It plays like a hybrid of soccer and rugby, with two goals and a single object between them that can be grabbed and tossed. Essentially, you battle it out for the right to get off a quick shot at the goal, and the resulting mayhem is actually pretty amusing. Four-player matches can divide participants into teams of two, though players opt for a three-on-one grudge match if an extreme challenge is desired.

While Transformers lacks online play, it does utilize the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection to let players take part in the AllSpark Wars competition. Each day, a new challenge can be downloaded and completed, and the side that logs more completions will win a piece of the AllSpark for that day. Once a side has collected all seven pieces of the AllSpark, the stats reset and the competition starts again. No tangible rewards will be given out to the supporters of the winning side, but if there's one thing that fictional, warring robots care about, it's bragging rights. Make 'em proud, soldiers.

Transformers may not be a kids' game, but as Caminos implied, it has definitely been tweaked for a younger audience. Children are likely to be more intrigued by the themed versions and extensive transformation options, but adults may find either package to be a bit underwhelming. It maintains many of the concepts of its console brethren, but the massive drop in visual fidelity and interactivity with the environments won't endear it to those with a modern console hooked up at home.


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