Transformers Prime: Not exactly the optimal Optimus

December 9, 2012

It should come as no surprise to you that Transformers Prime, a Wii U port of a Wii game based on a cartoon, isn’t particularly compelling. It’s a licensed kids’ game, and it feels like it. Thankfully, it’s generally inoffensive, and occasionally it attempts some interesting things, but it won’t appeal to anyone beyond a little fan of the show.

The plot’s fairly simple: The Autobots fall from space after an explosion, and they all have to gather together from various locations and take down the Decepticons. Not that this matters, particularly, but it’s an excuse to put them all in different places. You play as the standard cast, like Optimus Prime and Bumblebee. Each has very similar controls, but some are faster and others are stronger.

There are two general types of levels: action and driving. Action levels have you hitting the A and Y buttons (yep, opposite sides) to attack with melee strikes and the shoulder buttons to lock on and shoot projectiles. Generally, you’re going to mash or hold buttons, and there’s not much to learn strategically. Here’s the extent of it: sometimes Decepticons are up in the sky, so you can only hit them with projectiles. Sometimes they’re on the ground but shielded, and shields can be broken two ways: by transforming (with the X button), rolling up and hitting the A button for a dashing attack, or just pounding a strong attack with the Y button.

As you can imagine, these get super-repetitive. The best combo seems to be A, followed by A, followed by another A. Have fun with that. You can’t just run by these, either; defeating enemies is often the only objective, and each segment throws up barriers around the area that force you to kill everyone before you progress. It’s easy in many respects, except one: you don’t do much damage, so pure endurance comes into play sometimes. You can hit A, but can you hit A 350 times, with an occasional Y in there for good measure? There’s an “upgrade” meter that boosts attack power for a short time when triggered. Use it, definitely, but it’s a more subtle boost than you’d expect.

The driving segments are interesting. You’ll tilt the GamePad to steer, which is fun if you make sure to tap the button to switch the main screen to the GamePad when you do. It’s a bit finicky at times, but it generally works like it’s supposed to. The levels, though, are all about obstacle avoidance, so you’ll often need to focus on jerky motions rather than enjoying the smooth turns. Vehicle mode in action segments doesn’t work the same way, and the levels tend to alternate, so it’s a bit disorienting to switch between the two control schemes for the same actions.

This just repeats a few times in the campaign. If you want to get good, the game keeps track of notable accomplishments, and progressing unlocks characters and stages for the game’s two-player mode. In this mode, you run around an arena with the action-level controls, fighting each other. The mechanics aren’t particularly deep, but the game is at its best when playing with others. You can fight up to three others, though humans can’t control the other two due to split-screen restrictions. (It would’ve been nice to see a third player implemented with the GamePad, at least.)

The game looks fine on the Wii U, but certainly not impressive; it’s clear it uses the Wii version’s assets, rendered at a higher resolution and possibly with a few lighting tricks. It’s not a problem; things are shiny enough. You can use the Wii version’s controls if you wish rather than the GamePad, and it doesn’t lose much; the second-screen functions are generally limited to showing collectible count and other unnecessary numbers. The voice acting appears to be from the original cast, and is fine if you like the source material.

If a child loves the show and wants a game for it, Transformers Prime is fine for that. No one else should touch it; there’s not anything compelling here.

Pros: True to the show, two-player arena mode
Cons: Wii-quality graphical assets, repetitive gameplay

Score: 2/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.