Review by mikaa

"Above average 3D brawler, with a unique gimmick..."

We all know how infamous movie-to-game products tend to be. For every Lion King (Genesis/SNES) and Aladdin (SNES/Gen), there are five duds that remind us why they keep the reputation. This is not an issue that has just arisen out of the dust; even before Atari's 2600 game "ET" there were licensed movie and product games that were horrid.

For a brief spell, the 16-bit era saw many franchises result in decent gaming products. The 32-bit era (aka the Rise of 3D Gaming) saw only a handful of great licensed projects (due more to the limitations of hardware).

And then there is the modern era (as in, post-Dreamcast release), where Spiderman 2/3, King Kong, and Lord of the Rings licenses result in more polished projects with more enjoyability.

However, while consoles are getting nice tie-in games, portables (ie - games exclusive to Nintendo portable hardware) rarely are equal to their big brothers. Amusingly, recent movie/game releases have resulted in a wave of half-way decent DS projects, with Monster House, Spiderman 3, and Meet the Robinsons adapting older game concepts around current attractions. Yet despite this progress, some tie-ins just suck (here's looking at you, Incredibles and Fantastic Four DS).

So it is understandable that Transformers DS would get a lot of flak for just being related to a pending movie. What actually doesn't help the game's view in the eye of a parent/gamer is that there are two versions of the game. Just seeing two Transformers DS games on the shelves could easily make one think about yet another effort to copy Pokemon/Nintendogs, in having the same exact game, with minor differences.

The amusing part of the latter issue is that they are not the same.

Ok, so the basic mission goals would be simmilar (beat X enemy foes, scan object X, chase foe X within Y time), that is a given. And the general world maps (namely the city) would be quite simmilar.

However, the tone would have to be different. And why? Because one game is all about the Autobots side (ie - Optimus Prime and crew), while the Decepticons (ie - Megatron and party) are dominating the other. The significance of these two sides is that one version of the game is about doing good and playing the role of the heroes (Autobots), while the other version (Decepticons) is about being evil and blowing things to kindom come.

And now we go into one version of the game, Decepticons. Why Decepticons? Mainly because I had to try one version first to see if it was justified. Why buy both when I might not like them at all? Besides, I was curious to see the path of evil.

The intro to the story mode is one big shocker: actual FMV on the DS WITH SPOKEN DIALOG. I am not a huge supporter of spoken dialog in games (due to the usually BAD voice acting), but in this case, the voice acting is decent. Once the FMV ends, you see your avatar (a Decepticon that represents you in-game) arrive in proto-form (something that the movie should make more sense out of), and pretty soon you find yourself in the middle of a battle of plots and spying. I won't go into much depth (as the plot does get somewhat interesting at times), but your "mentor" has you tracking down a fellow Decepticon, who is less than willing to assist you.

And thus begins the typical training missions, where you learn the basics of the game. There's a physical attack button, a weapon button, a pick-up button, jump button, camera control buttons, and the good ol' touch screen for scanning and transforming. Note that MANY abilities are locked away until you level up your character. Yes, level up. Blowing up cars, killing Autobots, and destroying human military (somehow police are lumped into this category by your "allies") net you experience, which allows you to gain additional weapon and movement options.

Early on, the game is quite forgiving, and it is awesome to just jump around to crater the road with your impact. But once you get about five missions under your belt, the difficulty sky-rockets.

One issue with the overal game play is the way the military hunts you. In-between missions, you explore your given "level" (ie - city, desert, etc) much like a Grand Theft Auto/sandbox game. You can participate in side-quests, go into story missions, or just blow things to crap. Blowing things up, though, tends to irritate your human foes, who will try to blast you with, and I quote, "Armor Piercing" weapons. Later foes (ie - TANKS) are VERY deadly, and will make you wish you were fighting a boss instead. A Wanted meter (consisting of four bars) alerts you to how hard the humans are tracking you, and the only real way to get rid of this (overworld or in-mission) is to transform into a vehicle and run for it. If you are low on energy, you can collect orbs from demolished targets, but these are quite few and far between. Later missions become nightmareish when you have a horde of targets blasting you, and you can't beat them on account of their heavy shells knocking you down while airborne targets blast you constantly.

Another issue is the scanning of vehicles to gain new forms. Most of these new forms are nothing more than minor pallate swaps on a selection of cars, trucks, vans, and choppers. Stats and "energy" vary between them, though rarely enough to make it worth "scanning them all." Scanning itself is rough, as you have to have a stationary target to get a solid scan, and most of the time, vehicles you want to scan are either blasting you or driving by (like seeing a towering robot is an everyday thing...).

Some forms, as stated, are near useless. Then there is one form that just makes most early modes TOO easy: G1 Starscream. Just go to any Target with the Transformers Demo Download station, download the trailer movie, and just rip apart the opposition. Allowing THIS character to be used in most mission modes is almost unfair to the AI, and can be a bit TOO easy for the gamer. Then again, most other vehicles make up for this by being too useless.

Graphically, Transformers is a once a marvel and also a disaster. Fog appears all over any map you are on, though the actual textures of the world are basic enough that the draw distance is still quite far (but objects like cars and choppers are still limited). The actual transformers are cool to look at (especially the big names, including G1 Starscream), but I was almost certain that I was fighting three Bumblebees once, two yellow and one red! Still, the frame rate is very smooth and the controls are mostly responsive.

The control issues are that there is a minor auto-lock for projectiles, that only locks on when you are aimed right at the object. Move a hair, and you are blasting air. Also, trying to turn around or attack behind you as you turn rarely works as you want, and I cannot count the number of times I had to turn completely around to get my foe in sight, loosing a quarter of my health despite evasive actions.

The audio is nice, with some remixes of classic themes, but mostly it was just there to try and be unobtrusive. Not the worst soundtrack, but not one you want to go and get right away.

Finally, the gimmick I mentioned in my tagline. Both versions of Transformers DS feature the ability to participate in an "Allspark War." This mode connects you to the WFC (and one of Activision's servers), downloads a specific Mission of the Day, and then you try to get a set score as fast as you can. Once you complete this, you can send your results to the server, where the results are tallied at the end of the day. The key part here is which version you are playing: if you are using Decepticons, your score is pooled along with other Decepticon players; the same with Autobots and other Autobot users.

Once the day is ended and the scores tallied, a winner is chosen. Next time you go online, you can see the results. Should your version win, you get points. Obtain enough points and you get other forms, characters, and bragging rights (and, as Activision claims, the right to control their web site). It's nothing really new, but is cool enough for portable gamers and kids to enjoy.

There is also a multi-card multiplayer mode, where you can fight rival versions or ally with simmilar ones. Multi-card playing unlocks even more things, but I cannot see myself doing this, even after I get the other version. While it is easy to find DS users these days, getting someone to willingly play you in this may not be.

All told, this is a valiant effort to make a true 3D brawler for the DS without being horrid, and for the most part, it works. The control issues, lack of useful vehicles, and the fact that those that download G1 Starscream are going to have a HUGE, unfair advantage in-game, drags the score down a ways. Still worth a purchase, though which one you grab is more about who you prefer.

Score: 7 of 10

+ Best Parts: Transformers, graphics, sandbox overworld, classic characters with classic sounds, WFC support, downloadable content, FMV and decent voice actors

- Worst Parts: Meh soundtrack, some forms make the game TOO easy, controls are wierd, helicopter forms are a nightmare to handle, few health pick-ups, difficulty rises rather fast

* If You Liked: Transformers Autobots (DS), Transformers (Wii, XB360), Meet the Robinsons (DS)

* Guilty Pleasure: Finally realizing that Nintendo didn't hose Target with a download kiosk that only had two playable demos and a movie. We were stumped on why everyone else had more content...

+ (Great) Reaity: Activision has really begun to churn out some decent DS games of late (Tony Hawk Downhill Jam, Transformers, Spiderman 3, and Shrek the Third). And to think that some of their early games were among the worst on the system...

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 06/27/07, Updated 09/07/07

Game Release: Transformers: Decepticons (US, 06/19/07)

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