"Whether you choose to follow the game’s story, which is told through a series of missions, or elect to simply spend the afternoon driving the police nuts by raising and lowering your “wanted” level (a gauge measuring how vigorously the authorities pursue you; smash stuff to raise the level, behave and the cops will leave you alone), there is a lot of sadistic fun to be had with the game. Being that you’re playing as a bad guy, you’ll probably want to break as much stuff as possible, if only just to live up to your name."
After so many years of saving princesses, defeating evil and eating vegetables, some gamers desperately want to play the role of a villain for a change. Sure, being a hero is great, but in every hero’s heart beats the soul of someone who, just once or twice, doesn’t want to do the right thing and save the day. In the immortal words of Lord Helmet, “Evil always triumphs because good is dumb.” Now, thanks to Activision and Vicarious Visions, you’ll finally have the chance to unleash your dark side in Transformers: Decepticons for the Nintendo DS.
Unless you’ve been living on Jupiter in a pitch-black cave with cotton in your ears, you probably already know that Michael Bay, the go-to guy for directing big summer blockbusters, unveiled his cinematic vision of the Transformers over the July 4th holiday weekend. As with most big name films, the Transformers was translated into video game form and released on every gaming platform available. The “big three” consoles all got basically the same game (with minor graphical and/or control changes) while the Nintendo DS got not one, but two completely different, completely original games starring the exiles of Cybertron. Much like what happened with last month’s Spider-Man 3 titles, the DS has received the very best build of the multi-platform Transformers game. So, does the game break the almost always-true stereotype that movie games aren’t any good?
As previously stated, the Nintendo DS is home to two separate Transformers games; the Autobots (good guys) version and the Decpticons (bad guys) version. For the purposes of this review, I’ll be sticking with the Decepticons’ version of the game, which places you squarely in charge of wreaking havoc and crushing those pathetic “goody two shoes” Autobots and their leader, Optimus Prime. The game loosely follows the movie’s plot and thankfully leaves out all of the film’s human actors in favor of an all-robot cast. It seems that the Autobots and Decepticons, two warring factions of robots from outer space, are both seeking a powerful object simply called the Allspark. Somewhere along the line, the Allspark found its way to Earth, which has made our small planet the location of the transforming robots final showdown. In even better news for the evil Decepticons, Megatron, their long lost leader, is also on Earth, just waiting to be set free. No, it isn’t Shakespeare, but the story serves its purpose and builds a framework on which to hang all the giant robot action.
Being that the DS is the least powerful of all the major systems on the market, Activision and developer Vicarious Visions have really pulled something spectacular with this game. Transformers: Decepticons is the kind of “sandbox” game that people have been waiting for. In the most popular “sandbox” title, the Grand Theft Auto series, players are given control of a racial stereotype and have the ability to steal cars and shoot people in an urban cityscape. Yawn. In Transformers: Decepticons, you have four full stages to smash your way through and the ability to become any car or vehicle you can imagine. On top of that, your Decepticon can climb any building it comes across, leap from rooftop to rooftop, and square off against robots with either long-range weapons, acquired weapons (think trees, cars, telephone poles etc.) or simple fisticuffs. If you can imagine it, it is entirely within the realm of possibility. Whether you choose to follow the game’s story, which is told through a series of missions, or elect to simply spend the afternoon driving the police nuts by raising and lowering your “wanted” level (a gauge measuring how vigorously the authorities pursue you; smash stuff to raise the level, behave and the cops will leave you alone), there is a lot of sadistic fun to be had with the game. Being that you’re playing as a bad guy, you’ll probably want to break as much stuff as possible, if only just to live up to your name.
Not only is the game a blast to play, but it looks and sounds great, too. The environments you’ll be tearing apart are somewhat populated; you won’t see a single human on foot but there are plenty of cars on the roads and everything except major buildings looks realistically destructible. Even when you jump and land, your Decepticon will leave a circle of shattered concrete in his wake. There are a few issues with pop-up and the sometime odd ability to fall through buildings or disappear completely from the screen, but it is easy to see the amount of care that went into making the game look great and these instances are few and far between. The Transformers are all very detailed as well and their shape-shifting abilities are a blast to see in action. Leap off a tall building, transform into a helicopter in mid-air and race to the next orgy of destruction – it is all very smooth and looks great. Graphically, you’ll be reminded more of late PlayStation 1 games than a portable system.
Portable games aren’t usually commended for the soundtrack, since no portable game machine available now has great speakers. If you’re like me, you can probably play through an entire DS, GBA or PSP title without ever turning the sound to an audible level. In Transformers: Decepticons, you’ll actually want to break out your earphones. All the Decepticons have full, spoken text in the game, as do those pesky Autobots. Most amusing, though, is the dialogue you’ll hear from the various police dispatchers. A 911 operator asking what the police code is for a giant robot is among about ten great quotes you’ll be treated to. They can get tiresome after a few hours of play, but they are sure to make you smile the first few times. As an added bonus, even your Decepticon allies are unnecessarily nasty to you, which is both appropriate and very funny. Perhaps the best instance is when you are tasked with destroying some property early in the game. After your wanted level is raised and you’ve taken some damage, your evil mentor will laugh it off and claim he just wanted to see if you had what it takes. My only complaint with the sound is that, like in the movie, the powers that be have chosen to tweak the “transforming” sound we can all hear in the “remember the 80’s” portion of our brains. It isn’t a terrible misstep, but it will annoy Transformers purists. Also, for some reason I remember Starscream sounding a bit more like Cobra Commander from G.I. Joe. The developers got Optimus Prime’s voice down pat, so why skimp on Starscream?
So, a great looking, great sounding 3D action game has shown up on a portable console without an analog stick. The DS, like the PSP, isn’t very well suited to adventures in full 3D, but Transformers: Decepticons works with the hand it is dealt control-wise. The d-pad moves your Decepticon around while the right and left triggers handle the circular movement of the camera. It isn’t perfect, but after a few minutes of practice, you’ll be an old pro. There are separate buttons for jump, shoot, punch, etc. but what most people want to know is how the DS touch screen is utilized. Unlike a lot of DS games out now, the touch screen is a big help rather than a hindrance and rarely feels forced. The touch screen displays the radar, which you’ll be using to find your way to your next objectives. It also is home to the buttons that allow transformation on the fly and bring up your scan vision. A simple tap of either will accomplish your chosen action easily. The only issue with the controls is that sometimes your auto-lock feature will end up glued to a lamppost while an Autobot is wailing on you from a 45-degree angle. There is no button assigned for switching your targets, so you’ll be swinging the camera wildly and hoping the game picks up on the fact that you are most likely more interested in fighting off Ironhide or Jazz, rather than a harmless yellow taxicab.
The missions and overall gameplay in Transformers: Decepticons is pretty close to what you’d imagine with this type of sinister adventure. The game will force you to play as generic Decepticon #1 (which you can name…I called mine Jason. How original) for most of the adventure, but you’ll also have the opportunity to play as five other, more famous Decepticons, ranging from the fan favorite Barricade to the newly revived Megatron. Once you’ve completed the game once, you’ll be able to revisit missions with your Decepticon of choice, and once you’ve played with Brawl or Starscream a time or two, you’ll be itching to get back in control of them as soon as possible. When you start the game, you’ll be forced to run through a few tutorial missions before being given free reign, but they are ridiculously easy and will only take 5-10 minutes to burn through. Subsequent missions will have you chasing enemies, protecting other Decepticons, fetching stuff for your teammates and, of course, it all culminates with your battle with the unflappably decent Optimus Prime. You’ve done all this before in other games, but for some reason, Transformers: Decepticons never feels stale. The game isn’t particularly long or difficult, but it is great fun that will last an afternoon or two.
But why spend 30 bucks on a game that won’t take you very long to complete? Luckily, Transformers: Decepticons has a king’s ransom of replay value and a lot to unlock. As mentioned before, the game utilizes a scan visor, a la the Metroid Prime series. If you see a car on the street you like, simply scan it and you’ll be able to transform into it. Not all the cars in the game can be scanned, but through this method, you’ll quickly build a checklist of vehicle options. There are over 15 to choose from, so filling up your scan logbook will take a while. Other transformations are awarded for the completion of other tasks, but for the most part, the act of scanning can be one of the most entertaining features of the game. Also, each environment has its share of mini-games to complete. Not everyone will take the time to finish them all, but it is nice to have the option. These mini-games also serve as the backbone of the game’s online play.
Transformers: Decepticons also boasts the ability to play in an online leaderboard known as the Allspark Wars. Every 24 hours, the game will present you with one of the mini games found in the main game. Once you have the assigned game for the day, you have until midnight the next to play it as much as you like before uploading your scores. What makes the online portion interesting is that players with either version of the game can compete. Once the scores for a day are tallied, the game chooses a winner based on which side, the Autobots or the Decepticons, have tallied the most points for the day. It doesn’t really make a difference whether your side wins or loses, what really makes a difference is the number of WiFi tokens you receive for your contribution. You’ll net 30 -50 for a days effort and these token accumulate to unlock various cheats, transformations and a few other surprises. Getting your hands on these tokens can be very addictive and you’ll most likely stay up past your bedtime a few times just to see how many tokens you’ve been given. Since the games showed up on retail shelves, nearly every online battle has been won by the Decepticons. That doesn’t mean the Autobots can’t make a comeback, so get in and fight for the dark side. This system isn’t as cool as an online free for all, but it is a clever idea and adds to the game’s replay value.
Transformers: Decepticons is a very entertaining mid-summer treat for DS fans everywhere, especially for those who tire of always having to save the day. The game has a couple of problems and a few frustrating moments, but overall, it defies the 11th commandment, “All movie games must be terrible.” If you listen really hard in the still of the night, you can hear Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver and Batman Begins crying over their inability to be anywhere near as great as the Transformers’ first outing on the Nintendo DS.
Freelance review by Jason Nimer (July 22, 2007)
A bio for this contributor is currently unavailable, but check back soon to see if that changes. If you are the author of this review, you can update your bio from the Settings page.
If you enjoyed this Transformers: Decepticons review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!