I miss the cartoon Transformers. Not the ones from the '80s, though they were great too. The more recent, more happy-go-lucky ones. From Transformers Animated.
And I'd bet Behaviour Interactive misses them, too.
That Cartoon Network series ended its run around two years ago, but while it was on the air the developers at Behaviour (then named A2M) tapped its license to release a vibrant, inventive DS platformer starring its unique versions of Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Megatron and the rest of the usual 'bots. It was the best Transformers title we'd seen on a Nintendo system in a long time, thanks to its inspired, teamwork-focused design that had you using three different Autobots with three distinctive skillsets to solve puzzles in 2.5D side-scrolling environments.
This new Transformers: Dark of the Moon, also developed by the same studio, loses nearly all that inspiration and charm. It swaps in the gritty, realistic movie versions of the same characters and loses the colorful pop of the cartoon. It abandons the unique, side-scrolling, puzzle-solving gameplay and replaces it with a generic, third-person shooting design.
And, perhaps worst of all, it takes away almost all of the individual personality of its characters -- so whether you're playing as Optimus, or Bumblebee, or whoever else, there's really no difference between them.
Presented as a prelude to the events of the upcoming third live-action movie, Dark of the Moon tells an unnecessary tale of the Autobots and Decepticons still being mad at each other, still shooting at each other and still making Planet Earth the battlefield for their endless feud. As with the previous film tie-in titles, this one's once again available in either an Autobot or Decepticon edition. But the choice between the two doesn't affect much more than what color toy you get bundled in the box.
The gameplay for both factions is the same, as both versions feature a string of straight-forward action missions that task you to walk forward through rudimentary, low-polygon 3D environments, attack a set of enemies, walk forward some more, attack more of the same enemies, and repeat again until your mission's complete. There's minimal exploration of these linear levels, and though you can transform into your character's vehicle mode to drive around, there's little point in doing so. You just end up coming to the next combat chokepoint faster that way.
Combat, then, is plain and uneventful. Your Transformer has a crosshair on the screen, but you don't control it -- it just snaps into an auto-lock on the nearest opponent and you hold down the Y Button to pepper him with bullets until he falls. You can strafe if you like, launch more powerful secondary missiles and perform a simple melee attack, but there's rarely any need. The ample health and ammo refills that drop from even the lowliest grunt, combined with automatic regeneration of your personal shield, eliminate so much of the challenge that you can waltz through most every battle with just the standard gun.
It's slightly more fun to play as the Decepticons in their edition of the game, but only because their objectives of destroying buildings and blowing up radar targets are more guiltily satisfying than the good guys just protecting those same spots. And they are the same spots -- while other, past Transformers titles have diverged more between the Autobot and Decepticon missions, the objectives and environments featured here are largely the same between both games.
It's a pretty bland campaign. The accompanying multiplayer mode adds a mild amount of extra interest, but it gets old pretty quickly. The 1-on-1, team deathmatch and cooperative modes between two players (over local wireless only) are all as basic as can be, and, worse, the game's framerate struggles to keep up with the action when only a handful of bots are battling in the same vicinity.
I miss Transformers Animated. Perhaps the video game interpretations of the robots in disguise will return to them, or some other better, past version of these characters once the live-action film series has finally run its course. Then we (and the developers) can be spared from these too-gritty, too-angular and too-angry editions of the classic characters.