Michael Bay has dumped his latest summer action blowout into theaters, much to the horror of die-hard Transformers fans, and to the mild amusement of bored teenagers. The unwritten law of movie tie-in games dictates that a console-spanning game must accompany any summer blockbuster, and so Transformers The Game has arrived on the Wii. Similar to its Xbox 360 and PS3 counterparts in most respects, the Wii version of the game sports a few motion control moves and slightly downgraded graphics, but for the most part you’re getting the same experience—a film cash-in title.
While movie games are almost universally mediocre (or worse), a few have managed to rise above the rest. Transformers samples both ends of the spectrum, and ends up with some promising elements that are unfortunately bogged down by typical movie game tedium.
Like most titles in the movie-game genre, Transformers takes as much from its source material as possible to recreate the general atmosphere of the film, but reworks the various cinematic sequences so that prolonged video game battles fit in between. Transformers takes a road less traveled by telling the story from the perspective of the protagonists and the villains—you’ll get to play two separate campaigns for the heroic Autobots and the evil Decepticons. In the Autobot campaign you’ll be trying to protect Sam Witwicky and retrieve the Allspark, and the plot follows the film for the most part. You play as Bumblebee, Jazz, the legendary Optimus Prime and a couple other good guys. The Decepticon missions also mirror the film to an extent, with Megatron, Barricade, Scorponok and their other cronies trying to kill Witwicky and take his grandfather’s glasses. The twist is that the later parts of the game work differently; you can actually win as the bad guys, unlike the optimistic Autobot triumph at the end of the film.
The story is still nicely unobtrusive, so if you haven’t seen the movie or just want to smash a lot of robots, the plot won’t get in the way. You’d better want to smash a lot of stuff, though, because that’s mainly what you’ll be doing in this game.
From the minute I started playing and saw the small craters the robots make by simply walking, I knew smashing stuff was a big part of Transformers. In both campaigns, beating the hell out of anything within reach seems to be the primary form of gameplay. There might be time limits imposed, or a directive to destroy a specific enemy/building, but you can still blow up just about anything you want. The environments are almost completely destructible, and to prolong the mayhem, large pieces of debris (telephone poles, fences, hunks of buildings) can be picked up and thrown to wreak even more havoc.
All characters can transform at will, and both mech and vehicle forms are relatively seamless to control and equally capable of doling out the hurt in the form of melee and ranged attacks. The Autobot missions tend to steer you away from senseless collateral damage, but in the Decepticon missions, only the occasional time limit impedes your rampage. “Wanton Destruction” might have been a more suitable title for the game, if not for that shiny license that Mr. Bay is so proud of.
Aside from the buildings and hapless vehicles just itching for a pounding, there are also dozens of enemy robots to trash, no matter what side you’re playing on. Both Transformer teams have a seemingly bottomless army of “drones” they throw in your way, while the star characters show up every few levels for a boss fight. These battles are initially epic in their proportions—you’ll easily demolish ten city blocks as you duke it out with your opponents, as the helpless humans scurry about like ants. After the fifth or so epic conflict, the flaws start to show themselves (much like another drawn-out summer blockbuster involving pirates.)
Transformers ends up suffering from a decent mechanic that’s been played to death. There’s very little variety within the objectives besides “blow this up” or “chase this guy down and then blow him up.” There are a few novelty missions that take cues from the film, but most of the time you’ll be walking through the same punch-punch-kick combo over and over, just on the scale of five story tall robots. The gesture controls perform all of the melee attacks, and after so much flailing I got more arm strain than I do from a rigorous game of Wii Boxing.
If the repetition of the missions was enough to keep you satisfied, I’d recommend this game as a sure rent. Beating the living daylights out of cityscapes is fun enough for a weekend of mindless action. The mechanics, unfortunately, muddle the experience further.
The camera is by far the biggest problem. I heard that it isn’t too hot on the 360 or PS3, but on the Wii it’s downright aggravating. An on-screen cursor controlled with the Wii remote dictates the camera movement, exclusively. If your hand wanders and the cursor moves off the screen, prepare for some wild camera rotations. Manually dragging the cursor back onto the screen is the only way to center the camera, which leads to moments of frustrated adjustments and even more arm strain. I would’ve liked if they’d replaced the redundant grab control on the C button with a camera centering function. The Z targeting lock-on helps a little, but there’s so much going on most of the time that it’s hard to discern any specific target.
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