For anyone who played Activision’s console effort based on Michael Bay’s latest summer blockbuster you are already aware that choosing between Autobots and Decepticons can be a tough choice. Well for DS owners it is an even harder one as instead of simply picking either faction on a menu screen you are forced to choose between two distinct cartridges before leaving the game store. With the portable version of Transformers Activision has decided to split up the action and essentially offer the same experience across two different carts with minimal exclusive features. Which version you choose is entirely dependant on which faction you prefer to play the game with.
Just like its console brethren Transformers for the Nintendo DS is basically Grand Theft Auto with giant robots. Depending on which version you bring home you will be given missions by either Optimus Prime or Starscream respectively. The game opens with a narrative delivered by one of the two mentioned above describing Megatron’s journey to Earth 100 years ago to find the Allspark just like in the movie. What is nice however is a complete lack of the human element found in the movie, which was personally my least favorite part of the Hollywood interpretation. There are certain key elements throughout the game derived from the move, but for the most part this is a straight up action game with giant robots; not that there is anything inherently wrong with that.
The rest of the game is generally a smaller adaptation of the console version, which is what you would normally expect. The biggest difference is just how much they managed to squeeze out of the pint-sized DS hardware. The combat is simple, with only a melee attack, two projectiles, and the ability to jump and the enemies won’t be accused of being brain surgeons anytime soon. You can choose to travel on foot or transform and drive around unnoticed by pedestrians and other robots. The biggest disappointment though is that there are really no power-ups scattered throughout the game but you do gain experience, however it doesn’t affect the game too much, thankfully the difficulty reflects this design choice and is pretty comparable throughout the brief six hours the core campaign lasts.
As I mentioned this game is a GTA clone at its core which means missions and challenges will be scattered throughout the environment for you to partake in at your own leisure. You will also be given story progression missions from either Optimus or Starscream depending on which version you are playing. The biggest difference between this portable iteration and its console counterpart is that for the bulk of the game you assume control of generic create-a-bot that can take the form of objects in the environment. This allows the player to take on the form of 37 different vehicles in the game ranging from standard cars and trucks to helicopters and planes, some of which even resemble some of the classic characters from the 80s cartoon series. You will still be able to play as some of the characters in the movie such as Brawl, Barricade, Blackout, Starscream, and Megatron when playing the Decepticons cart and Optimus, Bumblebee, Ironhide, Jazz, and Ratchet when using the Autobots pack.
Even with all of these missions and options this pocket-sized title still suffers from the same problems as the console versions. While there are an abundance of missions throughout the game most of them suffer from mediocrity due to their limited diversity. For example most missions have you traveling from point A to point B and destroying a certain number of enemies or objects in the allotted time. There are hints of excellence when you do finally get to battle against bosses from the movie, but the majority of your adventure is spent performing mundane tasks and beating up no-name robots. Even exploring the open-ended world becomes tedious after a while which will inherently lead to you plowing through the story just to see how it ends.
As far as the two versions there is minimal difference to be found aside from the obvious character choices. Each version does contain its own ending and depending on which one you are playing gaining experience will be handled a bit differently. The Autobots will spend more time performing escort missions, which are just as frustrating as they are in any other game, whereas you will spend more time wreaking havoc in the Decepticons version as that is just what bad guys do. This makes the Decepticons version the easy choice for gamers looking for a more straight-forward action game, but for the most part the games are still structured almost identically.
Probably the biggest draw to this portable offering though is its multi-player. Unlike the console versions this DS interpretation does include some online action to nicely round out the package. You have a standard versus mode that can be enjoyed with up to three other players and consists of a traditional deathmatch and keep away mode. The other, and much more interesting mode, is called Score Attack. While the name may sound mundane the tasks are actually the best aspect of this game.
In this mode you login to the server each day and download a new challenge that ranges from destroying property to performing stunts, basically anything the main game could throw at you. You can go back and play these over and over throughout the day. At the end of the day you log back in and upload your score to the servers. The catch is that depending on which version you have will decide which side your points are added for. At the end of the week each side is tallied and if you are on the winning side you will earn tokens that in turn unlock new skins for use in the game that cannot be found in the single player.
Visually the game is one of the best currently available on the DS. Character models are absolutely fantastic and the inclusion of real voice over work is a nice touch for a portable game. The environments are expansive but not without a cost as the textures on some of the buildings will suffer due to the size of the areas. The animations of the transformations are nice and simple conveying a realistic motion to their madness and outside of the occasional pop-up around the environments the game is truly a technical marvel. Just like the console versions you can also destroy the environment in a rather convincing fashion and even leave cracks in the ground as you land your massive robot from high altitudes; good stuff.
It has been a long time since I really enjoyed playing through a game on my DS and Transformers has shown me that portable gaming can be fun in small doses. Anyone concerned that this is a quick cash-in can leave those assumptions at the door as the game is actually a solid addition to anyone’s portable library. Even though some of the missions can grow tedious the online portion more than makes up for it and regardless of which version you decide to play there is plenty here to keep you occupied for quite a while. In a world where movie tie-in games generally suck it is nice to find one of the few that do the franchise proud. If you own a DS I highly recommend giving this game a shot; especially if you are a fan of the license.