If you took the console version of the recently released Transformers game and split it right down the middle, you would probably have enough to make two smaller games, both containing just enough to differentiate them. When Vicarious Visions did this with the first Transformers game for DS it garnered more than its fair share of comparisons to Pokemon or even the more recent Mega Man titles. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen Autobots and Decepticons (which I will be referring to as just Autobots and Decepticons from here on out) continues the trend with two games adjusted to each flavor of protagonist in the universe. The beauty here is that it all works in execution. Both games are nearly identical in structure, but differ enough to feel like separate entities. What we get is a solid collection of DS games that are truly more than meets the eye.
Depending on which cart you decide to pick up the game begins vaguely similar. A robot falls from the sky and depending on which version you are playing; you will be recruited by that faction and become the latest edition to the team. This tutorial teaches you the basics such as locking onto enemies, switching weapons and even the driving portion. Unlike the first game where you could constantly scan new vehicles to transform into, this new version gives you three templates to choose from at the outset (light, medium and heavy) and from here you can upgrade your character with new weapons and other goodies. Choosing a side is as easy as deciding which you would rather be: an evil Decepticon or a trustworthy Autobot, as both games offer the same experience from a different perspective.
The controls have been refined, and shooting and driving are now more responsive when compared to the original game. There are instances where you can tell they try to force you into car form because there are challenges such as races, but the majority of the time is spent battling in robot form. You can lock onto enemies with the tap of a button, but if they are not in range your Transformer will not fire at them. This can be disconcerting at times as you will be mashing away on the button and nothing will happen.
Once you adjust to the fact that enemies must be within your radar, things smooth out a bit. Even when everything falls into place though, the limited control scheme of the DS really forced the developers to tone down the AI. You can find exploits in the mechanics to make boss battles nearly effortless, and taking down multiple foes is as easy as tapping a few buttons, rinse and repeat. This really drags down certain sections of the game, and makes you wonder why they don’t attempt to try a different style game on a portable. Transformers: RotF is a solid effort for an action title on DS, but it feels like so much of the game is limited by the restrictions of the hardware.
Upgrading your character in the game has also changed a bit from the previous outing. Much like its console brethren you collect Energon when you defeat enemies. This acts as currency in the game allowing you to upgrade parts and purchase new ones. Scanning is also back, but this time it doesn’t allow you to scan new vehicles to transform into, but instead works like an unlocking device for new weapons and hidden items. Scanning things throughout the game world can open up more powerful weapons, which is imperative when upgrading your character for the online mode Battle for Earth. The upgrade mechanic is not as cool as being able to instantly change your vehicle form at will like the first game, but it does a layer of depth to the action that was sorely absent.
Speaking of online the game brings back the head-to-head modes from the first game, and once again they are only available through local WiFi. While the limitations are not ideal, when you manage to get a group of friends together the game is rather enjoyable. You can even opt to play the game cross-cartridge between the two versions, but not being online at this junction in the handheld’s lifecycle is just disappointing. The other online feature was probably my favorite feature from the previous game, and that is Battle for Earth. In this mode you can download new missions on a daily basis that let you upload scores and times for your faction; for instance if you own Autobots your scores are added to that leaderboard and vice versa. The promise of new missions daily is very cool, but be warned that it is not DLC, there are no new assets so they are basically just re-worked missions using the included levels.
Still this mode is an incredibly addictive side part to the game, and if continued support rolls out it could keep gamers playing this for quite a long time. Connecting to a server was simple, and in our playtime the missions ranged from typical to actually very creative. We look forward to seeing how long this virtual war between the Autobots and Decepticons can last before gamers grow tired of the game.
The visuals suffer from a lot of the same problems as the gameplay. It feels like the developers attempted to add too much detail for the DS to handle. The result is a collaboration of muddy textures with a solid engine behind it. Animations are nicely done and the levels all retain a unique look and feel, but you can’t help but feel like they put a lot of work into trying to make the game look better than the hardware was capable of. The cut scenes and dialogue however, are top-notch. Everything looks and sounds great, especially through headphones. The sound effects are ripped right from the shows and movies, and the voice work is handled by the same guys from the movies; truly outstanding.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen for Nintendo DS continues the trend of solid movie titles from the talented bunch at Activision’s internal studios. The game is leaps and bounds beyond the original, and the Battle for Earth mode is truly one of the most addictive distractions I have experienced in a DS game this year. If the competitive multi-player was online and the graphics and controls tweaked just a bit more, this game would be the definitive licensed game. Kudos to everyone who took the time and effort to actually deliver a quality product, when they could have easily rested on their laurels and copy-and-pasted the last game.