From days of long ago- That’s how it all began in 1984 and it’s exactly how Voltron: Defender of the Universe from Behavior Interactive and THQ begins. While Voltron has had a few iterations, including the direct sequel series Voltron Force currently airing, there is just something about the nostalgia and, yeah, cheesiness, of the original Lion Force saga that is special to nearly every child of the 80s. From Peter Cullen’s introduction to the ridiculous voices that the main actors provided for bit parts, Voltron is a mixed bag until you remember that it’s about five awesome robot lions that turn into a butt-kicking giant robot.
This new game retains all of the campy charm of the original series through voiceovers, footage from episodes and even Peter Cullen announcing that “Voltron will be back after these messages” when the game is paused. Unfortunately, a lot of its mentality is also rooted in the age of neon, eschewing modern advancements in the twin-stick shooter genre. Put simply, if you like twin-stick shooters, you should give this a try. If you love (or even like) Voltron, though, well- chances are you’ve already purchased this. If not, you should.
The game plays out in three “episodes” of four levels each. Each episode takes place on a different planet or in space, with the first three levels focusing solely on the lions. You’ll move from waypoint to waypoint with chokepoints along the way that task you with defeating all the Drule forces, destroying generators, defending civilians and more. The space levels are pure bullet hell, and some lions fare far better than others in these scenarios.
The final level is a Robeast battle, with the Lions coming together to form Voltron. These battles play out in a turn-based fashion similar to Costume Quest or the Super Mario RPG games. You’ll choose an attack, press a button at the right time to hit and another to dodge enemy assaults and, when you’ve whittled the Robeast down to the bottom of its health bar, you’ll “Form Blazing Sword” and send that thing back to Zarkon in pieces.
The five lions each have different stats related to armor penetration, agility, long and short range aptitude, melee and durability. Each lion has its own special ability like Black’s lightning or Yellow’s sand whirlwinds, which costs one star piece to trigger. These star pieces are also how you earn extra lives. Collect five and you’ll have another chance to get back in the fight. I had hoped for some progression system that would see the lions become stronger from level to level, especially as the three segments follow the early episodes of the show. For example, in the first set of levels, Sven pilots the blue lion. Beyond that, it’s Allura.
Still, the game is a fun and frantic twin-stick shooter and I really enjoyed the pounce attacks to take down airborne enemies. The melee attack seemed fairly useless, but you’ll rarely remember its there, anyway. When planetside, if your lion is badly damaged, you’ll be booted out into Survivor mode. On foot, you’ll have to survive for 10 seconds and make it back to your lion to keep things going (and earn a sweet point bonus).
The game is, of course, playable cooperatively for up to five people. It’s a lot of fun to tear around with multiple lions, allowing each to focus on the types of enemies its best suited for. When playing cooperatively, all players share the same pool of extra lives and star shards for super attacks. The Voltron battles play out with attack selection rotating through players. The non-primary lions are tasked with keeping a floating circle in a target to maximize precision.
The game has an attractive cel-shaded look and the lions are animated more fluidly than they were in the original show. They don’t turn on a dime but, instead, slide to a halt before turning around. This looks and feels natural. The little touches, like the paw prints each lion leaves and the interactivity of the Voltron formation sequence all look and feel great.
The audio is taken straight from the original show, with one-liners from each character peppered throughout. The background music is all variations on themes that anyone who has watched the show will recognize. They do become repetitive, but if you’re a fan, you probably won’t mind.
Overall, your enjoyment of this game is likely to come down to your love of Voltron. If you’re a fan of twin-stick shooters, this is worth taking out for a spin. For Lion Force fans, though, there is no reason not to jump on this. While it’s definitely heavier on the fan service than it is on game play, the formula should make any fan of this giant robot “form blazing sword.”
Review copy of the game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.