As a game reviewer, there's nothing more welcome than a game you didn't expect much from coming out of nowhere to wow you. When it comes to games based on movies and TV shows, expectations are never high, and this is not without good reason. Take Transformers: Prime, for example. Every time I picked it up to play it, I caught persistent glimpses of potential strewn throughout its design and presentation, but then I actually had to play it and experienced the mess that it was, and that ruined any potential it may have had.
Based on the TV show of the same name, Transformers: Prime follows the Autobots and Decepticons as they try to piece together broken chunks of a mysterious asteroid that houses parts of yet another uber-mech that threatens to destroy the world. At least I think that's the story; there were no options to turn on subtitles and the 3DS's built in speakers can't compete with white noise even at max volume. It's really nothing out of the ordinary but does give players the option to enjoy what would make a decent two or three part season finale. The problem is, you'd be lucky to get that kind of longevity out of it. The game spans a grand total of about 12 stages, and each can be done in about 5 minutes or so for a whopping total game length of about an hour, depending on how many times you die. This would be acceptable for a $5 download or an iOS game, but for a full retail game it's an insult. Even with the tacked-on multiplayer modes that consist of local wireless or CPU-based free for all or deathmatch battles, you're not likely to even get two hours out of the whole experience (and that's assuming you can find other local friends who have it).
Despite the story being simple and the game being terribly short, the voice acting, score, and sound effects are all excellent. If I didn't know better I'd think I was listening to the show, if not for the hideous, dare-I-say broken visuals. In every cutscene, it looked like Optimus Prime had only loaded his base frame, and none of his textures or details had come through, making him look like an ugly, smudged-up mess. This is the case with all of the character models, so I'm convinced the developers ran out of time when they were about one third complete. The animations aren't any better, as even the humans in the game move like they're robots. It's a shame to see such a dichotomy between the audio and visual fidelity, but that's what happens with cheap games.
The gameplay, though reasonably well thought out, is painfully sluggish. There are only three combos to choose from, and they might as well be single moves since once you hit the first attack the others will always hit as well, unless another enemy hits you, in which case you'll fall on your junkpile and lose precious time and energy. This is especially frustrating during some of the boss battles where the enemy will ignore your hit, break through your defenses, and land a dozen-hit combo that is impossible to break or counter, resulting in you losing a quarter of your health at a time. In addition to simple melee attacks, you can shoot, change into your vehicle form, put up a shield, and lock onto enemies for a strafe-tastic gun battle. When you're not beating enemies down, combat consists of holding the L1 button to lock on and the Y button to shoot while strafing to the side to avoid their attacks. There are some nice combat and movement options that result from attacking or jumping while in vehicle mode, but they're underutilized and don't really add anything to combat aside from making you awkwardly have to transform back if you want to break enemy shields.
As mentioned, the game is only a dozen levels long, and most can be defeated in a matter of minutes. Only the final stage has any sort of beef to it, since it's a lengthy, multi-stage boss battle. Each level consists of varying combinations of chase sequences that are somewhat enjoyable (if sluggish), straight-forward linear room-based “destroy all the bad guys before we eliminate this invisible wall so you can move on” areas, and some simple exploration levels, each capped with a boss of some sort. When you finish each level, you achieve a rank based on speed of completion, damage taken, and hidden items found, and doing so will net you up to 70 emblems for your accomplishments and different characters for the multiplayer component of the game.
If one aspect of Transformers: Prime stands out in a positive way then it's the boss battles, especially the final boss that has multiple forms and will take you almost as much time to beat as the rest of the game combined, it's just a shame that it too is hampered by poor controls.
I didn't really know what to expect from Transformers: Prime on the 3DS. Although it's for youngsters I still wouldn't recommend it to anyone that isn't ravenously addicted to the Transformers: Prime TV show, especially when there are so many better games on the 3DS for this age group.
This review is based on a 3DS copy of Transformers: Prime - The Game, provided by the publisher.