I'll be honest, I had really low expectations going into this review. It's not the fault of the developer or anything. It's just that the Transformers franchise has always remained at the back of my mind as something I enjoyed as a kid, and no amount of looking through rose-tinted glasses was going to convince me that the new Transformers stuff was even remotely good. So maybe I went into this review a little bit unfairly, but then I started playing the game, and I found that even my low expectations couldn't be met by Transformers Prime. Maybe you, the reader, already expected this before you even clicked the link to come here. Well, you're stuck now, so strap in, it's going to get rough.
I've lost touch with the Transformers series over the years, I remember there being a few animated reboots, and now we've arrived at Prime, in all its CGI glory. I don't know exactly where it falls in the canon of things, but it has Bumblebee making noises like a broken speak and spell, so I figure it's along the lines of the movies. But then there are a few kids involved, named Miko, Raph, and Jack, and they each have a buddy Transformer: Miko's got Bulkhead, Raph has Bumblebee, and Jack has Arcee, who appears to be the newest addition to the line-up. The game has the gang fighting against Megatron as he attempts to capture a comet that is composed of Dark Energon and contains a sinister threat related to Unicron that wants to destroy the Matrix that Optimus Prime currently has in his possession.
The story takes place across thirteen relatively short levels and the game really doesn't last much longer than four hours. It feels like a lot more thanks to all the cutscenes that interrupt the action frequently. It felt like I couldn't have more than five minutes of actual gameplay without a cutscene showing up to break up the flow, and the loading screens between each felt unreasonably long considering that this game is pretty barren in terms of content. There isn't much to keep playing for after going through the story either, unless collectables placed in terribly obvious locations somehow passed you by the first time through. The unlockable items that these items contain include concept art from the show, and are a nice addition, but do little to enhance the experience.
Transformers Prime is an oddly barren game from a visual standpoint. The levels are wide open spaces with very little stuff populating them. The character models are pretty much the highlight of the game and they match the show fairly well (from the little bit of comparison I made by watching the show). But that's about it for bright spots, for the world textures are dull, the anti-aliasing barely hides the jaggies, and the locations are devoid of objects. Destructible items are limited to rocks, crates, and debris, but they hide valuable Energon shards that are needed to earn a high ranking at the end of the stage. A grade is earned based upon the criteria of time to complete the stage, the number of Energon shards picked up, and the amount of damage suffered. It's easy to get through most stages with the top ranking, and I only ran over the target time on two of the stages. The metrics for this are always shown on the Wii U gamepad if you're playing on a normal TV, so it's useful to have those so easily accessible.
The music includes a lot of tracks that are composed for the show and don't sound too bad, they actually manage to create some tension--about as much as you could expect from a kids' property, but tension nonetheless. The voice acting matches the quality of the show, with all voice actors accounted for. Though it's kind of annoying to hear Arcee say "scrap!" as a response to being hit or when something negative happens. You'd think they wouldn't try to cover up the use of the word "crap" with something related to vehicles, but who knows. A lot of the same voice samples are used repeatedly in fights, and that tends to get old after awhile due to the fact that boss fights are longer than most normal stages.
The actual gameplay is where this game is an absolute bare-bones, boring, meandering experience. Most of Transformers Prime is a simple beat-em-up with very little variety between characters. The only difference between each character is just the moves they perform, but even then it's all the same three button combos over and over from start to finish. There are also ranged attacks that can be performed by pressing the right trigger button. This attack can be powered up by awkwardly double-tapping the button, and then holding it down until a character glows. The weak lock-on system makes it really easy to miss enemies and is even more useless when playing in the game's multiplayer mode. The enemy variety just isn't there either, with a total of five different enemy types that include the brawler that gets in your face, the heavy defender unit, and the ranged attacker that has an easily telegraphed move. Boss fights are just wars of attrition, dealing with their giant openings of weakness to deal miniscule amounts of damage over and over again.
Occasionally, there are segments where players will need to drive their Transformer du jour through a course with really awkward controls that require the player to turn the Wii U gamepad like a steering wheel. While this might work when playing on a normal TV, doing this with the Wii U gamepad is an awkward system and reminds me of watching a parent or sibling trying to play Mario Kart; you know, the type that rolls with the controller, as if leaning had any bearing on how much your kart could turn. Players can turn into their vehicular form during normal gameplay, too, which is useful for traversing some of those empty levels, since walking is a plodding matter for some characters (looking at you Bulkhead). It also gives them a much needed tool to break through enemy defenses, which aren't really used all that much, as if they had no sense of self preservation.
Multiplayer is probably the deepest aspect of the game, if only because of the fact that players can employ a lot more tactics than what the computer manages to demonstrate. It still gets boring very quickly and doesn't really offer much to the game. Most of the stages and characters are unlocked by playing through the story mode and don't function much different from their Autobot counterparts.
I get that Transformers Prime is a game aimed at kids, and I can see where they would enjoy it, but it doesn't really do anything for anyone else. Parents might be able to enjoy this with their kids in multiplayer, but after two rounds of that there's no real reason to go back. It's not like this is some kind of fighting game that actually exhibits depth. This is just a stripped-down, bottom-of-the-barrel experience that was released to pad out the Wii U's launch. It's a 50 dollar game for a reason, and even then it's well overpriced, considering that there are a lot of games that offer a lot more enjoyment in the same span of time it takes to get through one session of the game's shockingly bland story. This game really feels like an episode of the show, stretched out to movie length to make an attempt at a cash grab. I'd like to think the franchise deserves better. At least the games by High Moon Studios were a step in the right direction. Stuff like Transformers Prime is the exact opposite.