Licensed games get a bad rap. You take a popular intellectual property like a hot summer blockbuster or popular kid’s show, throw in some half-baked gameplay concepts, sprinkle in some characters and voice actors, and voila: instant money. Very few licensed games can rise above the mold, stand out from the stream of mediocre tie-ins, and actually be able to stand up on its own merits. Transformers: Prime for Wii U is not one of these games.
The vague story is broken up into thirteen distinct levels, each stage featuring one of a handful of Autobots, letting you play as Optimus Prime, Arcee, Bumblebee, and more. Which Autobot you’ll play as ultimately doesn’t matter because other than the obvious cosmetic changes, each Transformer controls exactly the same. You’ll battle the same three or four different enemies ad nauseum during each level, mashing out the same three combos over and over until you deplete their life bars, occasionally pressing the “upgrade” button once the bar is full to unleash more powerful attacks or transforming into a car to move faster through the small and barren levels. Boss battles and driving sequences break up the monotony somewhat, but bosses don’t really amount to much more than predicting a set of patterns and jamming the attack button once they drop their defenses. The driving levels turn the Gamepad into a steering wheel and task you with maneuvering your way around perilous explosions and barriers. The fact that these sections are actually more fun than the battling is made even more depressing by the fact that they make up about fifteen minutes of the entire game.
As this is a Wii port, Transformers: Prime doesn’t exactly push the Wii U hardware, though that isn’t to say it doesn’t look nice. Environments look distinct, if a tad generic, but the Transformers have a unique style that shines through despite the fact that the game looks like it was just upscaled from the Wii version. About the nicest thing I can say is that the overall experience is pretty polished; I didn’t run into any major bugs or glitches, the frame rate stays consistent, and controls are fluid enough to work. Plus, you get all of the voice actors from the show, including the voice of Peter Cullen’s iconic Optimus Prime. It’s all decent, but the story does not serve the voice acting one iota.
The Gamepad isn’t put to terrific use either, featuring basic level stats and a button that lets you activate your upgrade ability. It does let you switch screens however, letting you stream the game to the Gamepad instead of the TV, which is a nice touch.