Glu Mobile's Transformers somehow manages to mix fairly equal parts hand-to-hand combat and long-distance gunplay, with some platforming thrown in, despite having just one primary action button. It's a testament to just how far context-sensitive button design has come. Despite most of the gameplay consisting of moving Optimus Prime and then hitting "OK" to toggle attack mode on or off, the game manages to be pretty darn complex and challenging, to boot.
But let me back up a little. Transformers loosely follows the plot of this summer's breakout Hollywood hit, and I do mean loosely. Gamers play as (who else?) Optimus Prime, as he kicks bountiful Decepticon ass across three unique settings (the Arctic, the Hoover Dam, and fictional metropolis Tranquility). The action is 2D sidescrolling, but the focus here is squarely on robotic combat - even in the game's final segments the platforming remains light.
The combat is ingeniously designed around the limitations of the phone. The center button toggles "attack" on or off, as I mentioned earlier. When on, Prime will automatically fire his gun (plasma pistol? I'm not hardcore enough to know its official designation) at any distant enemies. When in close quarters, a combination of punches is automatically unleashed.
So why not just stay in attack mode all the time? That's the ingenious bit. While in attack mode, Prime is vulnerable. He can only defend when attack mode is off. Each Decepticon variety (and there are many - more than I expected) has it's own unique attack pattern. So the bulk of the gameplay comes from learning (and remembering) how each Decepticon can be defeated. Some might unleash a three-hit combo before leaving themselves open, so you'll need to defend for three strikes, then toggle attack on. Others have their own unique patterns.
The system works well, for the most part. Later in the game it gets plenty challenging, to boot. Towards the end, enemies appear that can break Prime's defenses, and you're required to find the proper moment to interrupt Decepticon attack patterns, instead of just waiting your turn to strike. One issue I encountered, mostly during boss fights, is that when in close, it's too difficult to tell whether prime is attacking to defending. I would think I was prepared to block a flurry of attacks, only to have them drain my life, because I was actually still in attack mode, and didn't realize it. A more obvious on-screen indicator would have been very welcome. It would have made some hectic battles much easier to follow.
Transformers' adventure is a lengthy one - there are (roughly) unique 20 levels, and some have to be visited more than once. One neat touch is that levels and dialogue "transmissions" are laid out on an overworld with slightly branching pathways, giving the game some nonlinearity. During long gameplay sessions the experience does get a bit repetitive, though. Some level goals other than "clear all Decepticons" would have been a welcome addition.
Overall Transformers is one of the better 2D action titles released on mobile. It's a little too repetitive to truly be a must-own, but the package is still an enjoyable, challenging retro romp.
What's Hot: Lengthy adventure with good challenge. Lots of Decepticon variation
What's Not: Hand-to-hand combat lacks polish. Can be somewhat repetitive.