One Part Grand Theft Auto, One Part Michael Bay, Mix with Vicarious Visions and add a dash of Peter Cullen. Spill a little on the cutting room floor, and you've got Transformers DS.
My love for Transformers extends itself a little further than that of the average nostalgic man-child. The original animated movie is still one of my favorite rainy day solutions, and I'd be lying if I was to say I didn't have more than one bin collecting dust in my closet loaded with shape-changing robots. So, when the series retread finally came along at the hands of Michael Bay, I think I took it a little better than most. I don't mind the cheesy flames on Optimus Prime or the lack of Soundwave these days; I can take the bad with the good. When the Transformers DS titles, Autobots and Decepticons, landed in my hands, I realized I'd be doing just that thing. There's a lot of bad in these games, but if you take it with the good, you'll find yourself enjoying a licensed property that's been given some pretty unique gameplay.
For starters though, you'll have to make the choice as to whether you're feeling like an Autobot or a Decepticon. The DS iterations of the Transformers line have been given a two release platform similar to Pokemon or Mega Man Battle Network. In most cases it's easy to look at these releases as milking the title for everything its worth, but Transformers might be more justified than one would originally think. While there is only one entirely unique level per game, the experience in each game is largely different. The Autobots are set on maintaining a vigilant eye on the amount of destruction they cause and humans they accidentally harm, while the Decepticons are out to bring mayhem to the streets in as many ways as possible. Each side also delves into the story from their own point of view, whether you're interested in helping Optimus Prime or teaming up with Starscream, the choice is yours. Full price for each side of the story may seem like a lot, but I think Vicarious Visions would have been hard pressed to get this whole package onto a single DS cartridge.
The limitations of the DS come up more than once when discussing Transformers, and there are a few reasons why. The game is a genuine sandbox-type exploration title, in which you can explore a large city and, for the most part, do as you wish. There are missions beacons located about to progress events along, but ignoring them will allow you to explore, destroy, or interact with various other objects located around the level. Players can leap upon rooftops causing massive craters as they bound along, or they can quickly transform to their automobile form and zoom about as if they were playing Grand Theft Auto. It's not hard to take a look around and see, though, that this is obviously a DS title. There are no people roaming the streets, the cities are unfortunately plain and lacking detail, and the draw distance is so close that you'll occasionally go zooming past a Decepticon or Autobot to turn around and find them vanished into the ether. Limitations of the hardware, indeed!
The plain aesthetic of the areas is solved partially by the unique aspect of obtaining more vehicle forms for your traveling Transformer. The streets are loaded with cars driving about, and instead of carjacking ala GTA, you'll be scanning them as your hulking Transformer, and unlocking them as options for which to transform. This was easily the most pleasing aspect of the game, in a weird blend of Gotta Catch 'Em All mentality in a Grand Theft Auto universe. This only applies to when you're proceeding through the levels as your unique Transformer however. Occasionally, you'll be zapped into a new level as your favorite metal friends from the movie, which is a nice surprise, but I think it would have probably been nicer to go one way or the other. Either allow me to play always as Optimus Prime and no one else, or give me fully the progression that comes from powering up my own metal behemoth.
The game does allow your Transformer to increase in stats, as well as abilities throughout the game, but I rarely took use of anything more than what I had in the first couple levels. Clobbering an opponent down to nothing with a lamppost or a passing car is really enough to make it through the game for the most part. Add to that some ranged shooting ability, and you're set to take on Megatron himself. The biggest battle you'll be fighting is with the camera, as it causes some awkward glitches, and it's slow enough to rotate that you'll find yourself getting pummeled while you're still looking for the enemy.
It's impressive enough to see a developer trying to attempt a sandbox-style game on the DS. It's doubly impressive that they're using the Transformers license (albeit the Bayformers one) to do so. Unfortunately, the time might not be ripe for such a game on such limited hardware, and sacrificing detail or splitting the experience into two halves, Autobots and Decepticons, seems the only way to see it done. This is a game specifically for fans, and even then I'd mention specifically fans of the new Transformers... or Peter Cullen. Did I mention he does brilliant voiceover work for the game? No? It sold me.
What's Hot: Voice-over by Peter Cullen; Scanning new automobile forms is addictive; It's (almost) Transformers!
What's Not: Detail is largely sacrificed in a sandbox environment; Clunky controls, Awkward camera issues and limited draw distance.