I grew up watching Gen 1 Transformers and it succeeded at being a vehicle (heh) for Hasbro to sell more than a few toys. I never bought into the mythology of the series, that there was more to the battle against the Autobots and Decepticons on Earth beyond showing off which new toy my mom and dad needed to buy for me. As such, I never played Transformers video games for story. Instead, it was a play space for giant, transforming robots to beat up other transforming robots. The characters from the show certainly had personality and it was easy to root for the endless optimism and justice seeking nature of Optimus Prime while at the same time devouring Megatron’s mustache twirling villainy (even Starscream’s endless bickering and undeserved cockiness was endearing).
In years past I have only played three Transformers games–Atari’s 2004 Transformers and High Moon Studios’ Cyberton duology. Each did what they were supposed to do, which was bring back Peter Cullen and prominently feature the classing transformation sound effect. Beyond that, there wasn’t anything particularly special about them. Transformers Devastation, the unlikely product from an unlikely studio, Platinum Games, features a much stronger reverance to the source material than any other game. From the cel-shaded, 1980s aesthetic to pairing Cullen with Frank Welker (the original Megatron), Devastation is unquestionably a Gen1 game.
For all its reverence, the game isn’t particularly exciting. You’ll play as one of four Autobots (Optimus, Wheeljack, Grimlock, and Bumblebee) and fight against Decepticon forces in a faux-open world that is slowly being converted into a new Cyberton by the Insecticons. Familiar faces can be seen in Megatron’s army, like Starscream, the always awesome Soundwave, and the Constructicons (who earned top billing). As a brawler, the game plays quite similarly to Bayonetta, in that you’ll string attacks into combos, fire range weapons, and use transformation as a battle tactic. There’s even a Transformers “Witch Time” analog called Focus that slows enemies down for a brief period with every successful attack dodge. The gameplay in Devastation is perfectly competent and offers plenty of chances for replayability, but it lacks “wow” factor. It’s all just OK, neither thrilling nor terrible. To make things interesting, there’s an upgrade system that lets you spend in-game credits to create character boosts and a synthesis mechanic that fuses weapons together to make them stronger and adds unique modifiers. The game doesn’t go out of it’s way to encourage their use and I didn’t notice their existence until I had reached the second to last chapter of the story.
What Transfomers Devastation does well is through its presentation. It’s very much a style over substance experience, one that other Gen1 die hards will find an appreciation for. The technology on consoles today made it possible for Platinum to skin the in-game characters in such a way to make them look transplanted directly from the cartoon. It even has the famous transition cutaways, where the Autobot/Decipticon logo switches depending on the story’s point of view. There are a few moments where you can see the near perfect visual illusion fall away (usually when the camera zooms in on Megatron’s face) but for the most part, it’s a spitting image. Both Peter Cullen and Frank Welker put in sublime performances as their time honored robotic counterparts. Cullen continues to BE Optimus Prime and many of his speeches, especially those heard in the final battle against Megatron, are delivered so well and meaningful that I got chills. Cullen and Welker’s verbal sparring made me feel like a kid again and it was a pretty awesome feeling to return to.
Though it makes for a grand, nostalgic spectacle, Transformers Devastation isn’t nearly as to play as Bayonetta. The game is ultimately suited to hardcore Gen1 fans that can name each Constructicon and tell the difference between Starscream and Blitzwing. Those interested should try to get it on sale.