The Transformers catchphrase “more than meets the eye” is an apt one. Originally used to underscore the transformation abilities of the toys, the catchphrase takes on a different meaning in context of Takara’s official Transformers game, Transformers Tataki. Both the Autobots and Decepticons have been tracking two mysterious UFOs in the vicinity of the planet Zel Samine. It appears that this planet contains unique energy producing properties, something that the locals of this star system use to power their other more habitable planets in the system. What transpires is a story straight from the Saturday morning shows, but with some extra time-travelling fan service thrown in for good measure.
It is worth mentioning at this juncture that the tone of the game has been lovingly crafted to fit in with the classic TV series and movie. In that the voice actors, who lend their talents to their respective transforming characters, do their best to impersonate the original voices. It is also amazing, considering the Japanese production, that the script remains equally faithful to the halcyon days of children television (some of the more classic one liners will bring misty eyes to those that have fond memories of the series, and one never tires of the timeless putdowns such as “Autofools” and “Decepticreeps”).
Transformers Tataki is Takara’s own attempt at a legitimate tie-in. Developed by the winkysoft, who brought us the classic Super Robot Wars games as well asRayblade, Transformers Tataki is a bit hit and miss, though enjoyable for the most part.
The game itself plays much like an extended version of Dynasty Warriors but with added wrestling and shooting features. Although, as in Dynasty Warriors, multiple enemies hound you until you beat or blast them into scrap metal, there is considerably more depth than this “button bashing” lineage suggests.
Instead of entering into combat alone, you have two wingmen that aid you in your pursuit of mechanical carnage. These wingmen can be deployed tactically in either an aggressive or defensive posture and they can also be positioned relative to the player. Moreover, each Transformer can transform into his or her vehicle form and use their unique abilities to turn the tide of each skirmish.
The latter is an important feature. For example, using Starscream (in his plane mode) to give the remainder of your team air cover, and therefore the chance at breaking through the Autobot minions, is a nice feature. It is also remarkably balanced, though more as to why later.
There are three main HUD gauges in Transformers Tataki; health, energy and spark. Upon the destruction of an enemy Transformer, they will deposit pink energon cubes (these are used to power-up your Transformers after each mission) and either an energy sphere or a health crystal. The energy spheres power your Transformation and special move abilities, these have to be constantly replenished. The reason for this being is that, when transformed, your Autobot or Decepticon consumes energy. This means that Starscream can’t remain in his plane mode for indefinite periods of time and that at some point he will have to return to the ground and find some more energy.
In addition, energy is also used to power your range based weaponry. Ranged combat is more about tactically planning the oncoming hand to hand barrage, in that using your wingmen to give cover fire allows you to set yourself up for a few nice combos. Admittedly ranged weapons can deliver fatal results to your eager opponents but considering the limitations of energy on transformation it’s normally more prudent to save your energy for when the carnage truly kicks off.
The “spark” attacks are also an interesting little facet of gameplay. If the player beats up enough enemy Transformers, the spark gauge will slowly fill up. Once full, the player merely has to charge the bar by holding down an attack button, and the nearest enemy will be subject to a high-speed barrage of punches or kicks.
Whilst this barrage of attacks does considerable damage it is somewhat difficult to aim and as such one of the lesser minions may receive your wrath rather than the boss you intended it for. It also gets a tad repetitive after you have fired-up a spark attack for the umpteenth time.
Stages are separated into distinct areas where enemies have to be destroyed before the player progresses. These levels are a pretty bland but the addition of mid and end of level bosses (with iconic Transformers) does spice things up a bit, as well as help the player forget the repetitive scenery for a while.
The main problem with Transformers Tataki is mainly that of the controls. Considering that attacks can come from all sides, it is surprising that the player can’t turn their Transformer with the relative ease that you would expect. This is increasingly frustrating when being harassed by multiple foes from all sides. There is a special attack that produces a 360 degree energy wave that will knock down surrounding opponents but it consumes energy and takes time to initiate. Considering the game’s main focus is that of full on hand to hand combat it is disappointing that the game fails in this department. Admittedly the game is more than adequately playable, enjoyable even, but it could have really used more responsive controls.
It is also a great shame that there is no versus mode in the game. With the huge roster of both Autobot and Decepticon Transformers, each with their own unique abilities, the fact that two human players can’t duke it out has to be considered a waste.
Many games out there appear to be judged purely on their graphical merit, rather than any kind of gameplay content. It goes without saying that this mentality is backward at best and something that was highlighted by the press furore over the Atari/Melbourne House attempt at the Transformers Armada license (a game that looks fantastic but is clearly flawed in terms of how it actually plays). It’s obvious that these two games will receive graphical comparisons and Transformers Tataki is graphically far more basic. On the positive side though it doesn’t suffer from any slowdown or framerate judder and the action is feverish for almost the entire game (whereas Atari’s effort is particularly barren in terms of combat frequency and has a headache inducing framerate).
Whilst this is a Japanese game, all the audio is dubbed into English, to the extent that the entire text for the game can be switched over to English making the language barrier irrelevant to any importer.
Transformers Tataki is by no means a perfect game, even a bit broken in places, but it is still an enjoyable bash-em-up. Naturally, for those that have fond memories of the original Transformers TV series and movie, then this game will garner a higher level of approval. As a game it is pretty simplistic but it does deliver an enjoyable romp. It may not look outstanding but beneath the surface there is certainly more than meets the eye.
Note: The Tataki title comes from the original press materials for the game and is used here to help differentiate from the Atari/Melbourne House game that was released after it.