My general rule of thumb with games based on old cartoons or movies is that they’re usually best avoided. There just isn’t a great track record for licensed games. Though, when I heard there was a game coming out based around my favorite childhood cartoon, Voltron, I couldn’t help but be a little curious. And, while I’m happy to report that Voltron: Defender of the Universe isn’t as bad as I had anticipated, I’m not blown away either.
Voltron was one of the anime giants of the 80s along with the likes of Robotech and Transformers. It’s seen extra life by airing on Cartoon Network years after the original series ran out, and has several of it’s own series’ reboots under its belt just like Transformers does. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that a game has been made.
The premise was simple (for 1980s anime). Five kids were dubbed the Voltron Force, and it was up to them to pilot five robotic lions to protect the universe from the evil King Zarkon and the Drule empire. Should the kids have any trouble with their enemies, they could join their lions together to form the mighty Voltron, a massive humanoid robot with the power to vanquish evil.
Does anyone miss the 80s and its simple times?
The game stays true to this story, and even kind of plays out like one of the episodes from back in the day. The intro to the game is the old show’s intro sequence, showing a short clip from an episode before each level. Even pausing the game causes the announcer to say, “Voltron will be right back, after these messages!” and, “Now, back to Voltron!” when resuming it (which is cool the first few times, but annoying if you need to pause a whole bunch).
I love these little nods to the show. It really adds to the presentation and makes the game feel like the work has been put in to make sure fans of Voltron will like the game, which is something that many licensed games fall short of when thinking about the fans.
The game itself is actually split into three different game play styles.
The one that takes up the majority of the game plays out as a traditional twin-stick shooter like Geometry Wars or Assault Heroes. Players will control one of the five lions, each with their own unique abilities and stats. Lions are tasked with following a set of objectives while defeating enemies in order to earn points and complete the level. Discovered power-ups temporarily increase firepower, allow momentary invincibility or dole out extra lives. These objectives aren’t terribly diverse, barreling down to either going to a certain checkpoint, destroying all the enemies or reactors in an area, or escorting prisoners to an extraction point. This gets a little repetitive after a while, but thankfully the slightly more diverse environments seem to balance this out a bit.
The only other problem with this mode is the ease at which players can get overwhelmed with the amount of enemies on screen. I played mostly by myself, giving a friend an extra controller in order to play a level or two cooperatively. Playing with more than one person was a lot of fun, and was clearly how the game was supposed to be played, but that singles out the solo players who may not be able to convince anyone else to pick up Voltron.
Thankfully, losing all your health has quite a bit of leeway. If your lion is disabled, the player enters “Survival Mode.” This means the player runs around on-foot while waiting for his or her lion to repair itself. After a count of 10, you can enter your lion again with full health, with the option to even get a point bonus if you manage to survive.
Another game play style plays like your typical top-down space shooter, similar to Galaga. I was actually disappointed that there were only two levels of this. Adding a few more of these could have broken up a little bit of the repetition a bit better.
The final game play style, and the one I was most looking forward to, was the boss battles against the Robeasts. While the boss battles would have been perfect if set-up as a traditional fighting game, that isn’t the case here. Instead, players will be given a series of quick-time events.
The boss battles are broken up into two parts. The first plays much like the other levels. You run around a giant enemy, avoiding attacks while wearing him down as separate lion(s.) Once the enemy is worn down, you form the mighty Voltron and the second part of the fight begins.
A battle continues as the player is told to select an attack from Voltron‘s arsenal. From there, you play the “get the cursor inside the highlighted area” mini-game to determine if the attack is a no damage failure, success and mild impact success or a perfect attack. The latter type can deplete most of the enemy’s health bar in one hit.
If your enemy is still standing at the end of your turn, they’ll attack. Your defense is simply pressing the face button shown on-screen before they launch the attack. Once your enemy falls, you mash the A/X button on your controller of choice in order to form the Blazing Sword and finish the fight.
Just….ugh…..you know that thing you do when something is so disappointing that you feel the need to express it not with words but with sounds and motions? That was my precise reaction to the boss battles. There was so much potential here but, instead, the boss battles are split into the same game play as the rest of the game. Plus, they end up becoming a series of quick-time events. Just….ugh….
I find it difficult to recommend the game to anyone other than the hardcore Voltron fan. If you’re like me and still have the old toy sitting on your TV cabinet, (it’s a COLLECTOR’S ITEM OK) then the Voltron game is worth looking into. If you’re only curious and have absolutely no knowledge of the show, you could probably pass this one up. The challenge then lies with finding more people who will play the game with you, since the game really only is worth the play through once you play co-op. That shouldn’t be a problem, right? Aren’t there tons of Voltron fans just waiting to do something like this?
This review is based on an Xbox 360 copy of the game that we received for review purposes.
Voltron has a lot of nice touches in terms of presentation, making the game feel like an extended episode of the series. The co-op play is a lot of fun too if you can manage to convince a friend to pick up the game.