I can remember seeing this game on the C64 when it was first released. It came out in 1985 – at a time when Ocean software had a reputation for some technically impressive games and some great arcade conversions (through their Imagine label), and when the G1 toys were in their prime (sorry!), Ocean turned to experienced developers Denton Designs, famed for their icon-based adventure Shadowfire, to produce this platform adventure game for them. As with all of Ocean’s major titles at the time, it was also released for the Spectrum which we have reviewed here.
As with most Commodore 64 games it was released on both cassette and disk, but both versions of the game were identical apart from the packaging. The cassette version loaded up with what was an impressive title screen for the time featuring the Transformers logo, Soundwave and Jazz, revealing gradually while a great piece of music played composed by Ocean’s in-house musician Martin Galway. Ocean didn’t allow Galway to do the in-game music as well, leaving Denton Designs to use their regular musician, Fred Gray.
Basically, Transformers is a platform shoot-em-up. You take on the role of a team of five Autobots (Optimus Prime, Jazz, Bumblebee, Mirage and Hound) and you have to explore the games levels collecting four pieces of the “Autobot Energon Cube” (although these actually look more like the Autobot insgnia once you gather them!) and returning them to your base, negotiating the array of platforms and avoiding the onslaught from the Decepticons who are out to stop you. Collect four pieces and the level is complete. Why they are doing it, is anyone’s guess!
To help you, each Autobot has three modes of transport – walking, flight, or vehicle mode. Different modes are best used to negotiate different parts of the levels with some platforms only being accessible through flight. Naturally, driving around is one of the quickest ways to explore the levels, but it is all too easy to drive too fast and end up going over the edge off a platform. You are open to attack in vehicle mode, but can shoot back in robot or flight mode, and different modes of transport offer different benefits and levels of control for manoeuvring around the levels themselves.
Each of the Autobots on offer give different advantages and disadvantages to the player. It is possible to switch between ‘bots at any time during the game as long as you are able to stop and turn into a forward facing position. Naturally, Optimus Prime is the best for firepower and damage resistance, but he is rather cumbersome when it comes to negotiating some of the trickier platforms. By the same token, Bumblebee is not a ‘bot to use if you are expecting heavy combat, but because of his size, he can go where no ‘bot has gone before. However, Jazz would appear to be the best all-rounder. If you run low on energy after taking too much damage, you can take a few minutes respite by taking cover in one of a number of defensa-pods scattered around the playing area which will protect you temporarily and also replenish your energy.
The graphics in the game are something of a mixed bag. The sprites are well drawn and well-animated, especially the transformation sequences, but the backgrounds are appalling. The platforms consist of little more than metallic pipes on a plain black background. Yes, the game scrolls smoothly enough, but when the screen doesn’t even look interesting, the gameplay has to exceptional to make you come back for that elusive “one more go”.
Special mention has to go to the music by Fred Gray. He has managed to produce a faithful renditioning of the Transformers theme for the game, although there isn’t a great deal of music during the game itself. However, the sound effects are rather sparse and what is there is rather lacklustre considering the Commodore’s capabilities.
Overall, this game is too damn difficult for it’s own good for most gamers. It is a difficult game in it’s own right, but coupled with a frustrating control system that is unresponsive and, and an icon system that you need to use to change between characters (no doubt something that Denton Designs felt that they wanted to make use of in most of their games at the time) makes the game a annoying to play (not to mention making transforming your ‘bot difficult and not something that can be done in a hurry). Denton Designs were famed for their icon-based games for the C64, starting with their revolutionary graphic adventure, Shadowfire, but icons have no place in a platform game.
If that wasn’t bad enough, there is some dubious collision detection, and as with many scrolling platform games, because of the speed that it moves at and the sheer speed of the Decepticons that are attacking you, it is impossible to tell what is coming from off the screen. All too often, you can be in flight mode and suddenly finding yourself crashing head first into an oncoming platform or being shot at from all angles.
To be honest, this game never really set the world alight when it came out, and looking back at it now it has dated very badly. Some of the better C64 games have still stood the test of time with its playability and even visually are far more impressive. This certainly wasn’t one of the Commodore’s – or Ocean’s finest moments.