Voltron: Defender of the Universe
-Behavior Interactive, Inc./THQ (2011)
-PSN version reviewed. Also on XBLA.
The Voltron Lions run wild in the countryside.
I'm a huge Voltron fan. I watched the cartoon many times in the 80s and have watched, and even more enjoyed, the original Japanese Go Lion series. I was excited for the new Voltron Force cartoon... until I actually watched it. Voltron Force is amazingly awful. I wasn't paying much, if any, attention to this downloadable Voltron title coming out because I was afraid that it was in line with Voltron Force and not the original Voltron. Well, I am overjoyed to say that this Voltron game has absolutely nothing to do with Voltron Force.
When you first booth the game, the logos are presented with a flash of static in between them, as if you're changing the channels of an old television. Then the legendary Voltron opening begins. You choose one of the five Lions and the story progresses using clips from the cartoon between stages. If you're a Voltron fan, you've already seen these episodes and know the outcome, but the gameplay you participate in makes these episodes feel a little meatier. This is also like seeing these episodes in HD, so that's something.
The three episodes from the cartoon are broken up into four stages and take place on the planets of Arus, Yadle, and Planet Doom for a total of twelve stages. Voltron is essentially a twin-stick shooter and it works for Voltron, or I should say it works for the Lions. The majority of the levels have you piloting the Lion of your choice, running and blasting away the Drule army. These levels feel much like Assault Heroes, which isn't a bad thing. There are also two stages where the Lions take to space to travel to another planet. These levels are more of an overhead space shooter and are a nice change from the land-based missions.
The five Lions all have their own stats in armor penetration, agility, long range, short range, melee, and durability. The Lions' primary attack is a sort of laser cannon on its back, but the lions have other attacks as well. The lions can melee with their claws when they are close, perform a special move, and have a super awesome pounce attack to take out flying enemies. There are also power-ups of mega thrusters that boost the Lions' lasers and a shield, but they are too few and far between. I played stages as all the Lions, but first completed the game as the Black Lion, then played as the Red Lion for a few stages. The change in attack power from the Black Lion to the Red Lion was very apparent. It felt like it took forever to destroy some enemies with the Red Lion. Because of this, a couple of the Lions really require you to play them in a multiplayer game, otherwise you could find yourself getting bored attacking a single enemy for so long.
The Lions can't be destroyed, but they can be disabled. If your Lion is disabled then you enter a Survival Mode. If you can survive for ten seconds as just the character with a tiny gun, the Lion will be back up and you can jump back in to continue the battle. Throughout the stages the lions will face off against Drule foot soldiers, tanks, and flying machines that are all straight from the cartoon. You don't even have to shoot the soldiers if you don't want to. You can just step on them with the Lion. While all of the missions have you blasting away at Drule forces, there are times when you'll have to escort friendly vehicles, protect a structure, or take out Drule generators to progress.
I've been talking about the Lions, but how is the actual Voltron part? Well, on the fourth stage of each planet you'll face off against a Robeast. It consists of first wearing down the Robeast with the Lions until they are ready to form Voltron. The classic animation sequence plays as Voltron forms and you can get extra points when flicking the left analog stick during the prompts. Then the most disappointing part of the game kicks in. The mighty Voltron is reduced to a series of quick-time events. During the actual Voltron battle, you select a move for Voltron to perform and then hit a button at the right time. Once the Robeast's health is down, Voltron forms the Blazing Sword by mashing on the X button. While this works for multiplayer sessions when each player is given a turn, it sucks that this is how Voltron is presented. I honestly don't know how they would have made Voltron controllable otherwise for five players. Having all five players each controlling a limb would be a complete mess, and if only one of the players was controlling Voltron the others would feel left out. Maybe the take-turns quick-time event was the best solution, but it's still disappointing regardless. I wanted to control Voltron and swing the Blazing Sword myself, not just press a button at the right time.
There is some incredible fan-service in the game, however. Voltron boasts the best pause feature of all time. When you pause the game you hear Peter Cullen's iconic narration of, "Voltron will be back after these messages." When you un-pause you hear, "Now back to Voltron." I spent way too much time just hitting the Start button over and over.
Oh, and guess what? Sven is in the game! Sven pilots the Blue Lion in the first four stages. Yes, all you Sven lovers can pilot the Blue Lion as Sven... until you get to stage five because then the game takes place after he dies in the cartoon (or is just very badly injured). Princess Allura then pilots the Blue Lion for the rest of the game.
The graphics are cel-shaded which work well for the animated source material. The music is also taken from the show and you'll hear your Lion pilot say some one-liners here and there throughout the stages. The animation of the Lions is pretty good, but the animation for Voltron could have been a bit smoother.
One of the Trophies requires you to complete a stage with four others, but good luck trying to get into a game with four other players. I was able to get into a lobby with four others once, but the host obviously wasn't paying attention. The rest of us waited for about five minutes, which is a long time to wait in online time, but then one guy dropped out and so did another. I was able to play with two other players and the game worked pretty well. I'm sure it's quite a treat to see all five Lions blasting everything in sight.
The game doesn't take too long to beat, maybe two - three hours, and you don't have to play through every stage with every Lion to unlock all the Trophies. There is an option for downloadable content, but so far THQ has not revealed any DLC plans. I could see them adding more levels, hopefully free, but we'll see.
While the game was good when piloting the lions, the Voltron quick-time sequences were such a huge disappointment. The game is short and there's no real reason to run through the game with every Lion unless you want to get higher scores. For me, I love the fan-service the game offers like the greatest pause game feature ever, and Sven. The game isn't the best twin-stick shooter, but it doesn't have to be perfect for me to like it. Overall it's decent for a Voltron fan and feeds from a nostalgia perspective it's pretty awesome. Nostalgia and fan-service are the big draw factors when playing this game, which is fine with me because I'm essentially the kind of person this was made for.