Examining the roots of Transformers: The Game is deep stuff: It's a videogame based on a movie based on a cartoon based on a toy.
But unlike most laughably forced movie tie-in games (DaVinci Code for the PS2, anyone?), there's good sense in creating one devoted to giant robots beating the holy hell out of each other. It's just too bad Transformers was seemingly rushed out to coincide with the film's release. The result, unfortunately, is a game that's little more than meets the eye.
The premise of the Transformers — robots that turn into vehicles — lends itself to amazing possibilities, and the game taps into this right away. Not only can you destroy your surroundings, scale buildings, and step on houses as a bot, but also you can instantly change into a car for a hit-and-run ride through the suburbs, Lindsay Lohan-style. Call it Grand Theft Autobot — and call it extremely cathartic.
The best news is you can play campaigns as either the heroic Autobots or the evil Decepticons. Naturally Decepticon missions (which incorporate jets, helicopters, and tanks) involve more destruction and therefore are a helluva lot more fun. As a do-gooder Autobot, prepare to engage in lots of tasks protecting people and stopping Decepticons from leveling your city, blah blah blah. Of course, the sheer collateral damage from your attempts to thwart these towering terrorists results in a leveled landscape anyway, which is nice.
Unfortunately no matter which side you pick, Transformers needs an oil change by the third or fourth mission. It's at this point you'll realize the unimaginative levels — which involve beating up mindless drones as a robot and racing between checkpoints as a vehicle — are all spark plug and no spark.
It doesn't help that you'll fail frustrating tasks again and again, thanks to the Ford Pinto of in-game cameras. You'll waste time just trying to adjust the view when you should be bitch-smacking Megatron. On the Wii version, the Wiimote controls the camera, your punches, and your ability to pick up tanks and toss them. This is not what's known as ergonomic design.
Despite being superadvanced robots from space, the Transformers know only one or two repetitive punching moves, so their brawls tend to be less than riveting. And on the Wii, one errant wrist flick will have you trying to pick up your opponent — or maybe tilting your camera — instead of whaling on him. This, of course, makes you look like Retardimus Prime.
The in-game physics are also baffling. Can someone answer why, in car mode, you can send police cars flying when you ram them, but you can't drive through a tree? More often than not, you'll have to start your mission over not because of a missile to the head, but because your Camaro got hung up on an overturned mailbox as the clock ran out.
Despite all of this, Transformers has moments of unexplainably addictive fun. The missions might suck, but when you speed down the road at 90 mph, change into a robot (causing you to catapult through the air), land on top of a bakery, and send that bakery's giant plastic doughnut into the horizon, you can't help but think, Suck on that, Michael Bay.
But doing doughnuts and crushing citizens hold charm for only so long. By then you'll realize Transformers is more fender-bender than blowout.