The Transformers are toymaking’s greatest idea and video gaming’s greatest shame. Giant robots turning into vehicles and always firing lasers at each other: they’re every perfect video game idea combined into one kickass concept, and sometimes several Transformers combine into a giant superbot to kick even more ass than that.
They’re not even human, so you can blow them up no matter which country or age group you’re selling to. The fact Transformers isn’t already the best game on every system is the worst atrocity in virtual history. Developers couldn’t drop a ball harder if it fell through spacetime to kill their grandparents on their first date.
But there have been a few good Transformers games. And there have been some crazy attempts to shake the curse of suckiness. Which is why we’re looking at the worst, weirdest, and most wonderful simulations of these robots in disguise.
Tranformers: The Game
2007 | Traveller’s Tales & Savage Entertainment | X360, PS3, PS2, PSP Wii, DS, PC
Transformers: The Game was based on the live-action movie, which is the first and worst mistake modern technology can make. And it makes it perfectly.
The game had great graphics, but suffered from a disorienting camera, pointless repetition, and combat significantly less exciting than a good back massage (and about as challenging). It couldn’t have represented the movie more accurately if it featured Shia LaBeouf. Because it did feature Shia LaBeouf. And it still found a way to be even worse, because if you can think of anything more pointless than providing Megan Fox’s real voice for a low-quality simulated body, Activision will apparently hire you as a desginer.
They also missed the point of transformation, with vehicle sections which felt more like drunk-driving on novocaine. This was every terrible movie license we ever played growing up, given millions of dollars and not spending a single cent on improving the gameplay.
The Transformers: Mystery of Convoy
1986 | ISCO | NES
Transformers: Mystery of Convoy wasn’t just a waste of the name Transformers. With a Japanese launch title of “Fight! Super Robot Life-Form Transformers: Mystery of Convoy,” it may be the greatest waste of a game title in recorded history. That should be the name of a game that wins the Nobel Prize for Video Games.
They missed the point so hard they misspelled the game’s name as “Comvoy.” Never has one letter said so much: “We can’t even be bothered to fix errors on the label, so just imagine what the code’s like.” Most of the bosses are just floating Decepticon symbols. Not flying. They don’t move. They just float there, saying, “See, some of your stupid Transformer stuff.”
This is an entire game programmed by annoyed parents pretending to care about what their kids like. Playing this game was a mistake so terrible even the game tried to prevent you from making it. You died in one hit, you could die in the first ten seconds from a swooping enemy, and if you made it to the last level, the game accepted your dedication to pointlessly wasting your time by sticking you in an infinitely looping maze.
Mystery of Convoy would have shown more effort if Takara employees had just gone out and stolen children’s birthday money themselves.
Transformers: The Headmasters
1987 | Takara | Famicom Disk System
The Headmasters are the dumbest idea Hasbro ever had, and they once designed a microscope that could transform into a boring teacher for a kids’ cartoon show. The Headmasters were people who could turn into robot heads. It’s hard to think of what they were doing with this idea, possibly because this idea just replaced your head with a tin-plated idiot.
If you’re going to imagine being a Transformer, you just imagine it. Experimental surgery based on metallurgical contortions doesn’t make it any easier, just suckier, because you’re imagining giving up your humanity and your genitalia for the ability to just turn into a head. So you’re still as helpless as any other human if there are no real Transformers around. Unless your enemy is terrified of staring contests.
Transformers: The Headmasters could only be played on the Famicom Disk System, as if the hardware industry was working to reduce the number risk of anyone making that mistake. Because this was a Transformers game where you couldn’t transform. Instead, you alternated between walking and vehicle levels. By that logic, James Bond has been a Transformer.
DreamMix TV World Fighters
2003 | Bitstep | PS2, GC
DreamMix TV World Fighters is a Smash Bros-style game where you have Optimus Prime fight Solid Snake and Simon Belmont on Adventure Island.
Transforming mid-fight to fishtail Prime’s cargo container through Bomberman is one of the most satisfying things you’ll ever achieve. But it’s not technically a Transformers game, which is why it’s here under “Weird” instead of “Best game ever that we played for a week instead of writing the rest of the article.”
Transformers: Cybertron Adventures
2010 | Next Level Games | Wii
The only point of Transformers games is transforming and kicking ass, and Activision missed both of those targets and every other thing they ever aimed at with this Wii light gun game.
This on-rails shooter only lets you control your robot’s right arm as it automatically staggers through preset paths while apparently suffering from shaky cam syndrome. Wiimotes were great for detecting that you’d moved, but their best guess at exactly where you’d moved was shrugging the cursor. Though this aiming system would explain why nobody in the cartoons was ever able to hit anything.
The final indignity was preset vehicle sections where the game specifically reminded you it knew what Transformers were and then refused to be any good at it.
It’s technically a worst game, but the fact someone decided to do this, on purpose, is what makes it weird. It’s hard to imagine a weirder design decision.
Transformers: Human Alliance
2013 | SEGA | Arcade
If Cybertron Adventures missed the point, Human Alliance sanded it down to a smooth featureless surface and then choked on the dust. The title tells you everything you need to know.
Transformers: Human Alliance might as well be Mario: One of those clouds in the background. You’re playing a Transformers game as a wimpy human, and even worse, it’s an original character human created just for the game.
Try to understand the magnitude of this failure: you’re not even Shia LaBeouf.
That’s the sort of failure where your atoms forget to obey conservation of mass and you simply disappear from existence. Which might actually be what happened to the first part of the designer’s brain to come up with this idea, leaving the left of their empty skull to stagger through this incomprehensibly weird decision.
Transformers: Fall of Cybertron
2012 | High Moon Studios | X360, PS3, PC
War for Cybertron finally let people turn into giant robots to blast multiplayer chunks out of each other, then transform into vehicles to do it even harder and faster. As such, it’s one of the greatest things to ever happen to the franchise.
Then Fall of Cybertron made it a bit better.
It’s not the highest-scoring multiplayer game ever made, but when your game’s classes are tanks and jet fighters, YES IT IS. The Infiltrator class even made invisible cars look cool, and that’s a task both Bond and basic physics proved should be impossible.
2015 | PlatinumGames | XBO, X360, PS4, PS3, PC
Transformers: Devastation is a love letter written in code. This is the game eighties kids could only dream of.
PlatinumGames put more effort into perfecting the cartoon colors than the cartoon’s animators. They put more person-hours into adjusting the lighting than Vermeer. They hired the original voice actors for Optimus Prime, Megatron, Soundwave, Grimlock, and lots of other Transformers we’re sure somebody cares about. Add Vince DiCola, original composer for 1986’s Transformers: The Movie (aka Transformers: The Only Good Movie).
The game disc could have been an audio CD and it still would have been worth the nostalgia-money. The kick-ass hack-and-slash-and-transform-and-ram game is a brilliant bonus.
It’s not perfect. There are some problems with the camera, and if you get bored of robots beating each other up you’re going to get bored pretty quickly. But those flaws only make it more faithful to the source cartoon.
And at least the game can remember which Transformers can fly and what color they are. But the only thing anybody needs to know is that is a game where a jet will turn into a tank and also a robot and all three will try to kill you, but you can fight back with Optimus Prime.
And since 1984, that’s all their target market has ever wanted.
Transformers G1: Awakening
2008 | Glu Mobile | Mobile
Awakening knows what geeks love, and that’s Generation 1 Transformers and Advance Wars.
Transformers G1: Awakening is so authentic to the source of Transformers, it’s even been awoken from years of being trapped in an obsolete vehicle. Just as the Transformers lay dormant in the Ark for millions of years, Awakening started as a feature phone game before being upgraded for iOS and smartphones.
Just look at the video above. The game obviously adores the original cartoon. You’d play this even if it was a battle of blue and red squares. It’s a game so good that Optimus Prime is just a bonus.
2004 | Melbourne House | PS2
It’s based on Armada, so some of your favorite ‘formers have been replaced with tin-plated teenagers from an alternate universe. We’ve got Hot Shot for Hot Rod, Red Alert for Ratchet, but you can still be Optimus Prime and kick enormous amounts of ass.
The cartoon’s “minicons” might have been appallingly obvious Poke-clone kidbait, but in this game they work as customizable upgrades, allowing you to turn your Transformer into an armored brawler or an accelerated infra-red vision sniper.
Solid game mechanics, energon-tastic explosions, and the “Transform Right Now Whenever I Want” button, incomprehensibly absent from so many other games, allow you to accelerate through a group of Decepticreeps, off a ramp, transform in mid air, and blaster-cannon a bunch more before you even hit the ground.
In case any of that isn’t enough, this is the game that finally lets you re-enact the best bit from the best Transformers movie ever made:
Luke McKinney is a freelance contributor.