• DarkSpark5It’s surprising to say that the recent Transformers games have been really good. Both Transformers: War for Cybertron and Transformers: Fall of Cybertron were fantastic games that you could tell were developed with incredible passion on the part of the developer, High Moon Studios. There was only one weak link as the curse of the movie license videogames struck again: Transformers: Dark of the Moon – the game based on the third movie in Bay’s saga – was mediocre. That’s actually the worst that can be said, though. Despite being a short, clearly rushed title intended to release in sync with the movie, the game had some value. Of course, Activision had to mess with a successful formula and remove High Moon studios from the picture.

    Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark is a soulless machination that exists entirely just to profit on the successful movie series, and the reputation that was built up around the previous iterations. It HAS no spark. Rise of the Dark Spark does the worst possible thing that it could. It combined the War for/Fall of Cybertron titles with the continuity of the Michael Bay movies. The narrative swaps from the present on Earth to the past on Cybertron, and focuses around the Dark Spark, which is a sort of anti-Matrix of Leadership. It’s basically an all-powerful tool that Megatron seeks to control in order to win his war.

    DarkSpark4The past segment features most of the cast from the previous games, complete with their abilities. Any progression that Fall of Cybertron brought on board has been incorporated, but the title hasn’t really been enhanced much further. Combat is less challenging, outside of a ruthless environmental danger in an early chapter. Like before, this is a third-person shooter. The range of weapons from the previous game exists, albeit without the customization. You can also melee nearby foes, and activate unique abilities with a cooldown. Some of these abilities are quite abusable, and are a fine example of how not to balance over-powered abilities with a simple cooldown. Somehow, the various characters just seem to lack an identity, even with these abilities. They all just feel the same.

    Of course, this is a Transformers game, so the Cybertronians can all transform, right? Sure thing. A common criticism for previous games was the lack of a need to use the vehicle forms. While some stages require it (ie. flying through small corridors or areas with no floor), there appears to be less need here. The pace of the battle just reduces the advantage it would offer, and it becomes simply a gimmick to travel between objective A and objective B. In fact, using it as travel can sometimes break the game, which is interesting. Vehicles can also participate in combat, and in fairness, some players may wish to stick to their vehicle form for the explosive weaponry provided to them by default; however, superior weaponry can be used in their character’s robot form with, ironically, better mobility for combat. There’s just no flare to anything, and combat is just underwhelming.

    DarkSpark3Even the cutscenes are underwhelming. The previous games had some fantastic moments involving lore that would have excited any fan, while being compelling enough for the more casual fan to enjoy even without understanding the references. Fall of Cybertron even increased the impact of the drama and kept you on edge, complete with some awesome, fist-pumping moments. Optimus and Megatron were stars that really got to shine, but the rest of the playable cast had their moments too. Rather than carrying the momentum of its predecessors, Rise of the Dark Spark just trips over itself. None of those moments truly exist in this game, and it can sometimes feel like a chore. It’s clear that it’s trying to emulate the success of Fall of Cybertron, replicating many of the mechanics and set-pieces, but it just fails to deliver, and offers nothing unique beyond the Earth setting (which, ultimately, just feels tacked on). The title’s highlights are nothing more than bland replications of the Fall of Cybertron’s highlights, which makes the sloppy effort all the more apparent.

    Worthy of note is that Fall of Cybertron improved the environments of War for Cybertron significantly. The dull, metallic world of Cybertron was made interesting and visually appealing. Unfortunately, it’s regressed, and the world is more dull than ever. There’s some variation, but it’s just a let down. It’s muddy looking, and the colour has been mostly lost. Somehow, even the vibrant and lush planet Earth looks really dull despite having the benefit from contrasting with Cybertron. I’m impressed that’s even possible. This is made even worse when considering just how terribly the title suffers as a result of being poorly ported from a previous generation system. It suffers from the same pixel mess that exists in PlayStation 3 titles that amp up the textures and objects on screen at the expense of all anti-aliasing and the resolution. The packaging can claim that it outputs in whatever resolution it wants, but I’m pretty sure it’s sub-720p. It’s ugly, and it certainly doesn’t look like it belongs on a next generation system.

    DarkSpark2Multiplayer is incorporated in the single player through challenges. Players are rewarded with multiplayer loot for succeeding in challenges offline and online. Unfortunately, these rewards come in the form of boxes that contain random rewards. Rather than making for an engaging progression mechanic, it results in nothing more than being an inconvenience. They can even reward you with already-unlocked loot. The multiplayer itself is comprised of the typical modes that players would expect from any shooter, but also comes complete with the escalation mode that previous entries had also provided. This mode serves as a survival mode for four players and is probably the most interesting experience that this package can offer.

    Rise of the Dark Spark is a decent enough title, but its failing is that it changes too much. It’s nothing more than a shallow, poorly executed imitation of Fall of Cybertron. Rather than taking the Cybertron series a step forward with a next generation release, Activision have instead dragged it into the mud, which is exactly where I’m going to bury my copy.

    2 Sparkless* Autobots out of 5

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  • invizimals4Children’s videogames rarely get a chance to shine in the spotlight any more, at least on the home console. Mario is still popular, and so is Sonic, but they’re often  lampshaded by mature rated titles such as Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed. Gone are the days of fun, silly adventures. Nowadays, we prefer to kill everything and proclaim that it’s for our freedom. Invizimals: The Lost Kingdom is yet another children’s game to be released, ignored and forgotten almost immediately. Maybe that’s unfair? Perhaps this Invizimals title too should have a chance to shine and show that players don’t need a game to be rated “M for Mature”.
    Invizimals is a franchise that, until now, has been released exclusively on handheld. For the first time, game studio Novarama has released a home console title, bringing the award-winning augmented reality game into HD. The premise was simple enough. Players discover and capture Invizimals in the real world using the PlayStation Portable’s camera. Players may then subsequently battle their collected creatures against other players’ own. It’s kind of like Pokemon, except with the real world. Similarly, players would likely be expecting the home console iteration to provide the same function as Pokemon Colliseum–providing a higher resolution battlefield for players to enjoy witnessing their monsters fight on the big screen. And, for all intents and purposes, Invizimals: The Lost Kingdom does provide this feature, but this game mode is simply a small addition to a larger campaign.
    invizimals3The title stars protagonist Hiro as he is transported from the real world into the computer generated world of the Invizimals. Hiro is sent by Alliance to investigate the recent appearances of metallic Invizimals, or, well, robots. Hiro must climb, hop and fight his way through the lost kingdom to unravel the mystery. Not only is this Novarama’s first experience with the home console, but it’s also the developer’s first experience with the adventure genre and it really shows. The stages are colourful, but empty and lifeless. The camera often situates itself in a poor location that can mislead players to their death or highlight additional paths for bonus collectibles as if they’re the direction of the goal. The platforming can be quite clunky, and collision detection is often poor and expands beyond the object. The mechanics are riddled with issues and a lack of polish. Additionally, some parts of the environment can appear to be another platform of sorts, but will instead be revealed to be a collision-less object upon the player falling to their death.
    Hiro has the ability to take the energy of Invizimals and become them, allowing him to transform into an array of different creatures in a very Ben 10-esque way. The addition of new forms serve as the reward for besting a boss in a QTE match, in which the player could go make themselves a tea or their dinner or something and still return in time to press the next prompt. Or they could walk away and just mash every button on the controller. Either method works, really. The title – for all the difficulties its short-comings can sometimes amount to – is just far too simple.
    invizimals1In combat, players may just mash the attack button and they’ll quite easily overwhelm their foes. It doesn’t matter that there are three attack buttons, and it doesn’t even matter that points may be collected to upgrade these attacks for different abilities The player may simply just spam the fastest strike and overcome any foe. Areas that are sectioned off and requiring a specific Invizimal’s gimmick will often have a prompt that will immediately transform the player into that form, and little means of failure.
    It could be argued in defence of The Lost Kingdom that it’s a children’s game, and for what it’s worth I would suppose this a valid argument for the mind numbing simplicity that it offers. But then, I remember how popular and relevant Mario still is today, and it hasn’t stooped to this low yet. It’s dull, barely requires the player to pay any attention, and feels like little effort has went in to refining it. Perhaps even the developer didn’t expect it to sell well, or for players to bother with anything beyond the previously mentioned Pokemon Coliseum style game mode. Invizimals: The Lost Kingdom may be a game for children, but children deserve better than this.
    1 soulless robot out of 5

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