When I first heard that a Voltron game was coming to XBLA, I was pretty excited. As a kid, it was one of the staple cartoons that I would watch. What’s not to love? Giant mechanical lions piloted by space heroes, an even more giant mechanical hero that the lions transform into, and ridiculous dialogue from even more ridiculous enemies; everything you could want in a classic, as the later Power Rangers found out when ripping off Voltron’s great formula. All of this happened in the span of a few seconds, simply from hearing that a Voltron game was coming. But of course, just as every cloud holds the potential to dump torrents of water on you, every game announcement has the potential for disappointment. Mine came in hearing that Voltron would be handled by Behaviour Interactive, the same developers that gave us the inimitably terrible Ghostbusters: Sanctum of Slime. Having spent the last couple of days playing Voltron, however, I’m glad to say that the difference between the two games is night and day.
For the most part, Voltron: Defender of the Universe functions as a three-quarters top-down twin-stick shooter (lots of hyphens, neh?). There are some variations in the predominant perspective and gameplay mechanic, however. When in lion mode, which is most of the game, you play using the aforementioned perspective and mechanic. In addition to the second stick controlling your directional fire, however, there are three additional attacks that serve various purposes: Special Attack, Pounce, and Melee. The Special Attack is a very high power attack that consumes star pieces, which are otherwise collected to earn extra lives. There is a cooldown period on the attack as well, so between the cooldown and the balance of power and earning lives, the Special Attack (which is unique for each lion) is generally better saved for when it’s needed most. Pouncing has an intended purpose, which is to bring flying units to the ground in a spectacularly cat-and-bird fashion. In this, it is quite successful and useful, since flying units can becoming quite bothersome if not taken care of. Granted, flying units can be targeted with your directional fire as well, but it’s more satisfying to pounce them. The secondary purpose is for ground units. Pouncing can be a great way to quickly move around a field covered in ground units, avoiding damage to yourself while simultaneously dealing damage to your enemies. Melee, like Pouncing, has an intended purpose, which is to…well, melee your opponents, I guess. Melee is also, however, incredibly useful as a dash/dodge, and can quickly get you out of harm’s way.
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The first change in perspective and gameplay comes when you first form Voltron, Defender of the Universe. The perspective changes to a kind of Street Fighter sideline view, while the gameplay becomes, essentially, a mini-game. It is turn based combat between Voltron and the Robeast he faces. At the beginning of your turn, you have a limited amount of time to quick-select an attack from the four provided. You then have to play a timing game to stop a moving bar in the center of a moving target in which to perform a successful or perfect attack. The turn changes to your opponent, and you have an opportunity to defend against the attack by pressing the designated button quickly enough. Once you have whittled away your opponent’s life bar, you form the blazing sword and he is defeated. The second change in perspective and gameplay comes when traveling from the first world to the second world, and from the second world to the third world. This becomes a Galagaesque top-down vertical-scrolling space shooter. You are in lion mode again, and must shoot your way through enemy forces until you arrive at your destination. Both modes are quite fun, and a fun way to handle boss battles with Voltron and interplanetary travel. The third change in perspective is when a lion’s health is completely depleted. At this point, your space pilot is on his own, firing his little laser pistol into any surrounding enemies while the lion auto-repairs for 10 seconds. If you can survive this 10 second repair window and make it back to your lion, no lives are lost and a survivor bonus is granted. If you die outside of the lion, a life is lost.
Voltron: Defender of the Universe is not what you would call a long game. Similar in length to games like Guardian Heroes and X-Men Arcade, the entire game can easily be played through in a single sitting with time left over for other pursuits. The game contains three worlds, each one essentially consisting of three lion levels and a Voltron boss fight. The return draw is in the differing gameplay provided by each of Voltron’s component lions, who have unique stats that change how you play the game. The other draw is the multiplayer. Multiplayer, both local and online, is no different than playing the game solo; your only options are the campaign levels to play through co-operatively. Local allows two people, while online allows up to 5. In multiplayer, lives are shared across all players. Voltron boss battles in multiplayer are incredibly well handled. It’s becomes turn-based within turn-based. The basic turn-based battle between Voltron and the Robeast remains the same, but control of Voltron also becomes turn-based within the people co-operatively playing the game. While one person controls the attack for the turn, the rest must focus a reticle on a target to add a damage bonus. As the battle continues, the control cycles throughout the players, until it’s over.
So, yes, Voltron: Defender of the Universe is a GOOD GAME. But you know what makes it a GREAT game? When you first start the game, and the developer/publisher screens are transitioning before you reach the title screen, the transitions are TV snow, like you used to get when changing channels on an old TV. At the title screen, before each level, and when forming Voltron, scenes from the actual TV show are used to set up the level and form the mechanical hero. Most importantly, however…when pausing the game, you will hear, “Voltron will be back after these messages!” and when unpausing, you will hear, “Now, back to Voltron!” This all shows a great deal of love and respect for both Voltron and the nostalgia that players want to feel when experiencing a Voltron game. 800 MSP, even if the game is short, is a great price for an unexpectedly great game.
|Voltron will be back after these messages!|
|Could be longer|