Review by midwinter

Reviewed: 02/02/04

Not Much More Than Meets The Eye

The 1980's was where children's television was at. It was a time when being politically correct meant that you remembered to vote and violence on TV was something that the whole family could enjoy. Back then, we had it all. Terrorist forces waged weekly global terror campaigns against an all American Joe as genocidal giant robots plotted their mutually assured destructions. Was all that violence really bad for us? Well until I find myself straddling a shape-shifting robotic tank as it trundles onto the battlefield to oppress a race of democratic cat people sporting outrageous hair fetishes, I won't be too concerned. One of the more fondly remembered franchises of the time was Takara's own, Transformers. Though the animation was lacking in quality, the rampant merchandising soon had kids everywhere clambering over each other to get to the latest toys. 21 years later and Takara have decided to play the nostalgia card with this, their first G1 Transformers game for the Playstation2. With high expectations and my childhood riding shotgun, Tataki was inevitably going to disappoint...

Opening with a beautifully rendered action CG sequence, Transformers Tataki looked set to rekindle my fantasies of old. Sporting a plot ripped straight from my much adored Saturday morning cartoon series, things were off to a flying start! Tataki's story begins on a far off distant planet at the very outer reaches of our galaxy. It is here on Cybertron that a millennia long conflict has been fought between 2 ideologically opposed factions, the Autobots and the Decepticons. Noble in heart and heroic by nature, the Autobots now find themselves on the verge of defeat as the evil Decepticons prepare their final offensive. With their energy supplies dwindling, the Autobots flee Cybertron in a last ditch effort to procure new reserves with which to defeat the advancing Decepticon menace... so it isn't Shakespeare, but in the eyes of an 8 year old boy it certainly is the ''be all and end all'' of story telling. It's this campy Saturday morning spirit that drives Transformers Tataki on. It won't leave you breathless with anticipation and it certainly won't give you something to think about, but if you're lucky it may just entertain for a few hours. Sadly, this is about as good as it gets. The opening sequence and its accompanying story are 2 of Tataki's 3 high points... the 3rd of which isn't its gameplay...

It's once the game gets underway that the fanboy pleasing facade begins to crack. Upon waking from a blissful CG induced coma, the player is thrust into a third person nightmare of bland textures and dull backgrounds. Like water on an exposed circuit, the realization that Tataki is yet another abused license comes as a terrible shock to the system. Assuming control over one of the three Transformers initially available, the player must traverse a series of barren landscapes while defeating all that stands in their path. The remaining 2 characters then take on mindless sidekick duties as they totally fail to be of any real help on the battlefield what so ever. The stupidity displayed by the friendly AI can only rivaled by the over-zealous nature of the opposition. Watch in amazement as your allies charge past attacking enemies only to turn around and open fire. Gasp in horror when the opposition ignores your team mates and closes in on your now vulnerable self. Sigh with frustration as up to 4 enemies juggle you against the wall with blow after limp wristed blow. Then commence grinding your teeth as you begin to contemplate whether land-fill is too good for this game. And that as they say was that... or at least so I had wished.

It would have been possible to deal with each of these problems in turn had the actual combat been anything other than the disappointing mess that it currently is. Tataki's biggest fault can be found in the amount of time it takes each character to turn around... and by that I don't mean it's slow. Seasons will change, continents will drift and children will grow up to bear young ones of their own. The only way to realistically do an about face in time without being overrun is by putting some distance between the action and the player. While this tactic may be sound, the whole process is ridiculous to say the least. What happened to play testing?! At some point through it all, direct robot on robot combat will finally be initiated. When this happens, one of the first things to strike the player as being odd is how many of the attacks appear to be weak and ineffective. The expected sense of impact created by one 20 foot tall robot hitting another is mysteriously absent thus rendering the whole experience worthless and anti-climatic. Let's just forgo the mutual destruction altogether and indulge in a little slap and tickle instead...

Well at least they can still transform I hear you say. Much like yourself, I had wanted a giant transforming robot to call my very own when I was a child. My robot pal and I would have spent our weekends together, traveling the countryside. He would transform at my slightest whim as we tore up the interstate, occasionally taking to the sky to soar with the birds far above the jealous onlookers below. Ah life could have been grand... If this is what you expect from owning your own robot, then keep on looking as you won't find it here. Tataki's narrow environments hamper any possible enjoyment that the high speed vehicle modes may have brought. Within seconds of transforming, the player is usually faced with a wall and a decision. Should you change back into robot form, or attempt a turn which, as previously pointed out, is bit of a joke? If the player so much as scrapes a background element or enemy character, Tataki forces a transformation back into robot mode! I never knew robots were so sensitive. In the end, what should have been an integral part of the game turns out to be an ill-conceived, under-charged game mechanic that could have used further time in the workshop.

The sound effects do their job, but much like the game itself, not very well. For reasons best left to Takara to explain, the original effects were not used. Instead they've opted to go with new recordings that manage to sound both familiar and somehow wrong at the same time. Not even the voice acting manages to get by unscathed. Though many of the characters have been adequately represented, the old nostalgia inducing magic is still strangely absent. The original source material may be getting crusty in this day and age, but it's still amazing what a little digital clean up work can accomplish. Why wasn't the money spent? Oh that's right, Tataki is a licensed game of the lowest order! At least the background music is relatively inoffensive, and the new remixed rendition of the opening theme is somewhat enjoyable. There may not be a lot of tracks to go around, but what there is doesn't make my teeth ache and my ears bleed. And by this late stage, that's something I'm thankful for!

Surrounded by all this pain and misery I needed something to latch onto. Some kind of sign that there, buried deep within Tataki, was something worth chasing. It was then that the game's unlockable characters decided to reveal themselves to me. Suddenly there were over 100 Transformers of all shapes and sizes ready for the taking. Classic characters galore both new and old. Galvatron, Ratchet, sweet sweet Bumblebee. Where were you all while I suffered? You may not be the most accurate or detailed depictions of my childhood friends, but my, how your presence eases the pain. Though your animations are sometimes stiff and your move sets are limited, I will love you all the same. Why isn't everyone playable though?! That just doesn't seem right. At least in the end I can say that my journey wasn't completely in vain. Excuse me now while I continue grasping for straws... no I beg your pardon, that was my last one...

There are some licenses that no matter how hard they try, can never seem to get the break that they deserve. Maybe they have a great plot, some interesting characters or perhaps a killer gimmick. Then just as things get underway, fate steps in and delivers an all too cruel kick to the ghoulies. Transformers Tataki is one such game. Yet again, fans of the series have been left with a steaming pile of excrement that wouldn't have been out of place had it been left festering on a sidewalk. The crap-tacular graphics compliment the lobotomized AI and limp wristed move set so well that I am left to wonder if perhaps this wasn't all done on purpose. There's honestly so much wrong with this game that justifying its existence becomes an exercise in frustration. Die hard fans may appreciate the CG opening sequence and, with enough effort, they might even find the character models pleasing to the eye. Beyond that though there is little to recommend. Simply put, this is not a game I ever wish to see again... and as a long time Transformers fan, I feel my heart growing just that little bit colder for having said so...

Pros
----
* Awesome opening CG sequence
* The story camps it up as only Saturday morning children's TV can
* Great line-up of characters

Cons
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* Terrible controls
* Atrocious AI
* Weak combat
* Slow turn around movements
* Seriously repetitive gameplay
* Stiff, life less animations
* Bland graphics
* Average remix of the otherwise superb original theme

Rating:   1.0 - Terrible

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