Vehicle Mode! Beast Mode! Vehicle Mode! Beast Mode! Vehicle Mode!
The only thing I know about Transformers is that it’s a series of half-hour advertisements that are occasionally interrupted by more advertisements. It’s not that I wasn’t the right age for the toys, it’s just that I didn’t really know anyone growing up that was into them. Every time I’d catch an episode on TV it just confused the hell out of me. And this continued until the Beast Wars spinoff happened in the ‘90s and looked like early 3D animated crap. I still couldn’t make sense of the plot.
Nowadays, every time I look at a synopsis, my eyes go blurry, I pass out, and I wake up naked in another city with more questions than answers.
The only reason I played 2000’s eloquently named Transformers: Beast Wars: Transmetals is because I have a morbid fascination with the Blockbuster exclusive rental titles of the N64. This one didn’t stay a rental, which I don’t understand, because one weekend is all it takes to be twisted by the eldritch horrors contained within.
As I said, I haven’t the slightest clue what Beast Wars is all about. It apparently takes place in the future of the original Transformers series and also maybe on another planet? It depicts the Maximals and the Predacons fighting a war for some reason. They’re also apparently descendants of the Autobots and Decepticons, and I’m sure someone out there can explain to me how it’s possible for robots to have lineage, but you know what? I think I’m happier not knowing.
From what I remember about the show, it involved these robots battling on a world that was mostly dirt. Every image that has stuck in my head takes place in a valley of grey rock. So, it’s nice that Transformers: Beast Wars: Transmetals (yes, I’m going to spell that out every time) manages to capture that spirit, as every arena is just ugly and featureless.
More than that, the levels are infinite and flat. They’re all slightly different colors, and feature different things in the background. The backdrops are unique because they feature the most nauseating parallax scrolling I’ve seen in a long time. None of it really syncs up, so staring at them for any period of time is disorienting.
Backing up for a moment, Transformers: Beast Wars: Transmetals is a one-on-one fighting game. That doesn’t do enough to describe it, however, so try to imagine the most minimal effort fighting game. It’s a game that can hardly be described as such.
While the genre typically brings to mind grabs, projectiles, and air attacks, you need to dial back your expectations. Even when I add “it’s on a 3D plane” you need to expunge thoughts of Virtua Fighter or Soul Edge from your mind. If even Xena: Warrior Princess: The Talisman of Fate came to mind, you’re still not deep enough into the dank pits of despair. Did you play Ballz 3D? I’m sorry if you did, but it’s honestly the closest abomination I can place next to Transformers: Beast Wars: Transmetals, and even then, I think we’re being too charitable.
Picture a fighting game where the development staff decided not to do the bare minimum. Grappling? Too difficult. Special moves? Too hard to program. Punching? With this budget? No, you’re given a suite of projectile attacks to lob at your opponent. They mostly home in, because there’s no targeting system. It has less strategy than that old card game, War.
Oh, but wait! It’s a Transformers game, so the fighters must transform, right? They do! I’m just as surprised as you are.
However, if you’re expecting this to provide any sort of depth to the game, you obviously haven’t been listening so far. Each transformation — Robot Mode, Beast Mode, and Vehicle Mode — just provides a different set of projectiles to lob at your opponent. Some are better than others, and by “better” I mean easier to spam.
The AI is something special. I’d say it looks like the opponents are just button-mashing, but that’s not going far enough. They’re struggling in anguish to figure out the controls to the game they’re trapped in. Every attack looks random, as they continuously switch back and forth between the game’s three modes. It’s like being trapped in an elevator with someone trying to figure out a fatality code in Mortal Kombat by luck. I’m afraid to leave the cartridge plugged into my N64 at night for fear that my home will be filled by the tortured screams of the AI trying to escape their silicon prison.
So the best technique you can develop here is to just confuse the AI, which isn’t difficult. I got a lot of mileage from running circles around them, firing homing shots. They try to return fire, but they’re usually unable to because they don’t know what the buttons do. Sometimes they’ll just start flipping out, loudly announcing “vehicle mode, beast mode, vehicle mode, beast mode,” like they’ve just started pounding their controller against the floor in frustration.
Even if you put another player behind the controller — which I didn’t because I’m far too merciful — you’ve still got a game where skill isn’t a requirement. Find your bot’s best projectile and start lobbing. If the other player figures out there’s a block button (only accessible in robot mode), change modes and try another button.
There are a few “bonuses” as well. There’s this weird gunfight mini-game, one where you just mash buttons to escape explosions, and a standard fight, but everyone is squished. All I can say about these is that I guess they’re better than nothing, but only marginally.
There are eight characters to choose from, plus an additional four that are at least easy to remember the code for. If you manage to beat the game without losing a match, you can also fight against Megatron X. He has two health bars, which seems cheap, but his brain works about as poorly as everyone else’s.
Transformers: Beast Wars: Transmetals is just such an amazingly lazy product. I found myself laughing when the credits rolled and not a single member of the creative team is listed. No one even wanted to take responsibility for the game’s art. The production staff and the localization team are listed, and that’s it. This might be the first time I’ve actually seen this happen. A lot of Japanese developers were pressured into using pseudonyms in credits so they couldn’t be poached by other companies, but this is the first time I’ve seen it where the people who worked on the game didn’t want to be associated.
There was also a PS1 version of Transformers: Beast Wars: Transmetals, and it was completely different. It’s not a great game either, but it actually acts like a coherent product. The N64 version is completely bewildering. It doesn’t even feel like a prototype, it feels more like someone didn’t want to pay for a studio to develop for them, so they just handed the project over to their nephew.