Transformers Legends is unlike anything we’ve ever played before. From what we can tell, there doesn’t seem to be any particular rhyme or reason to why the card battles work the way they do. You’ll win and lose without having any good idea as to just why–and yet it manages to be fun enough that you might not even care.
The game is first and foremost steeped in the lore of Generation 1–that is, the Transformers toy lines from the ’80s, featuring characters that rose to prominence for an entire generation of fans well before such things as Beast Wars, Mini-cons, or Michael Bay became involved in the series. But though the franchise is known for frequently renewing itself and its cast, many of these original versions have managed to persevere over the years and be renewed and reinvented.
As a result, some designs stay very true to their ’80s roots, while others are a bit more contemporary, often borrowing from the more recent toylines such as “Generations.” Even then, some of those designs are tweaked further to better reflect the character in some way or another. The most notable among these is none other than Megatron, the Decepticon leader who turned into a specialized handgun in the original series. Due to child safety laws, Megatron can no longer become a gun, and so he’s taken on more new forms than his rival, Optimus Prime (who usually becomes some form of truck or another), with most of them being tanks.
Rather than simply use a later version of Megatron who becomes a tank, the artists here have done something remarkable: You look at the robot mode card (most characters have two cards: one for robot mode, the other for their alternate mode) and see an excellent depiction of Megatron, looking just like his original form from G1, though in a style that looks like it belongs on the cover of a science fiction novel from the bookstore. His alternate mode, however, is that of a tank that actually looks like it could be formed from that very same robot mode. Hasbro has done nothing like this, but numerous fans (myself included) have readily stated that they would like for them to.
That’s a lot to say about the art, but it really is the driving force of this game, more than anything else. The designs and ingenuity that went into it are remarkable, and feel like nothing short of a labor of love. Better still, certain cards’ imagery move slightly as you move your iOS device around, giving an effect not unlike an old-fashioned hologram or lenticular card.
The game is a treat for the eyes, particularly if you love Transformers, and is the main factor that compels you to play on. It certainly isn’t the story, which is all but nonexistent. Save for the bios attached to each character’s card, there is little to no dialogue, and the story feels rather routine: Autobots wage their battle to destroy the evil forces of the Decepticons, protecting Earth in the process. Given we’ve had at least half a dozen variations on the same general theme, it works well enough for anyone familiar with the series; just don’t expect any sort of drama from it.
The gameplay, though, is where things get kind of iffy. Everything is basically an excuse to get more cards, which as we’ve noted is a delight. You start by choosing either Autobots or Decepticons, and picking a team leader–not Optimus Prime or Megatron, or even Starscream, Soundwave, Prowl, or Jazz, strangely enough. Instead, you choose from the likes of Ratchet, Wheeljack, or Mirage for the Autobots, and Ravage, Thundercracker, and Skywarp for the Decepticons.
While all likeable in their own way, the only ones who seem even remotely suitable for any sort of leadership role are the saboteur Ravage and the medic Ratchet, and even then, that’s stretching it. And don’t get us started on the way you mix decks of Autobots and Decepticons–our Autobot team has more Decepticons on it than Autobots, with two of them being Shockwave.
Gameplay is largely about engaging in missions, where you scan surroundings that fit with the character art. You’ll likely either encounter an enemy whose missiles you shoot for credits; find a new card (always a thrill), or encounter a boss, player, or other foe who you can choose to fight or flee.
Unfortunately, card combat is nothing short of confusing. Levels don’t seem to mean anything, nor the quality of your cards, as demonstrated by our defeat at the hands of a level 1 player to our level 6, who’d only won one battle to our three, and had the same deck. Similarly, a single special mission character with a level of 2 managed to tear through our team of numerous level 2, 3, and 4 characters armed with special weapons (optimized by the game itself) in only three or four attacks. You can’t view their stats, and you can’t tell why you’re losing, though you can recruit help and persist until you wear them down.
It’s a confusing mess from our perspective, yet remarkably, it doesn’t really get in the way of the gameplay much. You can continue your missions, earn various tokens and credits, and get more cards via the Spacebridge, which even has its own animated sequences. And since getting new cards and checking out new artwork and characters is where the real fun lies, the game manages to continue being enjoyable whether you have any idea what you’re doing or not.
Perhaps those who have a deep understanding of trading card games will be upset by this–or, conversely, be able to make sense of it all. Regardless, for Transformers fans, the game remains addictively fun whether you’re fluent in TCGs or not, and comes with a strong recommendation as collecting gorgeous Transformers art seems to be the real meat and potatoes of the Transformers Legends experience, and where this game shines.