When you consider that games are supposedly something we all do in our spare time, it's a quite bizarre phenomenon that most of them tend to be tied down by wide-ranging and fairly stringent rules. Rules and laws are things we all encounter in our day to day lives, whether it's via mobile phone contracts, mortgage small print, or just during the I-really-want-to-break-the-speed-limit-but-I-shouldn't morning and afternoon school runs. Surely the last thing we need is for our hobbies, the things we enjoy, to get bogged down in yet more regulations, right?
Strategy games are some of the worst offenders on this score, with rules creating boundaries around what you can do or achieve, as well as when. Though they can still call upon a sizable fanbase as a result, there's a fair chance that their complicated nature puts off as many of us as it attracts. Perhaps aware of this fact, Glu has put together a strategy title that, with its licence, will no doubt draw in a fair amount of new blood to the genre. And, to its credit, it doesn't squander that opportunity, either.
It's not a case of being easy; Transformers G1: Awakening is certainly no pushover, but it's one of those rare entity that will even keep players who are clueless when it comes to planning ahead or keeping abreast of statistics enthralled. They may not get very far, but they'll enjoy their time on Awakening, nonetheless. Even the plot, which will be of little consequence to anyone that didn't grow up spending their pocket money on Transformers comics, manages not to get in the way.
It's a refreshing set of attributes for a title that, in terms of both its licence and genre, could easily get wrapped up itself. Luckily, Glu has served up a game that is a celebration to its various inspirations, rather than a slave.
How has this been achieved? At first glance, everything appears as normal. Taking a turn-based approach, you're tasked with moving varying numbers of robots around maps of different shapes and sizes, with ever-changing aims to achieve to secure progress. Each turn allows you to either move or perform an action of some kind – ranging from attacking an enemy robot, restoring health or transforming into the robot's second form to traverse the map in quicker speed.
Essentially, Transformers G1: Awakening is resource management meets chess. While Optimus Prime (leader of your pack, the Autobots) appears to be a bit of an 'all-rounder', some of the rest of his gang are more specific in terms of their abilities, relying on either speed or restoring the health of team-mates. Success relies on you directing those who have an offensive prowess to take care of your foes, while the others either secure important locales (usually power lines or stations) or provide medical back-up.
When battle /does/ commence between yourself and a rival robot (or Decepticons, as they are known), either by you attacking them or vice versa, the contests are short sharp stat fests. The game cuts to an animated screen that depicts the two Transformers firing one shot at each other, one at a time. Depending on each robot's particular skills in both defence and attack, varying amounts will be lashed away from both your own and your rival's health – measured on a scale that tops at 100. Hit zero, and that robot is wiped for the rest of that level.
Other factors also come into play when challenging enemies; having a fellow Autobot directly next to you, for instance, ups the strength of your attack, sometimes by 25 per cent, but matching up particular robots with those they're likely to be most effective against is an intuition that you begin to pick up with experience.
Even if you fail and all your Autobots are sent to the toaster heaven in the sky, Transformers G1: Awakening is the kind of game that'll make you desperate for another crack rather than wanting to punch the wall in frustration. Every map is a puzzle, in essence, with all the encounters – regardless of whether you're outnumbered or weaponless – having its own particular set of solutions. Success relies on you having either the aptitude or patience to work it out; patience, because trial and error comes into play here. Thankfully, repetition in this case is a factor that will be met by relish rather than restlessness.
Any title that manages to maintain a challenge without isolating itself from players – especially when it's in a genre that always has a potential to be slightly secular – is one that's worth it's weight in gold… or, perhaps, whatever metal Transformers are molded out of. The very fact that such a wide-reaching title is also attached to a licence is a fair achievement in itself. We're all truly welcome in Optimus Prime's world. It really is a case of come one, come all – an 'awakening' for the mobile strategy genre, if you like. Can I get away with that?