Voltron: Defender of the Universe Review: Shallow Nostalgic Fun

Voltron: Defender of the Universe Review: Shallow FunI am a child of the 80s. My afternoons each day were full of half-hour commercials – thinly disguised as cartoons – that featured cars and jets that turned into robots, a special forces, anti-terrorist military squad, five metal lions that formed a mega robot that defended our universe, and Jem and the Holograms (don’t ask).

Of these great cartoons of my youth, most have been brought back to the public eye in the form of mega-blockbuster films and/or next-gen games. And finally, Voltron: Defender of the Universe is getting some love.

Voltron tells the story of five pilots who are entrusted with ancient robotic lions that, when the going gets tough, can form into a huge robot, complete with a kick-ass sword, to, well, defend the universe. It’s the perfect subject matter for a video game, right?

Voltron: Defender of the Universe is an arcade shooter from developer Behaviour Interactive and publisher THQ available via download from the Xbox 360 Live Marketplace or the Playstation 3 Network. In the game you and up to four friends take control of a lion, each with its own strengths and weaknesses, as you battle King Zarkon and his evil forces of doom.

Voltron: Defender of the Universe Review: Shallow Fun

The game is broken down into four parts, with three subchapters and a Robeast boss battle. Most of the time, you run around and shoot lasers with the right stick and melee with the RB button or pounce with the Right Trigger. You also have a special attack (lion specific) that can be used with the Left Trigger.

As with most games in this genre, the enemies swarm you, and you spend most of the time dodging and shooting and collecting star pieces (five give you an extra life) and assorted power-ups. There are unique mission objectives such as escort missions and tower defense assaults, but for the most part its just shoot, shoot, shoot.

There are also space battles, which resemble old-school arcade cabinet shooters as your lion, or lions, travel from planet to planet. It is a nice break from the constant bullet hell of the land-based levels.

Graphically, the game looks good in HD, and each part and subchapter utilizes a snippet of the original cartoon to set the scene. It is a great throwback for fans of the show. Also, pausing the game triggers Peter Cullen’s classic, “Voltron will return after these messages,” and “And now, Back to Voltron,” which bookended each commercial break in the cartoon.

Voltron: Defender of the Universe Review: Shallow Fun

The music and sound effects are actually really good, with the music bordering on repetitive, but not to the point of insanity. Each lion is piloted by a character from the show, and their faces and voices pop in during battle to encourage you as you fight on.

At the end of each part is a battle with a Robeast, and that is when the titular hero makes his appearance. The battle starts as you wear down the Robeast with laser and melee attacks, and once he is injured, your lion combines with the others to form Voltron. The remaining battle is handled by pressing context buttons in turn-based combat. Not the epic sword battle you’d expect, but still fun.

Multiplayer allows for online or co-op friends to join you as the other lions on your team, so up to five people can play at a time. Unfortunately, all players draw from the same life pool, so a weak team member can sap your extra lives. Choose you friends wisely.

The game runs smooth for the most part, but does slow down during the chaotic space battles due to the sheer number of things happening on screen. This was the only instance I discovered any semblance of lag.

There are already new levels available for sale in the Xbox Live Marketplace and Playstation Network, so the game has a decent level of replayablity, even after you finish the main campaign. There are also leaderboards, extras, and achievements and trophies that can be earned.

As an arcade shooter, Voltron: Defender of the Universe works. It’s fun and entertaining, but not too deep. For those of us who are old enough to remember, you will wax nostalgic at the little touches from the cartoon, and that is part of the fun. The developers are truly fans of the source material and it shows in the love that was put into the game.

Voltron is not a perfect game, but I did enjoy my time playing it. After all, isn’t that what games are for?

Now, if only someone would make a Jem and the Holograms game…

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