Children of the 1980s, brace for impact! Your memories and disposable income have become flashing, high-value targets for film and game companies looking to sell you back your fondest moments. What's old is new again, and if you grew up with cartoons filled with giant robots or little blue singing creatures, only to feel pangs in their absence in your adulthood, then relish (or balk at) the chance of revival. Amazingly, while publishers were pumping out games tied to just about every hit TV show and film, Voltron didn't ever get the game treatment in its heyday. As a result, this downloadable title is a chance to right history's failings and is being made by Voltron fans (who also happen to be developers) for Voltron fans.
Don't worry if you're too young to have caught the program the first time, as the game includes a recap of the characters and how they fit together. These flashbacks are done with original clips from the show and bookend gameplay. Even the menus include blasts of the original theme music and have been extended beyond short samples that were never designed for lengthy play.
You'll be able to play the game solo if you want to, but the real fun of being part of a giant transforming robot gang is the chance to buddy up, play through the campaign, and combine your powers. Two players battled alongside each other on the same console during our demo, but five players will be able to team up online, each taking control of one of the pieces of the robot puzzle and channelling their collective energies into a single unified attack to defeat evil forces.
Gameplay variety was clearly one of the major design goals, and rather than having you pick a single play style and sticking with it throughout the story, the game will be split into several different modes with roots in the show. Arus One: Bulwark was a twin-stick isometric brawler level set in a lush jungle environment where, with the pull of the trigger, our cats lunged at targets, clawing at eyes and earning valuable points. Yellow and red lions rely on melee swipes and pounces to take down anything within striking range, while blue and green lions are ranged units. Commander Keith, black lion, leader of the group, and the torso of the robot, is a balanced all-rounder.
The Arus Four mission was taken straight from the fiction, pitting us against the robeast in a turn-based combat scenario where we traded damage. One player controlled the intensity of a laser attack, or the swing of our sword, while the other aimed it at the enemy's weak spots.
The last level shown was a top-down space shooter with bullet-hell elements, and it gave us a good look at the special attack system. Star pieces are the game's currency and are collected in groups of five. Once you've collected enough, you can either trade them in for an extra life or spend them individually for temporary boosts and special attacks unique to each character. Every lion has its own elemental attack, and when activated, yellow released a swirling cyclone that engulfed enemies that were close enough to be caught. If you're unlucky enough to drain your life bar, you'll be given one extra chance at redemption. Provided you can survive on foot outside of your ship for 10 seconds while repairs go on, you'll be able to jump back in without the penalty of a lost life and continue the fight.
The devil is in the details, and the smallest touches here show that this is a passion project from lifetime series devotees. Tapping the pause button midgame triggers an audio sample of "Voltron will be back after these messages!" just like on the show when it cut to a commercial.
It's authentic and nostalgic, and while we didn't have a chance to put the controller in-hand ourselves, we're eager to relive the memories when Voltron: Defenders of the Universe is released later this year on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation Network.