‘Voltron’ doesn’t quite come together

This new “Voltron” game from THQ should come with a bowl of cereal and a pair of pajamas because it’s clearly fan service for the nostalgic souls who spent their childhood watching Saturday morning cartoons. Sadly, not even the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia can make this game look like anything but a generic cash-in attempt on a beloved franchise.

The original “Voltron” cartoon as we know it was actually the patchwork lovechild of two separate anime shows redubbed and re-edited together. Most of the juicy bits got left on the cutting room floor, and what American kids saw on their TV was a simple, but fun battle of good vs. evil. The Voltron Force, five pilots who each helm a giant robotic lion, must save the universe from the evil King Zarkon’s armies. Clips from the show, in all its cheesy ‘80s glory, serve as the game’s cutscenes, but fans who actually want to relive the full story will have to do so elsewhere. Still, the clips are nice bookends that bring a nostalgic flair to the game.

“Voltron” is a twin stick shooter, meaning that one joystick controls movement while the other aims your bullets. There are a metric ton of these games already available on PSN and Xbox Arcade, and “Voltron” does very little to separate itself from the pack. The formula is solid, but too familiar: destroy an enemy squad, defend a position, go from one point to another, and do it all again. The enemies and environments aren’t particularly interesting, and though the lions each have a unique special attack, there’s no leveling system to build up your characters. That fact alone makes this game hard to recommend over similar titles with more depth and replay value like “Renegade Ops.” Still, if you can manage to herd together four other players, the online co-op is pretty fun.

You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned anything about turning into a giant robot and pummeling other giant robots with a blazing sword. That’s because, in a truly bizarre and unfortunate design choice, THQ has limited the moments of actually playing as the titular titan to just boss battles. Worse yet, players don’t actually control Voltron, they just react to onscreen prompts to deliver canned attack sequences in a turn-based battle. There are only three boss fights in the whole game, which means that fans eager to trash some Robeasts with their favorite robot this side of Gundam will spend all of fifteen minutes doing so throughout the entire course of the game.

To be honest, this ruins the whole experience. Sure, in a multiplayer game there’s the problem of who would actually get to control Voltron, but the solution to that problem certainly isn’t to deny playing as Voltron altogether. There are dozens of ways to solve this problem, but THQ took the laziest route imaginable and in doing so declawed a game that otherwise provides some decent thrills for nostalgic fans.

The game is only three hours long at most, and though the $10 price tag reflects this, it’s still an unacceptably sparse game. There’s almost nothing in the way of replay incentives other than higher difficulty levels. Where are the hidden goodies, secret characters, bosses or bonus rounds? At the end of the day, “Voltron” is a transparent attempt to make some money by throwing a lion coat on a generic shooter shell.

The bright and colorful graphics do a good job of helping distinguish what’s a bush and what’s an incoming enemy laser, but they lack a unique charm. It’s a shame the developers didn’t try to channel some of the retro vibe of the show clips. Some old-timey filters would have gone a long way in giving “Voltron” a signature look.

“Voltron” is too short and too generic to recommend to any but the most hardcore fan. While there are some cool ideas floating around, they never manage to form together to recreate the memorable experience of those Saturday mornings.

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