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PSN Review: Voltron – Defender of the Universe

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“And I’ll form the head!”

It is a moment in my childhood which stands in stark relief.  I may have the ability to recall ridiculous things like where in the theater I was sitting for a particular movie, but some things stick out more than others, and one of the moments I absolutely remember is being sick at home the day Voltron:  Defender of the Universe premiered.  It took less than one episode and I was hooked (and not just because I’d already had the chance to play with the lions as my grandfather brought home the full set of five months previously).

I have tuned into and out of various other incarnations of the lions and their operators as time went on (I never did like that one where they’re all the mini-spaceships and come together to form Voltron that way, it’s the golions or nothing for me), including checking out an episode or two of the new Voltron Force.  When THQ announced that they were going to be putting out a new Voltron game, and one based on the original series, my interest was piqued.

Currently available on PSN and XBLA, Voltron:  Defender of the Universe is a pretty simple game that utilizes the original series to a great degree.   Upon loading the game, one gets the backstory video complete with voiceover from Voltron and more clips from the series play as interstitials between levels.  Thus, even while the game’s story is terribly weak, one regularly feels connected to the show here.

In point of fact, the game isn’t just a throwback because it’s resurrecting moments from that original series, the style of play is a complete throwback as well.  Presented with a not-quite-top-down perspective, the game asks you to choose a lion (they have different attributes) and race (mainly) forward, destroying all the evil creatures that King Zarkon throws in your path.  It is easiest to think of it as River Raid or 1942-esque in that regard.   It doesn’t stick hard and fast to that format (it allows for movement to the side and backwards from time to time), but it would certainly be best classified as a top-down shooter.

Lions can perform multiple moves from melees to longer distance firing and even pouncing on flying objects.  Depending on how you go about bashing in the baddies you’ll be awarded varying amounts of points.  Plus, depending on the lion you choose, you’ll be better or worse at melee, armor piercing, long distance firing, etc.  The differences aren’t huge, but they do exist.

The game sports three different acts with several levels under each act.  From time to time you’ll be forced to take on one of the Robeast baddies and get to actually form Voltron (seriously, what kind of Voltron game wouldn’t let you put your lions together to make the hero?  You knew that had to be coming).  At that point, the game changes from a top-down shooter to mini-game timing thing, requiring you to hit various buttons at just the right moment in order to beat the Robeast. 

It all works well enough for what is here, and the graphics are… distinctly mediocre.   There really isn’t much detail to be seen. Beyond that, there isn’t terribly much story involved in the game itself  either(you’re replaying some of the more memorable moments of the series in slightly different fashion).  The game functions best as a bit of nostalgia, appealing mainly to those who love the lions or who are fans of top-down shooters.

Voltron:  Defender of the Universe doesn’t feel like a quick cash-in title, but rather something that was conceived of specifically to match a gameplay style from the mid-1980s with a show from the same era (or vice versa).  As such, it succeeds, even if by succeeding it greatly limits the audience and most people’s enjoyment.  It is a relatively quick game, and not one that you’ll want to revisit simply to go through as a different lion (or in order to experience the multiplayer), but if you’re looking for a quick bit of nostalgic amusement for a low price, you could do far worse.

Voltron: Defender of the Universe is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for Fantasy Violence. This game can also be found on: XBLA.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.