The Transformers have come to the DS to wage war, and though the style of gameplay is interesting to see (especially on a movie-to-game conversion), it's too ambitious for its own good. The game sells in two cartridges, one for the just Autobots, and one for the devious Decepticons, but the only difference between them is the story you follow and your allegiance in the Allspark Wars, so pick a side and, as a great big talking truck says, roll out.
The game starts around where the movie does, following a well-made cutscene. You control a character completely separate from the plot, one you name yourself (I was not aware the name I was inputting was referring to my character, and so my first robot, 'Optimus' was like a poor, attempted copy of the real Prime). Your character interacts with characters and locations from the film, expanding on those used, such as staging a few missions around the Arctic, a location only briefly mentioned in the movie. It's all to retrieve and defend the Allspark, a device that can create life and, if in the wrong hands, destroy it.
I was initially surprised to see the game use that of a pseudo-sandbox-style of gameplay: in between missions, during moments known as Freeplay, you're free to wander around the city and do as you please. Whether this means blowing up a few things with your laser cannons, fighting off opponents from the Decepticons or Autobots, or participating in a few side-missions, this is your choice. To proceed the plot, however, you'll eventually need to head to the next primary mission.
The freeplay mode, while fun at first, can get somewhat old. Though you're given a large city to roam around in, very little is actually interactive (in other words, destructible). Aside from things like vehicles, lamp posts, and bus-stops, there's not a lot to play with. Finding enemies is usually a random act; a vehicle or two around you will suddenly transform themselves into opponents that want to see you dead, and so it's not really possible to actively seek these enemies out.
The side missions aren't too interesting either. They're somewhat varied between each other, though often simple, and may involve simply destroying as much as you can In a time limit or surviving as long as possible against a highly alerted military force. Oh, and by the way, destroying things and generally making a mess in someone's fair city tends to alert the authorities, and as you continue, it won't just be the squad cars firing at you, but military tanks and attack helicopters. Evading them is very simple (especially if you're able to transform into a helicopter), but they do add some level of depth to the locations. Turning a blind eye is one thing, but when giant robots run through your city tossing cars like tennis balls, someone tends to take notice.
This brings us to the most important topic in any discussion about Transformers, that is, the transforming. Both Autobots and Decepticons scan vehicles which they want to transform into. Your character is somewhat unique. With some hardware installed very early in the game, you're allowed to 'store' various types of vehicles in your database. Cars, helicopters, and jets of many kinds are available to you as an alternative mode of transport. Each vehicle has different stats associated with it like control and top speed, and finding better and better vehicles as you progress through the game makes it feel like you're advancing in power.
Adding to this is the fact that, as you destroy and battle, you earn experience. Earn enough, and you level up, and as both the game and manual state, your stats increase, though what these stats are, exactly, isn't defined. Experience is also earned through side missions, which is essentially the only reason to attempt them (though at the end of each, you might be awarded a medal depending on your performance, those these do nothing, and there is no way to check over previous side missions to see how well you did).
The controls of the game are probably the most frustrating aspect of it. While it's not expected for a giant robot to move like a ballerina, some grace is assumed. This is not the case. Moving the robots is clunky and slow, and though the vehicles handle decently, the physics they use are questionable at best. Still, within the scope of a DS game, they suffice. Often, however, the already-frustrating missions are made even worse when clunky controls are added to the equation. Just the simple act of transforming has no button mapped to its activation, and while this would normally not be a problem, in the middle of the action, your hands are going to be occupied on both sides of the DS, leaving none free for the stylus and therefore breaking the flow of action.
Multiplayer has a large role in the game, and not just for extra gameplay. First, there's the standard local multiplayer, in which you and a friend can get together and battle it out. Then there's the Allspark Wars. In the Allspark wars, you download a mission from an online server (they're very similar to the side-missions found in single player mode) and play through them. Your score is then saved and sent to the server. Whichever team (between Autobots and Decepticons, determined by the cartridge you use) wins gets a shard of the Allspark. Win all the shards, and you win the war, then it starts again. Not just for bragging purposes, winning will unlock in-game content like vehicle forms, which gives it good reason to play.
In general, Transformers for the DS is decent considering the scope of which the developers had to work, but still falls short in a few areas. It feels like it tried for much, but failed to achieve much (the dull, nearly pointless side missions are evidence of this). The differences between don't really add up to much, either. The storyline you follow is different, of course, as is your allegiance in the Allspark Wars, but aside from that, everything is pretty much the same as far as gameplay is concerned, and it feels a little irritating to have two different sides of one story. The frustrating and clumsy controls often get in the way of enjoyable gameplay as well, but the element of obtaining vehicles and fighting in the Allspark wars does add its own charm and fun. As a movie-to-game title, it passes muster, but that's the best that can be said.