Look, we were born in 1981, so when someone says the word "Voltron," something deep within us awakens. There's an image in our head of giant robots, flaming swords and really, really badly animated adventures. In other words, we recapture part of the innocence and joy of childhood.
So when we got the chance to download the first real video game adaption of the classic series from THQ we were excited, but also a little hesitant. There's way too much nostalgia baiting going on across the entertainment strata. You can't throw a rock without hitting an attempt to breed a golden goose by dressing it up as He-Man or Optimus Prime. Was this going to be one of those cases, or would the world finally get the interactive adventure it deserves?
In a word, mostly.
Voltron: Defender of the Universe may be the most faithful adaptation of any cinematic vehicle to game form since Street Fighter: The Movie - The Game (Didn't say it was good, just said that it was very, very faithful). They start out just right by plopping you right into the middle of classic episodes. We don't mean that those episodes have been re-created, either. They use clips from the actual series, right down to that typical '80s grainy finish.
Once the action starts, you're shoved out into lush worlds astride the robotic lion of your choosing. The controls couldn't be simpler, with your left stick controlling your movement and the right controlling your infinite cache of laser fire. Your shoulder buttons will dash you in the direction you're facing, and through the top-down levels you rescue civilians (Important for life gain), collect star pieces for extra lives, destroy enemy tanks and occasionally do defense work for transports or towers.
The levels are full of enemies, and you had better get real good at dodging their fire. Too much damage ejects you from your lion, and you have ten seconds of surviving on foot while everything still tries to kill you.
One technique you had better master quickly is using the second shoulder buttons to leap onto enemies. This takes out flying enemies in one hit, and does significant damage to the big tanks. Otherwise, battles against the harder enemies can quickly turn into agonizingly long strafing battles as you very slowly wear down their health with your cannon fire. Be warned, using the leap too puts you right next to the enemy, obviously, and they can hit back pretty hard.
What you really want to know about is what's it like when you finally form Voltron for the big boss battles? Well, the classic animated sequence is there to set the perfect mood, but the fights themselves are somewhat disappointing.
The battles are turn-based, and controls are done through time events. You have no direct control over Voltron, and instead everything plays out exactly like watching a cartoon. Why exactly THQ chose to put so much love and care into the lion sequences and turn the best part of the Voltron experience into little more than Dance Dance Revolution with giant robots is beyond us. Still, nothing can ever kill the sheer joy of hearing "Form Blazing Sword" and watching as Voltron slices his opponent in two. For the opportunity to be even a small, active part of that, we will forgive a great many sins.
Looking at Voltron as an adult, we are forced to conclude that it was never really a very brilliant cartoon. THQ's game reflects that. Your character voice-overs during action sequences are eye-rolling, and you never really understand why anyone bothers riding around in the lions when you could just skip to the Voltron part and curbstomp everything around you. This makes the game, like the cartoon, feel just a little pointless.
However, let's not miss the point here. For nostalgia alone, Voltron tops almost every other attempt in the last decade to recapture something much-loved from the '80s in any format. So if you want to re-experience Voltron, then this is the best you are ever going to get, even if someone does finally get around to making a big-budget film.
Not a Voltron fan? The game is still worth buying. It's a simple and cartoonish act of war that anyone can play and be instantly engrossed by. It's not a work that will echo down the ages by any means, it's not Goldeneye, but much love and care obviously went into the gaming experience that Voltron offers, and it's apparent from the moment you begin.
Voltron: Defender of the Universe is available on XLA and PSN
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.