It’s rather likely — if you recently perused the App Store’s front page — that you’ve noticed the wildly popular Transformers: Forged to Fight (out now, free), a mash-up of Tournament Fighter and RPG sensibilities by Kabam. While the Transformers franchise certainly isn’t alien to the mobile marketplace, it certainly wouldn’t be unfair to say — thus far — the series hasn’t exactly been something to look forward to either. Today we’re going to look at how Kabam’s efforts manage to massively buck many of those sad trends, while — ultimately — still falling somewhat short of being a truly Prime product.

The action begins when Optimus Prime — accompanied by Marissa Faireborn — crash the Ark on an unknown alien planet, and are quickly set upon by Cybertronians from various converging realities. Realizing that some strange force here could potentially drive any Cybertronian to madness itself, Optimus Prime quickly puts Marissa Faireborn in charge of securing the supplies needed to repair their damaged Ark. Things — however — take a turn for the sinister when it’s soon discovered this planet was a deliberate trap built by the Quintessons, whom now have no intentions of letting Optimus Prime simply leave.

As such Optimus — along with his team — will need to smash and bash their way through friend and foe alike, which is amazingly done via a super-functional tap and swipe based control scheme (now there’s something I don’t often get to say). Tapping your screen’s right-hand side initiates a weak attack, whereas swiping the right-hand side executes a heavy attack (and using these successfully in tandem can help keep your combo going). Meanwhile — because it wouldn’t really be Transformers otherwise — holding the right hand side makes you transform, after which you’ll ram into your opponents (which furthermore has the added benefit of going straight through defensive stances)!

Of course — as your opponents aim to fight back — everything can’t be solved via a purely one-sided bludgeoning match (although you can certainly do your best to try), so that’s where defensive measures come in. Holding down the screen’s left-hand side will put your character in a defensive posture (but be careful, as some character do this faster than others), which is capable of massively reducing incoming damage from most all attacks. However — as a nice as blocking is — not being hit in the first place is even better, which is why swiping to left — instead of holding down — will cause your Transformer to backpedal out of melee range (and of course swiping right will send you right back).

Now that you’ve backpedalled you’ll be safe from virtually all normal and special attacks, although some transformation-based attacks can still reach you due to having ballistic components (such as Bludgeon’s tank mode). Now that you’re safely out of melee range you can begin peppering your opponent with gun fire by tapping the screen’s right-hand side, and even sidestep your opponent’s gunfire by swiping either up or down. Finally — as you give/receive damage — a gauge on the screen’s bottom will slowly fill, tapping it — once full — unleashes an attack with huge consequences (be warned, they’re blockable).

Using these skills you’ll lead your mechanized team through various regions as you search for supplies, alongside a way to stymie the Quintesson threat, and in the process you’ll quickly discover that certain robots do much better in specific fights than others. All Cybertronians — whether Autobot, or Decepticon — hail from one of six combat styles: Warrior, Tactician, Brawler, Demolition, Tech, and Scout. Each of these six classes has a heavy advantage over one of the other designations, so choosing the right bot for the current fight will certainly go a long way towards tipping the scales in your favor.

Speaking of which — in a move which shows that Kabam truly understands their audience — Generation 1 Optimus Prime is a Tactician, whereas Movie Optimus Prime is a Brawler, thus meaning the OG Leader always has an edge whenever the duo face off!

Furthermore, the game’s graphics — which one could’ve easily convinced me came from a PS3/360 era offering — look positively amazing here (although I do wonder why, given that this is an alien planet, most of the battle arenas seem to be placed on Earth). Unsatisfied to merely stop at having Transformers: Forged to Fight look nice, Kabam’s gone the extra mile by perfectly replicating the look — and style — of characters from Generation 1, Prime/Animated, the Live-Action movies, and even Beast Wars! Although people have currently only accounted for less than thirty playable characters (if you don’t count same-star variants), its rather likely even more will be added as time marches on.

Honestly that above score would’ve been a perfect 5.0 if Forged to Fight had wisely stuck to well-controlling Cybertronian Fisticuffs, the amazing graphics, and the occasional cut scene (I loved Optimus’s reaction to Barricade asking for Ladiesman217). Unfortunately there’s more to this game than meets the eye (sorry, I had to say it sooner or later), and you might remember that I previously mentioned that Forged to Fight was a mixture of Tournament Fighting and RPG sensibilities. Unfortunately it’s those RPG sensibilities that have gone off the utter deep-end, which is saying something when I always knew a free-to-play mobile-game wasn’t going to arrive completely scot-free.

Although the game is rather nice to start you off with a free Optimus Prime, rather than dangling him wickedly like some twisted Energon carrot, the fact is that he’s only a 1-Star character. Similar to various other games of this sort, you can add randomized Cybertronians to your roster — ranging currently from 1 to 4 Stars in quality — by powering up your Space Bridge with a valuable crystal. Although there are a variety of methods to slowly to earn these Space Bridge enabling crystals, the chief method of speed acquisition would be to purchase for yourself a stockpile of Energon Cubes.

Now, as I previously said, I knew this game would have some patience testing functions — so I wasn’t overly surprised to see this feature — nor was I surprised to learn these robots would need to be leveled up with Ore-13 (a resource earnable via many methods). I wasn’t — however — expecting to need Gold in order to use the Ore-13 (which must also be farmed), inventory space with which to hold the Ore-13 chunks (elsewise my farming efforts would be wasted), and class specific Sparks to overcome advancement plateaus. Now this by itself wouldn’t necessarily yet be enough to stoke my Cybertronian ire, but its certainly a vast over-complication of leveling resources (where it otherwise wasn’t really needed).

Now — as was admittedly also expected — you can use lesser bots to empower greater warriors, in the process sacrificing ownership of the lesser bot used for sacrifice (the process is called Forging, hence the game’s name). Although the game is really bad at explaining this, Forging a robot — alongside providing a minor stat boost — increases the potency of their class advantage (meaning they’re even stronger against the right foes). Additionally: using already leveled robots will provide far more forging value than someone currently sitting at level one, and — more importantly — forging a robot with a lesser copy of himself/herself will increase the greater’s over all possible forge cap.

Again — as previously stated — this isn’t really unexpected territory, it’s just more complicated — as well as poorly explained — than I would’ve preferred things to be. Where Kabam truly made a failing — however — is how they chose to handle the acquisition of duplicates, since games with similar systems normally base their entire premise on the fact your Gachapon-esque drops are going to produce tons of duplicates. However — instead of letting your horde extras here — you can have only one of each robot at any given moment (with an exception given for those with different star ratings), making even this a truly frustrating hassle (especially versus the normal convention).

If you receive a duplicate of a 1-Star robot you already own, then you’ll instead receive some class-specific Ore 13 (that provides double the results when used on the appropriate class, but still eats up Gold in the process). You won’t — however — get the robot himself, as much as you might’ve otherwise wanted to horde them (at least until you can jam them inside a higher rated version of the same robot). In this regard you’re actively encouraged to destroy 1-Star robots as quickly as you find them, lest you waste future earnings in the process, yet they don’t offer much Forge unless they’re leveled up.

Getting a higher star tier duplicate functions mostly the same, except that — beyond getting some class-specific Ore 13 — you’ll now additionally have your original copy become awakened (wherein they gain access to a previously hidden ability). Gaining extra copies at the exact same star tier will further increase the potency of their already unlocked ability, but still won’t provide you with any valuable fodder for later forging. Furthermore — because it’d be too easy otherwise — forging an awakened 2-Star robot into the same 3-Star robot won’t awaken their hidden powers in the process, you’ll still need an all-new 3-Star duplicate in order for that miracle to happen.

Right about now we’ve probably discussed enough problems to truly earn my ire, yet Kabam doesn’t ever know when to stop complicating stuff (it really is a good thing I like the app’s core gameplay so much, or else this review could’ve had a very different tone).

So if needing to pump robots — which you’re not allowed to stockpile — into still other robots isn’t annoying enough, you’ll soon be confronted with a myriad of still other ways to use your never duplicated team. Beyond playing through the primary story, you can occasionally have robots defend/raid bases — fight in the arena for prizes — and even go on away missions in search of valuable resources. Now if you guessed that it’s impossible for the same robot to be doing two of these actions at the same time, then pat yourself on the back — and give yourself a cookie — because you guessed dead right.

Teams sent to the arena can earn points, and if you get earn enough points — before the specific arena’s time period ends (which usually lasts for three days) — you can unlock various valuable-prizes. To help you earn these prizes are the fact that each consecutive win adds an even higher points multiplier to your next arena foray, with your next run — until the combo streak breaks — also likely to be against an even tougher team no less. Unfortunately the three — or more — bots used in the previous run will be on cool down for a while (unless you pay to bypass this), forcing you to switch to ever worsening B-Teams on each consecutive run (making it rather hard to earn something truly nice without paying, as absurdly high amounts of points are otherwise needed).

By the way — in order to take someone to the aforementioned arena — they also can’t currently be guarding your base, or on any sort of away mission, even if they aren’t otherwise yet suffering from Arena Fatigue. While I’ll further explain this raiding/defense thing soon enough, the Away-Missions are basically something productive for your robots to do while your not actively playing. You can — for a fee of Gold — launch a shuttle containing a team (whom isn’t currently defending your base), and later come back to see if they won (using the right class type increases their odds).

These away missions are — by themselves — a part of Transformers; Forged to Fight that isn’t inherently bad, yet become utterly frustrating when stirred into the sea of ‘too much’ that Kabam has strewn throughout what otherwise should’ve been a perfect game.

Anyways, you’re introduced to base defense by being told placing Cybertronians on your crash site’s eight nodes will enable them to be farmed for Gold while you’re away (with higher star tier bots mining more gold than their lesser brethren). What you quickly discover is that this also opens your base — Clash of Clans style — to raids from other players, and you’re likely to only have trash tier bots on your base due to all the rules. Thankfully the only things these raiders can take are your prestige and raiding chips, but without a high prestige level there’ll be many things you’re not allowed to buy with those raiding chips (and of course you can’t buy those things without your raid chips either).

To aid with the fact your base will likely be eternally B-Team staffed — since no one is ever allowed to pull double-duty, and with the fact you can skill your way past the AI easily (even if the power difference is vast) — you can install mods on your base to help. These mods will provide the present defender with an artificial boost to their power-rating (if they’re leveled up), alongside with providing them with a unique power they wouldn’t otherwise have. Unfortunately these node-enhancing mods also have star levels, and furthermore need to be empowered using Ore 13 — various sparks — and yet more precious Gold (all like that pristine A Team you were hoping to focus on building).

Oh — not that it’ll surprise anyone at this juncture — but there’s also an energy system, which chiefly serves to harass you in the middle of playing story-based missions in search of Ore 13 and Gold (harmless by itself, but less so when everything’s combined). Transformers: Forged to Fight — as if everything thus far mentioned wasn’t yet enough — has an Alliance System, wherein players may band together to earn loyalty points (that can then be spent on priceless crystals, guaranteed to earn 4-Star heroes). While this may be good in theory, all reports seem to indicate that vast amounts of no life players are needed in order for an Alliance pull in loyalty points at any rate other than Snail Slow.

I want to reiterate that many of the above ideas are perfectly okay by themselves — and often even expected — but smashing them all into the same game was not, and the biggest problem here is that Kabam really had no idea when to stop. I can fully respect that a free-to-play game has to make money somehow, but tossing everything in — plus the kitchen sink — turns this into a convoluted mess you’ll have a hard time enjoying. Unfortunately this is an utter crying shame, as Transformers: Forged to Fight’s core gameplay — the part where you’re actually punching and shooting your foes, set to amazing graphics — is a genuine dose of pure Cybertronian bliss.

I desperately wanted to give this game a perfect score purely on the basis of its core gameplay — and stellar presentation (wherein great use is made of the source material) — but, as is, you’ll need a steel-plated stomach to endure the endless sea of everything else. Let me reiterate once more that this game’s score is still fairly high, and that’s purely because of just how amazingly good Transformers: Forged to Fight’s core combat mechanics truly are. The game is still definitely worth picking up since everyone’s ability to stomach free-to-play insanity varies on person to the next, but just consider yourself duly warned that much madness lurks beneath the surface of New Quintessa.

Let’s just hope Kabam sees fit to lessen some of this interlocking madness — rather than simply leave their game buried under the Cybertronian equivalent of endless tax forms — seeing as how their app is, to be fully honest, still in active development.

Verdict

Kabam’s Transformers: Forged to Fight wants to simultaneously be Transformers meets Soul Calibur, alongside also being Transformers meets Clash of Clans, and desperately needs to pick which game it truly wants to be. The core gameplay — with its tight controls, and amazing graphics — is an utter delight to behold, and I could’ve easily given Transformers: Forged to Fight a perfect 5.0 if that’s where Kabam had stopped. Unfortunately — as evidenced by the fact I haven’t given this a 5.0 — Kabam instead decided to toss in everything imaginable, alongside a Cybertronian sink, to produce the biggest mélange of interlocking madness I’ve ever before witnessed. While some may have the cast-iron stomach needed to ignore this and focus just on the sweet sweet combat, there’s currently at least hope — for everyone else — that Kabam will tune this up.

Positives
Great action
Stunning visuals
Solid controls
Great use of source material
Negatives
Too many interlocking systems all designed to get in each other’s way
3.5
Very Good
Download on the App Store