There isn’t a cooler or more ‘80s concept for a TV show than Voltron, wherein a bunch of heavily armed robot lions fly about in outer space before connecting together to form a massive robot man in order to defeat the big bad.
This giant robot even has a kick-ass name, and is PC in a United Colours of Benneton kind of way, even if its crew are far too Caucasian.
It’s a little surprising, then, that in a world where no fewer than four My Little Pony games exist, Behaviour Interactive’s Voltron: Defender of the Universe is the first non-iPhone Voltron game ever made. Thankfully, it fires up all the right nostalgia neurons, and its appeal will be inter-generational thanks to Voltron’s 2010 TV revival and timeless coolness.
The plot is constructed from pieces of several old Voltron TV episodes, but is really just your basic ‘repel the baddies then take the fight to their homeworld’ style romp. However, the use of these old clips (complete with narrator Peter Cullen’s craggy-yet-forceful baritone), a synth-heavy processed guitar soundtrack, and a delightfully retro menu aesthetic prove that developers Behaviour Interactive love them some Voltron, which is always a good sign.
A twin-stick shooter, Voltron is playable locally by up to two or online by up to five, and features the genre’s usual trope of lopsided battles through mostly anonymous, occasionally destructible terrain (hey, this ain’t Captain Planet). A relatively low-angle follow-cam distinguishes the game somewhat, and provides a wider field of view than other such games, holding a medium-long zoom for the majority of play which lends a real sense of forward propulsion and makes a nice change from the game’s scrolling speed dictating the tempo. View distance is also aided by a subtle swings of the camera to reveal more terrain in the direction the lion is facing, a neat touch that ensures that all enemies are seen before they are engaged with.
Despite the comparatively long zoom level, the graphics and animation are carefully detailed, with the lion’s movement – particularly when crouching – looking especially cool. Enemy footsoldiers are like ants, lending a proper sense of scale and majesty to the war machines that perpetually threaten to crush them underfoot.
As Voltron fans would expect, all five lions (discernible by colour) are selectable, and each has its own strengths and weaknesses in the categories of armour-piercing ability, long-range and short-range attack strength, agility, melee damage, and durability, as well as a unique primary attack and additional special attacks. For example, the black lion possesses a strong charging melee attack, a shotgun-style primary attack with good armour penetration and a lightning-based short-range special, whereas the blue lion is more of a long-range specialist.
Weapons cannot be levelled-up, however temporary upgrades are available in the form of star pieces, which are also required to activate special weapons. The collection of five-star pieces adds an extra life to the shared pool too.
Despite differing agility scores all lions run at the same pace and handle very responsively, although their vehicular nature encourages the player to run in scythe-like arcs rather than relying on split-second changes of direction. The exception to this rule occurs during the brief space levels that divide the game’s three main acts, wherein a lack of air resistance somehow makes your lion incredibly manoeuvrable. A 1942-style loop-de-loop move is also available here without restriction.
Gunning down hordes of robots and all manner of tanks and aircraft whilst on the run is certainly enjoyable and the resulting explosions are appropriately concussive, but by far the most gratifying way to dispatch the evil Drule masses is using a pounce attack. Holding R2 lowers the player’s giant cat down into a crouch and brings up a target reticule which locks on to nearby enemies. The release of the trigger sends the lion leaping skyward, only to crash back to terra firma inflicting splash damage on all within range. It’s possible to take out entire squads of troops using this method, but the best fun is found snatching a streaking UFO out of the air before crashing down on top of it, triumphant.
There is no buddy revival mechanic in Voltron, instead a lion reduced to zero health will deactivate, ejecting its extremely vulnerable pilot for ten nail-biting seconds of auto-repair before he may return cockpit-side. Equipped with a laser pistol, a Voltron Force pilot isn’t useless, but his complete lack of armour makes running away while screaming in terror the best tactic here. Successfully return to a lion after ten seconds grants the lion full health as well as a points bonus. A partially damaged lion may be repaired on the fly by finishing off an enemy with a pounce, by rescuing civilians, or by killing a number of enemies with one shot.
Voltron is three acts long – roughly four hours – with each act comprising three standard levels, one space level, and a Voltron boss battle against a similarly gargantuan Robeast. Here the challenge of up to five players controlling one entity is solved by players taking turns in a weird quicktime-esque minigame, where one player chooses an attack and times it for when two moving bars cross paths while another holds a crosshair over an enemy outline. A third QTE then determines whether the Robeasts attack is dodged, before the process begins anew or one combatant falls. An elegant solution in theory, it’s a little tedious although functional in practice.
There is even a series of QTEs to complete as Voltron assembles, but this is only for points – a half-Voltron cannot be constructed, sadly.
Voltron: Defender of the Universe lacks anything beyond the main campaign, save an arena mode DLC available for an additional 240 MSP that really should have been included in the main game. It is also too short. Hell, it doesn’t even tell us why Voltron always takes so damn long to realise he can finish any fight by just whipping out his power sword and cleaving his opponent in two. But it is a solid shooter, so for genre fans - even those unfamiliar with the exploits of Alfor, Zarkon and Lotor – it’s worth checking out.