If you were a kid growing up in the 80s, you undoubtedly know who Voltron is. Like Shogun Warriors and the later Power Rangers, Voltron: Defender of the Universe was an American translation of a Japanese cartoon, in this case, Beast King GoLion, with some bits thrown in from Armored Fleet Dairugger XV. Despite the repetitive episode formula, the show gained an incredible amount of popularity. Kids across the nation argued over who got to be the Black Lion at recess.
In addition to the lesser-known but still awesome Vehicle Voltron sequel, two more Voltron shows have hit the airwaves: the 90s CGI revival Voltron: the Third Dimension, and the brand new Voltron Force, airing on Nicktoons. With Voltron fervor on the rise again, it is no surprise that a video game based on the iconic Lion Voltron Force would be developed. So is Voltron: Defender of the Universe a good game, or is it best left to those who play it wearing nostalgia-tinted goggles? I’d say the answer lies somewhere in the middle.
Voltron: Defender of the Universe is a twin stick shooter. Throughout most of the game, you’ll control one of the multicolored Lions, moving with one stick and controlling a back mounted cannon with the other. The Lions have a few other moves available, too, including a quick melee attack and a rather impressive bounding leap that takes down aerial foes in a tremendously satisfying way. Special moves roughly correlating to the terrain of each Lion’s lair can be used, too. Each Lion has it’s own strength and weaknesses. Not only do their cannons fire different projectiles, some have higher durability, while others have a stronger melee attack. I was a bit disappointed in the lack of weapon variety, given the bountiful arsenal available to the Lions in the show.
You can see each Lion's stats before you take it into battle.
The plot, such as it is, is directly taken from episodes of the original program. In between levels, you’ll watch clips of the cartoon, which then play our directly in the game itself. The first set of levels takes place on Voltron’s homeworld of Arus, while the second takes you to Yadel, where an evil duplicate of Voltron awaits. The final arc is set on Planet Doom, where Lotor has declared himself king and forced his father to pilot a hideous Robeast. As a fan of the show, I was thrilled by seeing these episodes played out in video game form, but those who aren’t quite as familiar will likely find them a bit awkward.
As the action takes place, you’ll fight your way through levels filled with all manner of bad guys, ranging from tiny foot soldiers to tanks and aircraft of various sizes and threat levels. The designs for the enemies and the environments are taken right from the show, which I appreciate, but there is little variety from the beginning of the game to the end. Graphically, the game is passable, with a cel-shaded look that is certainly appropriate. I did find it hard to find my Lion in all the action, and would have appreciated a closer viewing angle.
For the most part, the missions follow the same basic structure. You will fight your way through waypoints, occasionally taking down a reactor or defeating a given wave of enemies who ambush you. Like the show itself, this structure feels a bit same-y from one area to the next. An escort mission and a “defend the castle” sequence, as well as some top-scrolling outer space sections, do spice it up a bit, but it’s still a largely repetitive experience, even given Voltron: Defender of the Universe’s short length (roughly three to four hours).