Game Review: Transformers: Battle To Save The Earth (Commodore 64)

With the size of the franchise today, you’d expect to see Transformers video games released for every major platform on a regular basis. But that wasnt’t always the case. It took a year before the first game was released by Ocean Software for the Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum. Another year passed before Activision took over the license and released their Transformers game, this time exclusively for the C64…

Transformers: The Battle To Save The Earth

Despite the toy line originating in Japan, and the Transformers brand itself stemming from America it was strange that a British company was the first to release a game. It was no surprise that it was the American gaming giant Activision that stepped up to the plate to tackle the franchise and took their first foray into the world of Transformers releasing Transformers: Battle To Save The Earth in 1986.

The game itself was just called The Transformers The Computer Game but with the sub-title Vol 1: The Battle To Save The Earth giving the impression that there were going to be more to follow in the series. This never happened and most seemed to ignore this hint at future releases even at the time.

Story Time!

As with many Commodore 64 games originating from America, those released originally on disk were enhanced over their cassette counterparts and this is no exception. The disk version starts with two options – playing the game or viewing the introduction. Selecting the introduction prompts you to turn the disk over and then begins a slideshow and over two minutes of sampled speech telling the story of the war between the Autobots and Decepticons, their arrival on Earth and awakening.

It’s during this sequence where you learn about the game’s storyline as well. The Decepticons are plotting to steal the Earth’s energy from various locations which your team of Autobots have to stop. Using a map you can send your team to a variety of locations to protect them from attack. The artwork isn’t too bad here and while there is some hiss on the speech, the amount included is remarkable.

As you learn during play, if stealing the Earth’s energy wasn’t bad enough, the Decepticons are also trying to steal a quarantined shuttle that is coated in a strange cosmic dust. If they get their hands on it, they are going to use a ray that it is equipped with and unleash it on the San Andreas Zoo, enlarging the hippos there (I kid you not) to astronomical sizes to trigger an earthquake along the San Andreas Fault…!


On to the game itself and the core gameplay is all about defending the 9 different locations from attack by the Decepticons. Fom the map screen you can check the stats of all of your Autobots, send them to different locations and most importantly monitor what locations are safe or are under attack. When a location is under attack, it will start to flash and when it does you have to switch to any Autobots assigned there (or get one there are quickly as you can), swap the screen to their view and then the game switches to an arcade style shoot-em-up.

Here you have a cursor on screen you can move with the joystick and you just have to shoot down all of the Decepticons as quickly as possible. Combining both the strategic element and arcade shooting-gallery style gameplay elements, on paper this should have been great…

Major Flaws

The two elements combined – the team management and arcade gameplay – should have come together to make a fun game and offered a reasonably lengthy gameplay session as you would expect for something designed by David Crane (author of Commodore 64 classics such as Ghostbusters and Little Computer People). But sadly things didn’t gel here for more than a few reasons.

The main problem I found was that navigating the menus themselves was incredibly sluggish. I appreciate that we’re talking about running a game on an 8-bit system so it can’t be instantaneous as we’re used to with modern games, having to wait a few seconds between every action makes the game frustrating for every single action and decision you want to make. While the game is still running in the background, you can be losing valuable time frantically trying to deploy your team to a location and just waiting for the menus to catch up with you.

When you do finally get to a location and enter any sort of battle situation, this is where the next real problem comes in. The crosshair for your weapon feels sluggish and unresponsive, and there’s no real sense that you’re firing any sort of weapon (other than a tiny explosion mark on the screen). But worst of all, all the Autobots run out of ammunition! So mid-combat you’re faced with having to return back to the Autobot base to reload, effect repairs and head back out or make sure you have enough of your team at that location to take all the Decepticons out.

Roll Out

There are 8 Autobots at your disposal in the game, and even at the time when this was released it caused some annoyance amongst fans who bought it. It was set after the 1986 movie so Optimus Prime had been killed off and to be honest this was always going to go against the game losing the show’s most popular character (in the same way Mystery Of Convoy did for the Famicom in Japan).

Of the characters that did remain, we were left with Cliffjumper, Hound, Pipes, Kup, Bumblebee, Blurr, Rodimus Prime and Hotrod. Now here’s the real problem with the character line-up… the last two in the list are the SAME character! With a cast of hundreds at their disposal and no direction from Hasbro on who needed to be included in the game, surely someone else could have been included to replace one of those two? To a non-fan it may be nitpicking, especially as most of the character’s traits and abilities don’t seem to make a difference to the gameplay in any way, but for the rest of us it’s a pretty important factor.

Graphics and Sound

While the intro sequence looks good as I said early, the same can’t be said about the in-game graphics. Backgrounds are bland and basic and certainly nowhere near the same level of detail as seen in Ocean’s earlier game. The saving grace are the animations at the start when you first deploy each of your bots, seeing the large characters transform and drive off.

Sound is limited to frankly awful sound effects and a grating version of the Transformers theme, arranged by Russell Lieblich. Fred Gray’s version of the theme for Ocean was much better but for a long time it was common knowledge that European programmers/musicians had managed to get better results from the Commodore 64’s SID chip than their American counterparts.

Cut-Down Version?

The cassette version of the game (including the budget re-release by Mastertronic) contained all of the gameplay but was missing a few of the animated sequences and – understandably – the spoken introductory sequence. Apart from that, the game itself remained untouched, but the higher quality packaging and extra game content meant that the disk release in this instance justified the £5 increase at the time of its original release when most other publishers were just putting the same game out and charging extra just to sell them on a different format.


Transformers: The Battle To Save The Earth had the potential to be a really great game. With a great line up of characters, a decent story line (we’ll ignore the hippo) and deep gameplay, this could have been a truly memorable game. Instead, we were left with something that was too slow to be an action game, and too frustrating to be an engaging strategy title. One to avoid for all but the dedicated Transformers game collectors.

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About Simon Plumbe 499 Articles
Husband, father and lifelong geek. Originally from the West Midlands, now spending my days in South Wales with my family and a house full of animals. Passionate about video games, especially retro gaming, the Commodore 64 and PlayStation Vita. Love pro wrestling, sci-fi and I'm an animal lover and vegetarian. Enjoyed this and my other articles? Why not buy me a coffee: