Based in Vancouver & established in 2002, Canadian developer Next Level Games got its start developing 2003's NHL Hitz Pro, the final entry in the hockey equivalent to Midway's iconic NBA Jam & NFL Blitz. Following that, the studio would enter a relationship with Nintendo, developing Super Mario Strikers for the GameCube in 2005 & sequel Mario Strikers Charged for the Wii in 2007. These two games were just the start of a strong partnership with the Japanese gaming giant that has since resulted in Punch-Out!! for the Wii in 2009, Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon & Metroid Prime: Federation Force for the 3DS in 2013 & 2016, & most recently Luigi's Mansion 3 for the Switch in 2019, almost all of which were received rather well (that Metroid game notwithstanding); there was even an unreleased Mario-themed volleyball game that went unknown until 2014. This relationship has been so strong that Next Level announced that it would work with Nintendo exclusively after 2014, & just last month Nintendo announced that it had purchased the studio outright, with the acquisition planned to finalize at the start of March. So, in this final month of independent life for the studio, I want to take a look at a pair of games Next Level developed that came out in 2010 that are interestingly similar, despite being published by two different companies & based on two completely different licenses, and see if their less-than-stellar reception at the time was due to actual game quality, or if they were simply victims of Nintendo's most successful system ever.
By the time 2010 came around, it was becoming more & more obvious that while the Nintendo Wii might be outselling Microsoft's Xbox 360 & Sony's PlayStation 3 by wide margins, its under-powered architecture meant that it wasn't really able to deliver the same experience when it came to certain games made for the competition. Sure, you had admirable & honestly unbelievable ports, like for the Call of Duty series, but for the most part the Wii got one of two options: A completely different game that was only related to what was coming out on the HD-compatible consoles... or just not getting anything at all. That was the conundrum Next Level Games found itself in the first year of the 2010s, and my only guess is that the studio got approached by two companies at around the same exact time, because that's the only way to explain what happened here. Anyway, June 22 saw Activision release Transformers: War for Cybertron, a third-person shooter by High Moon Studios that served as a prequel to the classic "Generation 1 era" of the franchise, detailing the war between the Autobots & Decepticons over on their home planet of Cybertron, long before the two sides crash landed on Earth. This saw release on PS3, 360 & PC, while the Nintendo DS saw a dual-release by Vicarious Visions that adapted the two campaigns across two games, one for the Autobots & one for the Decepticons. As for the Wii, Activision released Transformers: Cybertron Adventures, a rail shooter that acted as a "companion game" that took place during the plot of War for Cybertron. To say that it wasn't well received would be a bit of an understatement, though there were some positive reviews that acted as outliers, including one by Jim Sterling, who worked for Destructoid at the time & was notoriously contrarian very often (that's not a dig at Sterling, mind you).
Five months later, on November 16, Ubisoft (&, no, I will never get used to that name being only one word) released Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon for the Wii, which despite the simplistic title was not a mere port of the original game from 2001. Instead, it was a rail shooter similar to (but not exactly like) Transformers: Cybertron Adventures, but in this case the game wasn't developed to act as a "companion" to any new game in the franchise, unless you want to count Ghost Recon Predator, a PSP game that came out on the same exact day as the Wii game in North America (but was released a month earlier in Europe & Australia). No, this Wii entry was effectively the franchise's "main attraction" for consoles in that year & was also the first new entry in the franchise since 2007's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2; there also wouldn't be another console entry until 2012, not counting Shadow Wars for the 3DS in 2011. To say that it wasn't well received would be a bit of an understatement, though there were some positive reviews that acted as outliers; sorry, but no Jim Sterling review this time around. What's interesting is that, outside of some shared animators, the two games feature mostly different staffs behind them, despite being very similar conceptually. In particular, the games were individually directed by Jason Carr & Michael Inglehart, respectively, who had teamed up to co-direct Punch-Out!! the previous year. Ghost Recon (Wii) would be Inglehart's last directed game at Next Level, before founding mobile developer Hothead Games in 2011.
Personally, I've always been curious about whether these two Next Level Games productions are truly all that bad, or if they were victims of just not simply being what people really wanted from them, whether that meant being a partial lie by way of its marketing or being looked at as bad joke by people who really wanted "GRAW 3".