Spectrobes Review

With Spectrobes, Disney is making its first foray into the world of video games with a new intellectual property. The developer — Jupiter, who you might remember as the folks behind Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories on the GBA — has created an entirely different kind of beast with their new game. Combining elements of anime, science fiction, Pokemon, and Indiana Jones, Spectrobes is a kid’s game that’s hard to classify without drawing a connection to many different things. And while it’s inspired in most areas, it’s certainly derivative in others. In other words, it knows what it’s creating, but at the same time, it isn’t always quite sure what it is it’s borrowing. It certainly isn’t devoid of creativity; using all of the functionality of the Nintendo DS, the game stops at nothing to bring new ideas into that familiar Pokemon-ish "My First RPG" groundwork. At once, the game involves exploring, digging, fighting, and breeding, and usually in that order. While it does its own thing remarkably well, there is work to be done if Buena Vista plans on making this a franchise.

And by groundwork, I literally mean "groundwork"; instead of catching them all, Spectrobes has you digging them up. Excavation is the name of the game here, and everything from allies to items are found by discovery. First taking the form of fossils, the Spectrobes that eventually accompany you in battle must be carefully extracted from the ground before they can be added to your arsenal. Archeology makes up the bulk of this game’s charms, and it makes good use of the touch screen. It isn’t always as easy as it sounds, either. Rub too frivolously and you’ll destroy your delicate treasure. Patience is key to any excavating work. In time, you’ll be clearing the rock and settlement away with precision and skill, thanks to the games intuitive learning curve. Several tools are available to you from the get-go, and several more will reach your disposal as the adventure moves along. Even though it doesn’t really serve much of a purpose, I love that you can blow into the microphone to clear away loose dust and debris from your find.

After you’ve extracted your fossil, it’s time to breathe life into it. Literally! In the laboratory aboard main character Rallen’s spaceship, the fossils come to life after being spoken to. Once again using the DS’ microphone, the player is tasked with speaking (or blowing) with a consistent pitch for three seconds in order to turn the rocky mass into a living creature. From this point, the creature is in the first of three development stages — baby, adult, and eventually "evolved" make up the stages. Baby Spectrobes are either brought into the field to help aid in exploration by pointing out digging locations, or are placed inside an incubator to be nurtured into adulthood. Items found in excavation have a developmental value (Defense + 5, HP + 10, etc.) which are fed to the tiny creature to determine its eventual strengths and weaknesses. Only adult and evolved Spectrobes can fight alongside Rallen in battle, so it’s detrimental to the game’s progression that the incubation period isn’t ignored.

Raising your Spectrobes into competent combatants is the other draw of this title. There’s nothing quite like seeing a child become the fearsome opponent it was destined to be, especially considering the game’s portable nature. They’re customizable from the beginning, and it’s always a blast to create a cavalcade of pocket monsters that suits your own personal tastes and style. Jupiter really nailed this part of the game; the sense that you’re growing and collecting these guys is palpably addictive. In another neat little innovation, every copy of Spectrobes has four lenticular trading cards included in the package. Find the right item later in the game, and you’ll be given the opportunity to include four unique characters or accessories with your collection. Entering in the info on the card is also very clever; on a special screen in the game, you hold the card over the touch panel and poke the stylus through four uniquely placed holes in the card, offering the DS the information it needs to unlock your special stuff. Obviously, this was designed to nurture any community that will build off of the game and keep its fans collecting and trading with each other. Nintendo’s WiFi service will also be regularly downloading new stuff to its users each week after release. The multiplayer modes also support these community features by helping to expand the lifespan of the game. One-on-one local play is included, up to 16 players can participate in tournaments, and stats can be tracked and logged to the games website. Sadly, no online multiplayer is included.

Unfortunately, not everything is as clever or inventive as everything mentioned above. The problems that plague this title are a pile-on of crucial RPG elements; the art design, story, and battle system throw major wrenches into the proceedings. Dull and uninteresting, the main characters, storyline, plot, and settings seem to have been culled from a zoo of generic and ham-fisted creation tools. Everything you can see or hear in this game — except for the Spectrobe creatures — will most likely throw your interest in the can. This is a big problem; all of the cool, noteworthy archeology and raising elements are wrapped in a very generic costume. The graphics are technically impressive, but the characters, environments, and the storyline that governs them are hard to stay interested in.

This problem is confounded by a battle system that isn’t quite sure what it wants to be; on the one hand, there’s plenty to do, with a multitude of options available. On the other, the battles are painfully easy and woefully lacking of any real sense of accomplishment. In real time, you move Rallen across the board with two Spectrobes in tow; one on the left, one on the right. The L and R triggers are the commands for each respective creature, and you’ve also got an attack for the main character, as well as a button to charge your moves with. You’ve got standard attacks, combo attacks, and special attacks. There is no lack of options. The system is intuitive, and free of confusion, but — and this is crucial — the enemy A.I. just plain stinks. Play it the right way, and it’ll be hours before you even get hit once, let alone die at all. It’s easy to think that this decision was made because this is a kid’s title, but I’ll pass on that excuse. The designers did a fine job making the controls a total non-issue; any kid should be able to topple even moderately difficult enemies with this elegantly simple layout. Why not give them a challenge?

All in all, Buena Vista has built a stable house with a future for its potential franchise. It’s just too bad that not much is done with its creations in terms of actual gameplay. While the archeology and character-building elements are major successes, the game ultimately flounders on its extreme lack of challenge and derivative story-telling. I’ll predict that there’s enough here to ensure a healthy future for a sequel, but Jupiter will need to do more to hold my interest for the next outing.


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Author: GamerNode Staff View all posts by

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