Review: Spyborgs (Nintendo Wii)

Spyborgs-USSpyborgs
Developer: Bionic Games
Publisher: Capcom
Genre: Beat’Em Up
Release Date: 09/22/2009

When word initially leaked about the upcoming Spyborgs, two things stood out. The first notable was the developer, Bionic Games. Made up of former Insomniac and Obsidian staff, I could finally be excited about the prospect of a 3rd party Wii exclusive. The second piece of exciting news was the type of game Spyborgs was being touted as. From the outset, Spyborgs was to look and feel like a Saturday morning cartoon (Remember those?), complete with playable commercials. I was all a twitter with anticipation. Did they deliver?

Story/Modes

Here comes the first let down: the Saturday morning cartoon thing was severely cut back. The commercials are gone. The gameplay was simplified from action/platformer, to 16-bit style brawler. This bit of disappointment is only going to affect the one or two percent of gamers who follow games that early in development, but I was, and am crestfallen. What I cannot do is blame a game for what it is not. A review of a theoretical game is pretty silly. This is the last significant mention of the original design that I will make, and I will try to keep my disappointment from affecting the scores.

What Spyborgs is, what it plays like, is a standard issue, old-school brawler. Remember playing co-op Streets of Rage on the Genesis or Final Fight in the arcade? This is the modern, futuristic cousin of those games. Basically, all the action takes place in one, unnamed, mode. You and a partner, computer or real, assume control of one of three Spyborgs and kick the crap out of robot foes. For your consideration are Clandestine, the female ninja, Bouncer, the big giant huge gorilla robot, and the guy everyone will be fighting to use, Stinger. Stinger is a big haired Swiss Army Knife of killing, with a machinegun arm and an easy balance of speed and power.

The plot of the game is… inexplicable. I was dumbfounded at the end, unable to make heads or tails of the insanity put before me. Like a low budget sci-fi flick, there are lots of buzz words and betrayals, but I really have no idea what happened. There are cassette tapes and movies that are collected as a side-quest, but they do little to clarify what is going on. Luckily, the plot is very secondary to the beating you deliver.

The only other modes of note are the Extras. Extras mode lets you enjoy the Medals, Cheats, Tapes, Movies, and Cinematics you have stumbled upon in you ever-continuing quest to punch things very hard. Or is that very very hard?

Graphics
I love the look of the Ratchet and Clank series. The ultra-stylized and angular look is one of the better aesthetics to rise out of the last few video game generations. Spyborgs does not disappoint in this regard. The graphics have a very familiar style, which is a positive. Everything has a very solid, heavy look, and feels solid. The game world is nicely designed and rendered and is a vision of the future I am a big fan of.

The character designs are more of a mixed bag. The robotic Bouncer looks very similar to a robot from Ratchet and Clank, but he animates exceptionally well. His simian movements remind me of the robot gorilla from Bionic Six, a favorite of my childhood. Clandestine, the female ninja, strikes a nice figure, though it is sad that the only really notable thing about her is that she wears a mask over her mouth. That’s about it for her, really. Stinger is something else all together. Stinger is a reminder of the game’s aforementioned origins as a parody of Saturday morning cartoon. He looks like someone took the worst heroic stereotypes of the Toonami block and made an action figure. His hair is a little too tall, taller even than Captain Commando. His gun arm is more unwieldy than Cloud’s sword. The boots he wears are gigantic, metal, and rectangular. All of this combines to make a figure that I find oddly, strangely, shockingly endearing. His too familiar features, carefully extracted beyond the limits of common sense or decency, make Stinger a character I find myself quite liking the look of. A dark part of my imagination does wish they had just used Captain Commando instead, but I will live with Stinger.

The designs for the bad guys, however, are not as strong. The rank and file baddies are seldom worth notice. The bosses did little to inspire me to remember them, but I was awfully busy trying to stay alive and kill them.

The graphical effects when foes are struck and boxes are smashed is exceedingly nice, a glow that defies what I thought were the Wii’s limits. The Spyborgs themselves have a neat blue glow that runs through their bodies that is also nice.

One thing that looks less than beautiful, though, is the Combo Finisher mode. When activated, the two active Spyborgs engage in a tag team assault on the enemy in question. This is animated well enough, but the blue Danger Room graphics are distracting and sort of unpleasant.

Sound
There are two aspects to the sound design for Spyborgs. The first is voice. I am not Alex Lucard, so I cannot tell you what other things the voice actors have done, even after a Google search. What I can tell you is that the voice actors did a respectable job. Stinger has a suitably American action hero voice. There were no voices that made me want to poke out my eardrums, a real improvement over many games I have suffered through.

The music is equally inoffensive. Like any good Saturday morning cartoon, the music is a mix of techno and bland guitar rock. How, after playing twenty years of beat’em ups, I do not get in a fight every time I hear electric guitar, I do not know. While I would not purchase a soundtrack album, I have no real memories of suffering pain while listening to the game’s music, either.

Control and Gameplay
The worst thing a Wii game can do is make me waggle the whole time I am playing. Nothing puts me off of a game like senseless waggling. Spyborgs contains exactly the right amount of waggle. Thank you Bionic Games! In all seriousness, it is very nice to play a Wii game using the analog stick 90% of the time. The Spyborg of your choice is moved around with the stick, attacking with B, jumping with A, heavy attacking with C, blocking and finishing with Z. Easy as pie. The WiiMote has to be pointed at the screen to uncover hidden boxes, but it is not a super important aspect of the gameplay. During the Finishers, a pair of gestures are required, but the sensitivity on these is perfectly tuned, and not the pain I expected after playing a raft of bad Wii games.

It should be noted that this game is designed with two-player cooperative firmly in mind, to the point that you are never alone, even in single player. If you play a lot of two player games and have steady company, then this is will be pretty natural for you. For those of us who play by ourselves most of the time, the constant co-op could have been a bummer. Luckily, Bionic Games were kind enough to program the smartest CPU partner I have yet encountered. Heck, there were times the computer had to save me from baddies instead of it being vice versa. If I had one complaint in that regard, it would be the inability to have a third player. While it would have been time consuming, the Wii is perfect for three player games and there is already a third character to use. A minor complaint, to be sure.

Replayability
Judging from the disparity between difficulty levels and the liberal number of findables, I think the intent was there to make Spyborgs a game witha lot of replay value. Unfortunately, I did not find the content to be endearing or interesting enough to warrant much replay. With a like minded friend and some spare time, I can see Spyborgs being the sort of game you play though in a weekend and are satisfied with.

Balance
Here comes an arguable point. I think Spyborgs is just hard enough. True, you will die repeatedly, no matter the difficulty. Yes, you will be thrown back further than you might expect. The bad guys will always outnumber you. Thing is, this is a beat’em up. You should not be beating a game like this in one sitting. It needs to be hard. And it is.

For those not raised on having two day rentals and rock hard SNES games to slog through, Spyborgs will own you, it will humble you. I had honestly forgotten what getting beaten by a game was like. You will not own Spyborgs.

Originality
For one thing, it ain’t a sequel. It’s not even licensed! Spyborgs has it’s roots as an homage to a dead TV format and is itself in a dead genre. I do not know if I would call that original, but it sure is ballsy. The Gameplay might not be too creative, but the use of time dilation in a brawler is novel. The graphics have a very specific aesthetic.

Addictiveness
The beat’em up genre is not one that engenders addiction, by it’s nature. Beat’em ups beat the Hell out of the player and make him come back for more. That is what Spyborgs does very well, it beats you up. While I enjoyed Spyborgs, it was certainly easy to pull me away. I ended up mowing the lawn instead of playing it. I wound up at a baseball game. I had some cocktails in lieu of playing it. If there was an excuse not to play, I took it. That is not to say that I did not like it, simply that it was hard to motivate myself to press on.

Appeal Factor
There are going to be three hooks that bring people to Spyborgs. For people looking for a solid, if not spectacular multiplayer game on the little white box, then Spyborgs is a solid choice. It is fun and eats up time, though non-gamers will be frustrated, even on easy. A second hook is for the lover of beat’em ups. For that fan, Spyborgs is an easy sell. It is easy to pick up for genre veterans and hard to beat. Plus, it looks like a million bucks. The last group I can see picking this game up are those attracted to the initial concept. These gamers will most likely leave disappointed. The absence of singing fish in a pond of feces cannot be filled by mindless punching.

Miscellaneous
It should be noted that Spyborgs shipped with the pocket friendly retail price point of $40. While not cheap, it definitely makes Spyborgs an easier pill to swallow.

One thing that has lit up message boards pertaining to Spyborgs has been the issue of bugs and glitches. I beat the game three times in a week and never encountered any of the reported bugs, but they do seem to fall under a common enough theme to be believable. According to most reports, if the last enemy is thrown out of the game area, the barrier preventing you from moving forward will never disappear and you will be stuck. Like I said, this was never something I ran into, but if you are picky about bugs, this will likely ruin your day.

The Scores
Story/Modes Rating: Mediocre
Graphics Rating: Great
Sound Rating: Mediocre
Control and Gameplay Rating: Enjoyable
Replayability Rating: Poor
Balance Rating: Very Good
Originality Rating: Good
Addictiveness Rating: Mediocre
Appeal Factor Rating: Very Good
Miscellaneous Rating: Good
FINAL SCORE: ENJOYABLE GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
While not the game initially previewed, Spyborgs has evolved into something else. A fun little old school brawler, with the difficulty that entails. Being aware of how difficult it is, and how reliant it is on having a second player, Spyborgs is a fun game. While it is not something you will want to put 100 hours into, there is fun to be had for the patient. A decent buy, but a great rental.