Spectrobes: Beyond the Portals
Genre: Action RPG
Developer: Jupiter Multimedia
Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios
Release Date: 10/07/08
Spectrobes: Beyond the Portals is a sequel to Disney Interactive Studios first rooster fighting with monsters game that was released last year. The original game sold fairly well for a new IP, and it is also a game I never played. At the time I had heard it was just a Pokemon rip off, so I moved on and played other games. Since there aren’t very many titles coming out this month I figured I’d give the sequel a chance.
First I’d like to clarify: Spectrobes is not a Pokemon rip off. Sure, they both feature creatures to collect, evolve and fight against each other. Aside from they they’re completely different games. To use a gaming related analogy, it would be like saying Star Ocean was a Final Fantasy rip off.
If you are like me and missed out on the first Spectrobes title, both the game and the user manual summarize the events of that game. For background the first game was about two members of the Nanairo Planetary Patrol (NPP), Rallen and Jeena, who meet a traveler from another Galaxy named Aldous who warns them about an upcoming invasion from a force known as the Krawl. The Krawl can be defeated by Spectrobes, and it’s just lucky enough for everyone else in the galaxy that the one man who knows about Spectrobes just happened to run into Rallen, who discovers he can control Spectrobes. So after learning about his ability, Rallen is able to fight back against the Krawl menace.
In the sequel it has been awhile since the Krawl attack. Rallen is bored. Most of the Spectrobes that are in the hands of the NPP are going through scientific research to discover more about them. Just when everything seems to be going well, BAM, the Krawl are back. In what might be the smartest move of a villain in any video game, the Krawl realize that it’s the Spectrobes that can destroy them, so the first thing they do is blow up the Spectrobes lab. Bye bye little guys. These aren’t just any Krawl, these are High Krawl.
This is mostly just a plot excuse for Rallen to start back with only a couple Spectrobes. Since it’s been a few years, the game puts you through a tutorial by saying that Rallen is rusty after no one to combat since the first game. The tutorial will be a welcome addition for those like me who never played the first game, but given the length of the tutorial I would assume that if you are familiar with the series that this part of the game will just be very annoying.
For a light sci-fi story it’s not a bad one, though it is also not very deep either. There are some particularly odd moments, like in the beginning when a museum curator will not allow Rallen to have a Spectrobe fossil so that he can use it to fight off the Krawl. Seriously? The galaxy is at stake but the curator will not let Rallen have the thing that might save them all just because he’s a jerk?
Graphically Spectrobes: Beyond the Portals is a very good looking DS game. The game is in 3D, and while the locations and character models for the humans are well done, it’s the Spectrobes that steal the show here. Each one is different and all of them have a really unique visual style about them. Many of the creatures look like they’ve been inspired by Eastern mythological creatures. Not only do the models for the Spectrobes look good, but they also all animate well.
As far as the sound goes, it’s not offensive on the ears or anything. I wish I could give the game more credit for the background music and sound effects, except it’s all pretty generic and it is almost a little too quiet, though this at times is a blessing since if you’re playing in the car or around the house with the sound on you’ll likely not annoy those around you.
In Spectrobes, there will be two things that will take up the majority of your time while playing, battling and digging.
There are two different battle modes: Field and Encounter. When wandering around an area, Rallen will occasionally be attacked by Krawl Dust. Krawl Dust comes out of a Krawl Vortex and will try to attack Rallen. Luckily Rallen has a sword and blaster to do combat with to wipe Krawl Dust out. This is actually one of the weakest parts of the game since combat with Rallen isn’t nearly as enjoyable as it is with the Spectrobes and there’s really nothing to be gained. Krawl Dust only drops health for Rallen, though you do gain experience for destroying Krawl Dust all this does is unlock better armor and weapons that can be used to fight more Krawl Dust. It would’ve been nice if Krawl Dust dropped something more useful, like minerals, so that it would be an alternative to fighting or digging.
In any location there will generally be multiple Krawl Vortexes, which look like colored tornados. Walking into one of these will start an encounter battle. Encounter battles are fought only with Spectrobes. These battles take place on a smaller field within a Vortex and during these fights, two Spectrobes are used with the ability to switch between them at any time. Fighting is done in real time and each time you hit an enemy a meter will start building up called the CH gauge. Once the meter is full you can either unleash a special attack with the Spectrobe you are controlling at that moment or you can unleash a combination attack. The combination attacks are neat for the fact that the animations for this take up the whole battlefield, but there are only a couple of combo animation attacks depending on the property of the Spectrobe you are using. If one of the Spectrobes falls in battle, it can be revived by using the same button for a combination attack as long as the CH gauge is full.
Speaking of different properties for the Spectrobes, this is where the main strategy of the game comes into play. There are three different properties: Corona (Red), Arora (Green), or Flash (Blue). This pretty much boils down to a Rock, Paper, Scissors system. Blue beats Red, Red beats Green, Green beats Blue. Since Rallen can hold up to 6 Spectrobes on him at any time it’s important to try to keep at least two of each kind along at all times. Another thing to remember is that going into a battle and choosing a Spectrobe with a green property before entering a blue Vortex doesn’t mean that the battle will be a pushover. A lot of it will also depend on the level of the Spectrobe entering battle and how good you put that one to use.
One of the hardest things about the whole battle system has to do with the animation system and the camera. When you get a new Spectrobe and take it into battle, you’ll notice a lot of them move at different speeds and have different style of attacks. One might be able to pull off a three hit combo but will also be slow and have low range. It’s the range that bothered me the most about the battle system. Sometimes it was hard to determine if I was close enough for my attack to hit or miss. This also sort of hurts the collecting aspect of the game, since some Spectrobes just have more of an advantage over others in battle because they’ll have either range for their attack animation than others.
The camera is perhaps the biggest problem of the whole game. During a battle you can lock onto enemies as long as they’re almost directly in front of you. If they’re slightly off to one side or another then you’ll have trouble locking on. This isn’t so much of a problem at the start of a battle since all of the enemies start off right in front of your Spectrobes, but if there are multiple enemies then it becomes an issue. Also when you defeat on enemy and turn around and press the button to bring the camera back in line, instead it just swings around wildly making it difficult to locate, then lock onto the next enemy. It’s not a game breaking flaw and will not make you lose a battle, but it is a really frustrating thing during the heat of battle.
Aside from fighting there’s also digging. Yep, digging. In order to find more Spectrobes, minerals to feed those Spectrobes, and some other hidden objects, you have to dig. Digging is done just with the touch screen, you’ll tap to dig through layers of dirt and once you’ve found an object you’ll have to unearth it. This isn’t as easy as it looks since if you move the stylus too quickly you can damage the object you are trying to remove. While mostly this isn’t a problem, if you are unearthing a Spectrobe fossil and can unearth the fossil without either damaging it and can dig it out 100% in under a minute then when you go to awaken the fossil you can immediately evolve the Spectrobe from it’s child form to it’s adult form. Digging also uses the DS mic, if you blow into the mic you can clear debris which helps you see better what you are digging up. As time and levels go on the digging mini-game will use more equipment for specific areas. Like using a fire torch to clear ice that forms on the world covered with snow.
Digging and fighting are what will encompass 90% of the game. The digging isn’t as engaging as the fighting, though it does provide for a different activity to do if you get tired of grinding to get your Spectrobes stronger, and believe me there is a lot of grinding to do in the game. Another nice thing about digging is the fact that you can feed minerals you dig up to your Spectrobes and this will also level them faster.
Aside from digging and fighting there are a couple of really light puzzles, and also an area in your space ship to awaken and raise your Spectrobes.
In order to awaken a Spectrobe fossil you will have to grab the fossil, slide it into a machine and for some strange reason, shout for 3 seconds at different volume levels. This apparently helps determine the color of the Spectrobe after it’s awakened, but it’s annoying. I like to play my DS games while taking public and nothing makes people look at you as if you were crazy like shouting, “RISE AND SHINE SPECTROBE!” Once you’ve awakened a Spectrobe you can name it, and I have to give Disney Interactive a lot of credit, this is one tough language filter. They’ve even covered dirty words I barely know of. Good job, you dirty minded developers.
When they’re awake, you can place them in an incubator. From there if you’ve uncovered the fossil in under a minute and with no damage you can evolve them right away. Otherwise the different Spectrobes require a certain amount of minerals that you have to dig up and feed them. Some Spectrobes you might want to keep in baby form since it is only baby Spectrobes that can follow you around the map and scan for areas to dig.
That’s pretty much the game. Aside from the single player game the game is also Nintendo WiFi compatible and allows for local multiplayer. For local multiplayer you can trade Spectrobes or you can battle. For local multiplayer you can either fight 1 vs 1, which works like fighting in the single player game with each person bringing in two Spectrobes though only controlling one. There’s Team Battle, with 4 players split into teams of two, and Battle Royale, which is 4 players versus each other with everyone controlling just one Spectrobe and is probably the craziest of the three modes and the most fun. The WiFi mode supports battling and auctioning off Spectrobes, though the WiFi battles are different in the fact that they’re more centered around 3 mini-games to determine attack damage and how much damage the defense blocks.
This is also the first title compatible with DGamer. DGamer is Disney’s online mode that features avatar support, which are similar to Nintendo’s Miis, though certain achievements in the game can unlock more costumes for your avatar to use. That’s another nice thing in the game, in the game they’re called Emblems, but they work the same way that Xbox Achievements work, each has a certain goal to accomplish and accomplishing that goal will unlock that Emblem.
I’m amazed that Spectrobes comes with things like an avatar system, online, and achievements when there are many console titles out there that still do not incorporate these ideas. It’s great to see a developer fit all of this into a portable title.
Sound: Above Average
Control and Gameplay: Good
Appeal Factor: Good
FINAL SCORE: ENJOYABLE GAME
Short Attention Span Summary:
Spectrobes: Beyond the Portals surprised me in many ways, while it does center around collecting creatures like Pokemon, it’s actually a good portable action RPG that is a great way to kill time on long trips. They’ve also managed to include an amazing amount of additional content, so if you are into catching and fighting creatures but prefer action over menu based fighting, Spectrobes: Beyond the Portals is a good way to waste time.