The world's first creature catchin', outer space explorin', archeology expeditionin' video game.
For a company that up until now has relied on its pre-existing army of characters, Disney has a lot riding on Spectrobes. The game, crafted by Jupiter (who also worked their magic on Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories), is the company's first totally original video game. Not surprisingly, it's aimed at the kids. Players control Rallen, a member of the Nanairo Planetary Patrol. On a routine mission, Rallen and his partner Jeena discover a crashed escape pod, and inside it, an old man named Aldous. Aldous comes from another galaxy, which has been torn to pieces by the Krawl. He was on a mission to find the one force capable of defeating the Krawl… Spectrobes. The mythical creatures exist only as fossils in Nanairio, but Aldous has the technology to revive them. With the Krawl closing in on Nanairo, Rallen and Jeena must awaken the Spectrobes to save their galaxy.
It's the kind of plot you'd find in a children's Saturday morning cartoon show. Not surprisingly, the game is also very similar to the ones the audience for these cartoons loves to play. However, instead of focusing in on one of the myriad of tween-market games, Spectrobes pulls ideas from a bunch of genres. The game blends elements of Pokémon, Tamagotchi, and Kingdom Hearts, plus a secret ingredient... archeology. Players must excavate and raise their Spectrobes before they may be used in the game's real-time battles. If anything can be said about the game, it would be that it is anything but simple. In fact, Spectrobes suffers more from wild ambition. All of these different elements are jammed into one game, and none of them are especially great.
Spectrobes' manual is just shy of eighty pages. This should give you a good idea of how much there is to do in the game. The life of a single Spectrobe is full of different phases. First, players must scour the surface of planets for a fossil. These fossils, which are totally hidden, can only be found by scanning the area immediately around Rallen. Once a fossil is found, it can be excavated. Excavation is the most unusual feature of Spectrobes, and it uses the DS in some very cool ways. After knocking away a few layers of rock, the fossil is revealed. From here, the touch screen is used to uncover the fossil. Various tools are available for this procedure. Drills of various power can trim debris off fossils, and blowing into the DS's microphone will remove any flecks of drilled material. Once uncovered, a fossil may be retrieved. This excavation mode is easily the most fun part of Spectrobes. There are many different fossils, minerals, and other things to dig up, and each presents its own set of challenges. It's never too difficult though. If anything, it's too frequent. Much of the game is spent digging up various things, and while it is fun, it's becomes very routine. This is mostly due to the fact that each fossil is the same each time you dig it up. A Health-Up mineral will be exactly the same every time you excavate it, and with tons of power-up minerals to earn, collecting them can become tedious.
Once you have your Spectrobe fossil, you'll have to awaken it. This again employs the DS in some very interesting ways. To awaken the Spectrobes, you will have you coax them out of their fossil-slumber with your voice. Each Spectrobe is different. Some will require a very loud noise, while others almost none. Some of them require you to keep your voice in a specific volume range for a few seconds. This mini-game feature is also a lot of fun, though waking up the Spectrobes that want you to be neither quiet or loud can be kind of tricky. Once awakened, the baby Spectrobes will have to be incubated. This is where Spectrobes shows its virtual-pet side. Up to eight of the little buggers can be kept in your incubator, in one of four rooms. Once in their room, they can be fed minerals and petted. To put it frankly, raising Spectrobes is boring. All you really do is give them enough time and minerals to evolve to their adult form.
Once a Spectrobe has evolved into its adult form, it can leave the incubator and accompany you in your travels. Rallen can equip seven Spectrobes. The first (which may be a child) is used to help scan for fossils. The next two are used in battle. The last four offer support by boosting battle statistics (power, defense, speed, and charge). While exploring the various planets, Rallen will encounter the Krawl. They traverse worlds via large purple tornados. If Rallen runs into one of these tornados, a battle will ensue.
Battles in Spectrobes are extremely boring. Rallen's two Spectrobes will follow him around a small arena while the Krawl try to attack you. "Try" is the operative word here. The game's AI is pitiful. Almost every battle can be won by holding down the charge button until the charge meter is completely filled. Once it is, a super attack can be unleashed. Running around and staying away from the Krawl while charging the super attack is the most viable strategy for battle. Both the enemy and ally AI are so stupid that trying to attack any other way is simply frustrating. As long as you keep moving, you will suffer almost no damage, and standard attacks are so pitifully weak and inaccurate that using them is worthless.
Most of the time spent not battling or excavating is spent wandering planets, aimlessly looking for some specific fossil or NPC. It is a tedious exercise, especially when you keep digging up the same three power-up minerals and getting in even more tedious battles. If more time had been put into the exploration and battle elements of Spectrobes, it would be a much better game. However, there are a few other things to do in Spectrobes. Players can battle each other wirelessly, customize their Spectrobes with custom-add on parts, earn new Spectrobes and other goodies via the Card Input System, and connect to Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection to download goodies.
The Card Input System is another unique feature of Spectrobes. Four plastic cards are included with the game, and others will be available in the future for free. It's a safe assumption that they will be given out at special Spectrobes events and in cereal boxes and such. Players place the card on the DS touch screen and poke the stylus through a series of seven holes. Doing so gives you items such as Spectrobes and custom parts. The other way to get free goodies is through Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. All of the downloadable are items are free... sort of. In what can be seen only as an excuse to lengthen the game, players are given download points every Friday. These points may be redeemed for more Spectrobes, custom parts, and other things. Of course, promotional items like short Spectrobes videos are free, but the good stuff requires points. The entire system is insanely stupid. There's no real reason this point system should even exist. Similar to the download system, many of Spectrobes' core feature are not even available at the start of the game. Features such as wi-fi battles, Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, evolving Spectrobes to their final form, and other features must be unlocked by digging up "cubes". Cubes are a special kind of fossil that reveal secrets of the game. Some of these secrets are hints and tips, but others reveal entire locked-away features. Again, there is no reason these core features should be hidden away. Players should not have to scour the surface of a planet just to unlock the wi-fi battle mode.
Spectrobes tries to accomplish a lot but succeeds at very little. Its innovations are marred by rote repetition. The exploration and battle modes are at best boring and at worst mind-numbingly frustrating. The potential for a great game is there, and it was given quite a long time to been created. Unfortunately, the myriad of gameplay elements in Spectrobes struggle to create a cohesive experience. Disney is putting a lot of time and money into this fledgling franchise, and as long as this first title sells a decent amount of copies, a sequel is almost assured. Hopefully Jupiter and Disney will learn from their mistakes, because Spectrobes holds much potential.