It’s Pokémon…in 3D…in space!
Spectrobes: Beyond the Portals is like a modern cell phone. It tries to do way too many things at once, and it’s never sure what the primary function is. Spectrobes tries to be a fetch-quester, a Pokémon clone, a Tamagotchi, an arena battle game, and a 3rd-person shooter, with a fossil excavation mini-game thrown in for variety. Spectrobes never manages to nail down any of the genres it attempts to supplant, and it ends up feeling like an unfocused mess.
Beyond the Portals is a sequel to the original Spectrobes, a game I never played. According to the brief recap at the beginning of this game, our heroes, Rallen and Jeena, successfully fought back the Krawl, a group of alien overtakers, and saved the galaxy. Several months later, the Krawl return, using mysterious portals to travel to Rallen and Jeena’s galaxy and kidnapping a friend from the first game, Aldous. The Krawl also manage to steal all of Rallen’s equipment in the process, meaning that our hero must start from scratch.
This dooms you to wander the galaxy in search of people to talk to, who tell you to go talk to other people, often in the area you just left. Because there’s no GTA-like radar, it’s very easy to get lost in areas you’re unfamiliar with, like Rallen’s home base. Your first couple hours of gameplay will be spent navigating a very thinly-veiled tutorial. The tasks therein are tedious, to say the least. At one point, after fighting a few bad guys and coming to an area I could not yet move past, I was called back to my ship. I wandered back to my ship, and Jeena told me to go right back to the area I was just in to dig up certain fossils, then come back to her to awaken them, then go back yet again to an area I’d already been three times already. Believe it or not, that instance was not the worst offender.
While in the field, Rallen is equipped with a sword and a laser gun that tracks targets that you lock onto. However, fighting in the field is a useless affair, because all field creatures originate from a large tornado-like structure that can only be destroyed with Spectrobe battles. So it’s better to just run toward the tornado, kill the inhabitants, and stop the field creatures from appearing in the first place. Spectrobes are Pokémon. Like Digimon or Neopets, they look different and have some different elemental properties, but let’s be honest, here: they’re Pokémon. They level up, evolve, and eat minerals to improve their stats. The big difference is that you actually control the Spectrobes during battle. Two Spectrobes go in at a time and face two opponents. You can switch between your two Spectrobes whenever you want and use a lunge or energy attack. The two can team up to unleash a super attack when their power meter has gotten high enough. After the battle is won, you earn experience and pick up any items or money the enemy has dropped.
Spectrobes level up by consuming a whole lot of minerals in an "Incubator", which is where the Tamagotchi gameplay comes in. When you want to learn about your Spectrobes or level them up, go back to your ship and put up to eight lil’ cuties in a virtual room. Feed them minerals you’ve found in the field (more on that later) until they sparkle, at which point they will evolve with the tap of an icon. Evolving has nothing to do with leveling up, although I can only assume that leveling up your Spectrobe through battle before evolving it in the Incubator has an effect on its stats. On the one hand, allowing you to basically evolve your Spectrobes at your convenience is a nice change of pace from the level grinding of Pokémon games. On the other hand, the Incubator is just another needless step in a process that is already in need of serious streamlining.
You find Spectrobes (and minerals) by digging for them in a method reminiscent of Dinosaur King. After clearing an area of critters, you can use the radar, which will show you where stuff is hidden underground. Tap that area, and it’s off to the excavation mini-game! You basically tap the screen until you uncover something, then tap around the object (don’t try to "erase" the rock around it like Dinosaur King—you’ll fail) to uncover it… very slowly. You can haul it from the substrate when you’ve cleared 90% of the dirt ‘n’ grime away, but going for the full 100% will often net you a better prize and more experience. I’m still not sure what experience does for your excavating skills.
After you’ve unearthed a Spectrobe, it’s off to the Awakening machine, my least favorite part of the entire experience. You choose which fossil you want to awaken, then talk, whistle, or yell into the microphone for three full seconds while keeping your voice volume at such a level that the pick-up bar stays within a narrow band. After three seconds of this, your Spectrobe will awaken, and you can name it. There should be another option. Merely blowing into the microphone will work too, but your Spectrobe will not come out at as high a level as it would were you, say, singing “Sweet Home Alabama” into the mic (something I did) (in my kitchen) (while my wife wasn’t home). Parents of small children are going to hate this game. There should be another, less noisy, method.
Disney has its own online thing. This isn’t Nintendo Wi-Fi, it’s "D-Gamer", but it amounts to the same thing. Online battles are pretty standard, although there’s an online ranking system in place, too. Spectrobes is also a card game, and you can buy and somehow upload the card data onto the game to unlock more Spectrobes. The game comes with four cards, but at no point did the two-hour tutorial tell me how to upload the card data. Honestly, that’s one more fetch-quest I could do without anyway.