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The Ten: Updated Wednesdays-Fridays-Sundays

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Let's Do This! Iku Ze! Or, let's talk about Spectrobes...

Sword and crazy monsters. Fun or no?
So, I've been sifting through my Nintendo DS games, and there's two titles that always seem to catch my eye, in a loving way. Those would be Spectrobes and its sequel, Spectrobes II- Beyond the Portals. I figured, since I'm being such a little reminiscent nut lately, I'd talk a little bit about these games. I'll probably spend the week talking about the trilogy of games- FUN.

Spectrobes was published by Disney Interactive Studios and developed by Jupiter, the studio that created Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories. It's a archeologist/monster collecting/monster battling RPG. That's the best way to describe it. It's a lot to throw at the player- and the tutorial of the game is certainly long enough to encompass all of this. However, once the ball gets rolling, the mechanics work pretty smoothly together, if not a little sequentially.

What do I mean? Well, the thing about Spectrobes is that it's pretty much divided into BATTLIN', FINDIN', DIGGIN', BIRTHIN', and GROWIN'. In that order. You land on a planet, you battle various Krawl, you find fossils and whatever else you want to find, you excavate them, you birth any new Spectrobes, and you grow them in the incubator. I mean, each part of the game is its own minigame, essentially- battles are 3rd person fights with Krawl on a small field. Surprisingly, battling- which is a pretty integral part of a monster battling RPG- is tough to control and kind of a mess. You play as Rallen, the main character, and you can have various weapons and outfits equipped to boost your stats against the Krawl- but the real heavy hitters are your Spectrobes, who deal massive type damage depending on the Krawl you face. However, they need to be aimed, and the only way to do so is by turning Rallen in the direction you want them to attack- the Spectrobes always stay at your side, and always face whatever direction you do. Since the 3D models are a slippery and the D-pad sucks for controlling them, you end up sliding around a lot and generally missing, unless your Spectrobes method of attack isn't precise- some have area-of-attack moves, others shoot things- but generally the melee Spectrobes suck. Fortunately, the game has this "end-battles-quickly" technique in the form of the CH gauge. If you fill up one bar of the CH gauge, the Spectrobe on that side of you will use a special attack. But if you fill up the whole thing, you can do a combo attack that combines the types of both your Spectrobes and goes into a power-cutscene, giving you invulnerability. Neat, but when it's easier to dodge the Krawl and charge up for these combo attacks, you negate the reason to battle in the first place. Also, Rallen has weapons to fight with, but he's essentially useless. It just sucks being the least-powerful character on a team.

Exploring the environments is done from an almost-top-down camera angle, with Rallen as the avatar and a cute little infant Spectrobe behind him. Depending on the qualities of the infant, you can shoot out a scanning ring that searches the surrounding area for fossils and minerals in the ground. You can then tap on flashing lights that appear from the ground to enter the excavation minigame. The exploration is pretty base, and there's no real puzzles or anything of the like. However, little Krawl-tornadoes float around the field, and if they run into you, a battle will begin. Make no mistake, those tornadoes are fast little jerks.

Excavation is pretty cool, using the touch screen to dig through layers of rock with different tools. The process can be grueling, especially at the beginning, but once you realize you can get money for excavating things well, it causes you to become a quick excavator- and the whole process is really fun. The only problem is that you have to go into an excavation minigame for every mineral and Spectrobe fossil you find, which is tedious. But, if it's your favorite part of the game, it isn't really that boring, and if you'd just nut-up and shut-up and save all your damn money you can buy an auto-drill. Again, why make it that easy?

If you excavate a Spectrobe fossil (since they're really fossils with ancient power imbued in them), you can awaken it, which is pretty easy- just flick them into the machine and yell at them until they are born. Depending on how you yell, you can make the Spectrobe end up with a different color. Slightly cool. Spectrobes are born as infants, so you either take them with you to scan, or you put them in the incubator, preferrably under an environment of their type, and feed them minerals help them grow. One massive problem I had with the first title was that they never told you the specifications for evolving Spectrobes. I just force-fed them minerals until they started sparkling. It makes you feel as if your parenting is really crappy. But once you evolve a Spectrobe to its mature form, they can start battling, and minerals begin to alter their stats. Once they've fought enough battles and eaten enough minerals AGAIN, they begin to glow and you can evolve them into their ass-kicking adult form, which is just a more powerful, badass form.

You can also equip Spectrobes with special parts that up their stats, and there's some legendary Spectrobes that are only accessible via codes. There's also geos, but I won't get into that. That's a spoiler.

When I first got Spectrobes, I was fresh off of Pokemon, and crazy for more monster action. Impressively enough, Spectrobes manages to be a monster collecting game that isn't like Pokemon. Actually, it's not like any other RPG. It has a lot of facets, from story to mission structure to the importance of battle and the landscapes that make it starkly different from other monster battling game. Once you get the friggin' jetpack so you don't have to trek all the way back to your ship to save/awaken/incubate your newly- obtained fossils, it becomes a much smoother experience. Certain Spectrobes only show up on certain planets, and there's a rarity factor that depends on the infant Spectrobe you have with you. It's got a good deal of depth, but again, everything doesn't really seem to blend together- however, the item system, and minerals in general, are very well-executed. Minerals can also be used to heal Spectrobes outside of battle, which is another nice use outside of incubation and increasing your excavation rank.

The only point Spectrobes kind of gets against it is that it's a little short and very shallow. There's a lot of great character designs and a very cool universe created, but the characters are so one-note and barely progress throughout the story of the game, and the environments, though varied, don't have a lot of appealing aesthetic. The best use of environmental design was, in my opinion, the lava planet and the weird ruin planet (the names are escaping me now- come to think of it, no name aside from Rallen's really sticks out to me from the series, ESPECIALLY not the monsters.) But it's not just the names that don't stick out- it's the characters. The Spectrobes are these angry, mythic looking creatures fighting alongside a galactic space-force. The concept sounds a lot more exciting then the product, because of the slow cutscenes and uninspiring game design.

Overall, I enjoyed Spectrobes, but that's because I exploited the weak parts in the battle structure to make things extremely easy and then tried "catchin' them all" Which, is actually a fun thing to try in Spectrobes, if not a tad bit luck-based. Every portion of the game was well-thought out enough to be "master-able" and the end of the game was a lot of fun- It was satisfying and the monsters were awesome. Did I ever think I'd play something like it again? I was indifferent to a sequel.

However, a sequel did come, and with it came many changes. This is only part one in the saga of Spectrobes, two more remain. Did they improve? Did they suck more? We'll talk more about it later in the week...

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