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The Ten: Updated Wednesdays-Fridays-Sundays

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Rallen! We have to go back! Or, let's talk about Spectrobes: Origins...

Look at that cute little red guy. He's just so... serious.

So Beyond the Portals was awesome, I think we established that. Turtles with chainsaws, giant fire wolves, and kooky characters abound. Jupiter wanted to one-up Game Freak yet again by creating an actually-decent RPG for a home console, I suppose, so they got to work relatively quickly on Spectrobes: Origins. The three games were actually released just about one year after the other, which is pretty impressive/startling, because they seemed to improve and change with each iteration. But that's enough of that, how about discussing Spectrobes Origins?!

So when I said Jupiter wanted to one-up Game Freak, that's just it- they didn't actually do so. See, Spectrobes: Origins is essentially on the same level as Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness. It doesn't feature nearly as many Spectrobes as it should/could, because it clocks out (literally) after getting to a certain point in the story. But that doesn't mean it's not a good game- it's just brief, and kind of gives us a taste of what Spectrobes on the Wii COULD have been. Fortunately, it gives us a very nice sample- one of those samples that would cause you to stop if you saw it being given out for free in a supermarket, saying "Are you sure that's a sample? It looks like a full-course meal." Because Spectrobes: Origins is a pretty hefty, satisfying experience. Featuring 88 Spectrobes (some new, most old), the game takes everything you would expect from the handheld experience and blows it up so that it works on a console- though it's not without its flaws.

The most important change is not in battling, but excavation. See, with the DS games, if you found yourself a fossil or a mineral, you'd have to go straight into excavation mode to dig it up. Now, however, when you send out your Child Spectrobe, it will pull up whatever fossils and minerals are within radius as cubs of sediment holding the prize within, which you can collect for FURTHER excavation back at your ship. Once you head back, you can open up your mining toolbox and start chipping away at these blocks. The traditional tools are there- scanner, drill, and blow-dry for dust, but the inclusion of the chisel and laser are much appreciated. The block can be turned in any direction while working with the nunchuk analog, and the IR pointer is manipulated with the Wii Remote. It pretty much works like how you'd expect it to, and these segments are graded on time to see how close the awakened Child Spectrobe's level will be to your own, which is an interesting little mechanic that sort of keeps the game at an odd pace.

Incubation sees a number of Spectrobes being placed in an environment chosen by the player, where you can interact directly with the creatures, either by petting them, dropping minerals for them to eat, or putting a training device up. The level-up system is a little bit more shallow, though Spectrobes still need to fight a number of times, eat a certain amount of minerals, etc. Training devices can either help Spectrobes level up or increase HP, Attack, or Defense, but that's as in-depth as it gets. Incubation is much simpler here, and it's probably for the better, considering excavation and battling are the main attractions here.

See, another important change is the the game heavily focuses on the human characters rather than the Spectrobes. You directly control Rallen (or Jeena, if you're into that sort of thing), who treat the Spectrobes as if they are an extension of their combat prowess. Rallen and Jeena share a their own number level and the Spectrobes have their own individual levels, but to keep the pace of the game less-focused on level-grinding and more on exploration and excavation, fossils cleaned off at the ship are ranked in time and level of damage done to see how close the summoned Spectrobe will be in regards to Rallen/Jeena's level. In other words, picking up Spectrobes at the start of the game with Rallen at Level 10 means that, if you somehow get used to excavation very quickly, the Spectrobe will start at Level 9 or 8 depending on how successful you did digging them out. If you take too much time or damage the fossil too much, the level will be significantly lower, which means you have to spend more time leveling them up to reach your current level. But if you saved a fossil that you got at the beginning of the game and excavated it when you were level 50, it will be awakened as a level 46 or 48 Spectrobe instead. It keeps the game at a fast pace and allows those who really learn the controls and how the mechanics work a chance at quickly leveling and breezing through the game, but for younger kids it may be a little bit more confusing. Atop that, there's a five-way elemental system that works fairly well, but if you're not using Spectrobes that combat the certain type of Krawl you're fighting, they'll do next to nothing against them. Keeping a variety of Spectrobes on hand is the best solution, as planets rarely mix up the types, which means having a number of similarly-typed Spectrobes to combat a whole planet isn't really a bad thing- which is too bad, because the battle system is so smooth that changing Spectrobes on the fly to match what type of enemy you're fighting is so simple.

The Spectrobes are only controlled if another player wishes to hop in for co-op, which is kinda cool, but not necessary if you want to enjoy the game. The controls are pretty simple- the A button is attack, B button is special attack (when your Spectrobes' CH gauge fills), 1 uses items, 2 shows skills (what you Spectrobe excels in), and then there's a few motion controls, as well. Raising both the Wii Remote and Nunchuk sets up your shield, flicking down or up sends your Spectrobe warping towards the currently locked-on foe with an attack. Waving side to side recalls your Spectrobe to your side once again. Waving the nunchuk side to side will cause you to do a dodge roll. The Spectrobe AI is actually pretty good- you can cause them to lock on to specific enemies and they'll defend against strong attacks, attempting to find the best method of engagement themselves. They'll automatically switch to ranged fighting or up close attacks depending on distance or if the enemy is airborne, too. Ordering an attack, however, is definitely your best method of dealing damage, because the Spectrobes warp and fire off their most elementally-charged attacks. Again, Spectrobes usually excel at ranged or close combat, with some having melee or area-of-effect attacks. Some Spectrobes can fly, which tends to be a pretty nice advantage. The more they attack, the more their CH gauge fills up, and once it does, you can press B to unleash a charged attack. A Spectrobe will save its CH energy for as long as you want them to hold it, as well.

One of the more brilliant choices by Jupiter was to allow this new Cosmolink mechanic to switch Spectrobes in and out at will. You can carry six Adult/Evolved Spectrobes and three Child Spectrobes, and holding Z while running around the overworld will open the Cosmolink, showing your cue of Spectrobes. The left and right inputs on the D-pad allow you to scroll through them, and if you release Z while you're on a Spectrobe that isn't already out on the field, the new one will be summoned. This works in battle, as well, and it's a seamless and fun dynamic battle mechanic. Enemies can be take out quickly if you switch between Spectrobes, unleashing charged attacks on the fly, and switch back to elementally strong Spectrobes to deal heavy damage to foes. Rallen has his own equipment to use as well, with a number of different types of weapons with different effects. Swords are the most balanced, Lances deal piercing damage to enemies in multiple hits (but are hard to aim), Gloves juggle enemies in the air, Blasters are ranged (and that's pretty much it), and Axes deal massive damage with a bit of wind-up and momentum to deal with. There's a number of battle options, though it's not as in-depth as most RPGs. Of course, that's why it's an action-RPG.

It's the characters that are given more depth in Origins than seen in previous games, or at least, an attempt is made to give them depth. Rallen's kind of just dumb, and Jeena's much smarter. The story progresses so that both characters share the spotlight, but Rallen really does take center stage, having a more developed character through-line about learning to work with his partner, who kind of just fills the role of pink-haired smart chick. The secondary characters end up being a lot more compelling than the main characters, and the story at the heart of the game is actually very interesting, if not a little bit convoluted considering one of the midway twists. A character that has appeared prior and seemed to have no knowledge of Spectrobes suddenly turns out to know a lot more than it first seemed. Overall, it's very "Saturday Morning Cartoon" like, but in a very endearing way. If I had to give the game credit for one thing, it's streamlining the controls, story, and visual presentation so that they all mesh very well and create this silly, yet suitably cool package. The dialogue is ridiculous at times, but then again, you get to smash Krawl faces in with giant hammers and also get awesome cutscene-licious special moves.

The monsters have very varied visual representation, and the ones who you are most likely to recognize from earlier titles are all here- with a couple of oddball inclusions, as well. The new Spectrobes are very different, with only a few ending up a little similar to older Spectrobes, but what the game does so well is that it has monsters that make you shake your head and say "I wish this was a Pokemon..." The fire-gorilla, fire-lion, and fire-cheetah are perfect examples, though there's many more- and some of the Spectrobes from the DS games translate extremely well to Wii graphics, like Rygazelle and Rydrake. Speaking of the visual style, this is the only Spectrobes game that really pops- the visuals are really very nice and the environments are vibrant and unique. Each planet has an elemental setting, and possesses a number of fields that are really cool. There's limited exploration to be had, but it becomes a lot easier when you get a fast-travel Spectrobe on the latter half of the game. Secret weapons with different elemental types can be found on each planet with a bit of exploration, many of which have special properties and unique battle animations, which is really cool. Each world tends to have a "dungeon-like" portion with tight corridors and traps, which is actually pretty cool- the amount of variation they put into those areas is very nice. The boss battles are pretty massive, too, with each boss having more advanced tactics and weak points. However, a good four or five charge attacks from the Spectrobes in your Cosmolink can take a huge chunk out of their health, but none of the bosses should be taken likely- they're definitely the toughest part of the game, especially as you get into the later portions.

Is Spectrobes: Origins fun? Yes. Is it memorable? Not exactly. The story is shallow, and the length of the game is brief. The planets are varied but each one possesses (primarily) one elemental type of enemy, so you really only get to use certain Spectrobes at certain times, as the type-advantage mechanic weakens everything heavily. The game could be a little deeper, truthfully, and lacks meat where it could have had great potential- in side-quests. The story is pretty linear, but that's really how all the games have been. But there's still a lot of fun to be had. By no means is it a BAD game- everything works very well. The controls are tight, the battle mechanics are solid, the excavation is fun and challenging, and the incentive to explore with your Spectrobes is high. The monster collecting takes a backseat, but most of the creatures are so cool, it would be a shame if you didn't check all of them out in some way.

In conclusion, the Spectrobes franchise was one that challenged the idea of monster collecting in a whole new way, and succeeded, for the most part. It was never able to reach the Pokemon level of hype and excitement, but each game was a solid entry, and they gradually improved on one another. I look back fondly on Spectrobes because it was a great series to play when Pokemon was not available, and the story, character and monster design, and mechanics were all very engaging. Spectrobes: Origins is kind of a culmination of the series and a suitable end, though I personally would have liked to see more from the franchise, especially since they did a wonderful job of patching up the flaws in their previous installments and keeping the player engaged with new challenges.

Farewell, Spectrobes. I enjoyed you a lot.

Spectrobes- Recommended for the archeologist nut, cool cutscenes, (shallow)monster-battling, and monster collection. Controls are slippery at times in battle, but excavation is some of the best use of the DS touchscreen.

Spectrobes: Beyond the Portals- Recommended for anyone who enjoyed the first game and wants tougher challenges, more monsters, an improved battle system and graphics. Easily the better installment in the DS games.

Spectrobes: Origins- Recommended for a Wii owner who wants some monster-battling, interesting (secondary) characters, great atmosphere (even if it's a little silly at times), and the archeologist nut. Excavation is very fun, but monster battling takes main focus, with cool animation and tense skirmishes.

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