What makes a good licensed game? This is a question that's been asked by numerous videos games throughout the existence of the industry. Almost every gamer has experienced what average or poor games can be like, while very few have had the pleasure of enjoying a good experience (though it can and does happen — Batman: Arkham Asylum, anyone?). The biggest problem of all with licensed games, however, is that there is almost never room to experiment.
When you're told to make a companion game for DreamWorks' latest animated blockbuster, you may have as little as six months to make a complete, working game, thus forcing you to use every last bit of off-the-shelf code you can. Without much of a chance to try new ideas, the result is likely to receive general panning from a media who will inevitably foist the game on the intern or new guy. Capcom seems to be experimenting with how to make a good licensed game by making up an IP to license and selling the result as the unintelligible, but reasonably fun, Spyborgs.
Spyborgs is named for the in-universe Spyborg Initiative, a team of cybernetically enhanced soldiers who are fighting against the villainous Jackal. They've apparently been at this for a while because the villain just dropped an army of robots on the Spyborg Initiative's headquarters, and no one seems surprised. No one bothers to explain who this guy is or why we're fighting him, either.
The manual offers some explanation: The Initiative was created as the nation's first line of defense by cybernetically enhancing wounded soldiers. Unfortunately, they've been disappearing lately, and it looks like the player characters, Stinger and Clandestine, were next in line to disappear. They were ambushed by Jackal, who is revealed to be their commander. Fortunately, they were rescued by teammates Bouncer and (non-playable) Voxel, and they decide to investigate, but this is when the attacks begin.
The gameplay casts you as two of the three Spyborgs, brawling your way through the larger series of situations in a standard design that would not be out of place in an action TV show-based video game. Controls are simple and only use motion elements for an occasional highlight. The game has about four major things to differentiate it from the generic brawler.
First, gameplay is always cooperative so no matter what, two Spyborgs will be in play. They may not always be on-screen, if one Spyborg is being controlled by the computer, which has some pretty competent AI. Having a duo is handy, but it also provides for the second major difference: the Devil May Cry-style combo system. As you deal damage, if you can keep it up rapidly, your combo will increase in grade and reward you with red sparks, the game's form of experience. There's only one combo counter for both players, so you can run ahead to the next group and start smashing them to generate a consistent stream of A-rank combos.
Spyborgs also has the now-traditional super meter, providing for team-up attacks, which are less effective because they depend on the motion controls. Much like No More Heroes, you are given a motion to match to make the attack progress properly. Unfortunately, the instructions provided apparently assume that you are holding the Wii Remote vertically, and it tends to be overly fickle in what it accepts as the correct motion, often resulting in a buzz and the attack not inflicting any damage to your foe. (No second chances here, unlike NMH.) Some adjustments made it a spotty, but powerful, option.
Finally, the "spy" system makes the issue team-up attacks issue stand out even more. To locate invisible objects, you need to point at the screen with the Wiimote, and if you're pointing at an invisible object, then your Wiimote will beep. Press the A button and swing the remote in an upward direction, and the object appears. This feels like an attempt at putting in a requisite use for the Remote, rather than an intuitive or useful gameplay feature. It also causes issues with team attacks, since it encourages you to point the Wiimote at the screen instead of upward, which is what the team-up attacks rely on. The result is quite unintuitive, unless you choose to sacrifice one for the other. I ended up favoring the spy system, even though I twitched in annoyance every time the Wiimote beeped.
Technically, the game is partially differentiated with red bits, which let you enhance characters in an RPG-esque format. This is now so standard, though, that it would almost be innovative to have not included it.
At the very least, Spyborgs looks and sounds pretty, with a fine mix of crunches and explosions for the sound, a soundtrack that manages to be just barely on the good side of memorable, and a style that clearly evokes well-animated Saturday morning cartoons. Unfortunately, this may also be its greatest weakness because its Saturday morning cartoon look is accentuated by the characters looking like generic archetypes with little to no personality in their admittedly well-designed figures that also feature smooth animations and limited voice acting.
Ultimately, Spyborgs is a rather odd duck for Capcom, a company not very well known for licensed games. Were Spyborgs an actual cartoon, I would probably have been a little more merciful; it produces a licensed game feel, complete with the assumption that players could look up the story basics if they didn't know them. Unfortunately, without actual source material to benefit from, it has an uncomfortably messy plot without enough explanation. It's combined with all the trappings and only a few modest twists, only one of which can be called innovative. At least we got a decent, if rather bland, two-player brawler out of the whole affair, and a fun time with friends has got to be worth something.
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