If I had a dollar for every anime-inspired, monster-collecting RPG ever made then I'd, well … I wouldn't need to do this job anymore because I'd be living on a yacht somewhere. The latest entry in the hit parade is Disney's Spectrobes: Origins, which marks the first time the franchise has left the DS and made an appearance on the Wii. The resulting game does some things right, but the entertainment wears off quickly, and you're left with a product that will please its base audience of 10-year-olds but almost no one else.
Spectrobes: Origins sets itself up as a sequel to the DS game Beyond the Portals. Young NPP officers Rallen and Jeena are sent off to investigate some strange activity and are subsequently pulled through an intergalactic wormhole and spit out in the Kaio system. Upon arriving at a local planet, they discover the local populace under attack by their mortal enemy, the Krawl. As they work to clear out the Krawl menace, the pair begins to learn more about the history of the Spectrobes they control, as well as some interesting tidbits regarding the past of their very own commander and the origin of Krux, the leader of the Krawl.
Don't even worry about playing the game for its story, as most of the twists and turns are telegraphed from a mile away and you'll have figured out all the mysteries long before the protagonists have even begun thinking about them. The story is kept simple for the sake of the game's younger audience, but the trade-off is a tale ripped straight out of the RPG textbook with no flourishes of originality.
Beyond the story, though, is the gameplay, and this is likely the game's strongest aspect. Rallen and Jeena can't fight the Krawl alone, and so they must summon Spectrobes to battle alongside them. In order to command a Spectrobe, the heroes must first find a fossilized version of the creature. This sets in motion a mini-game wherein players must carefully clean away layers of rock without too severely damaging the fossil housed inside. You can normally start the process by utilizing bombs to blow out large chunks of rock and a laser to burn away any remaining hunks. Then, when it comes down to the finer work of cleaning, there is a hammer for clearing away smaller collections of rock, a drill for getting past the last thin layers and a blower to sweep away the final particulates. All the tools are essential, as players are not only graded on how quickly they excavate the fossil, but also by how pristine it is. The higher the grade, the higher the starting level of the Spectrobe inside, so it pays to be both quick and careful.
The cleaning aspect of the game turns out to be a lot of fun, which says a lot since it had the potential to be a game-breaking mechanic. If the motion controls weren't spot-on or if the fossils weren't varied enough to entice players to keep coming back for more, then this would have been a tiresome aspect. Thankfully, cleaning fossils is thoroughly enjoyable and feels like more of a delight than a chore.
Once excavated, the Spectrobes assume their child form, which can be utilized for discovering more fossils and experience-boosting minerals. While out in the field, players are accompanied by up to three child Spectrobes and can utilize them to dig up buried treasure with a simple flick of the Wiimote. Unfortunately, this is one part of the game that gets quite tiresome, as constantly flicking the controller and collecting the subsequent minerals really gets to be a drag after a while. While the minor thrill of unearthing a powerful Spectrobe or finding a rare mineral may spice up exploration a bit, ultimately it's not enough to keep the game fresh for the duration of the 20+ hour experience. Even kids, with their ability to do almost anything for hours and not get bored, will likely be let down.
At level 10, Spectrobes can take on their adult form, and at level 30, they can assume their evolved identities. While these creatures lose the ability to hunt for fossils and minerals, they are actually more important than the child versions because they are the ones who will assist you in battle. Controlling the Spectrobes is very easy, with a vertical swipe of the controller commanding them to attack and a vertical swing ordering retreat. You can also hold down the B button and strike a pose to unleash special attacks once the appropriate meter is full. In addition, Rallen and Jeena can also attack the Krawl themselves, so utilizing combos between human and Spectrobe will quickly turn out to be strategically necessary.
This being an action-RPG, combat is far more hack-and-slash than strategic and thoughtful. While all Spectrobes and most Krawl have an elemental affinity, utilizing the proper element is really about as deep as the strategic fighting gets. The rest of the battle is simply hacking away at the baddies until the "Battle Cleared" screen pops up, and you go back to exploring. It's unfortunate that the standard encounters are so haphazard, because that means that players are often unprepared for bosses, who actually have specific weak point and utilize more complex attack patterns. Remember once more that the game is designed with kids in mind because the developers seemed to forget that fact when it came to boss encounters. Don't be surprised if you cruise through most levels only to be completely squashed by the boss at the end; there's a definite balance issue here.
On the subject of difficulty, it's also worth mentioning that the game has a very strange way of handling the leveling of Spectrobes. The success of your fossil cleaning determines the starting level of a new creature, but that is also in relation to your human character's level. So for example, early in the game, a "B" level cleaning might net you a level 10 Spectrobe, but later on, the exact same fossil could birth a level 50 creature. The game never bothers to explain this to you, and it severely undermines the concept of training your existing Spectrobes into capable fighters. After all, why should I bother improving all these low-level monsters when I can just get new ones who start off exceptionally stronger? It's ultimately a very cheap way to do things, and once you discover the mechanics work that way, it sucks all the fun out of developing your companions.
There are a couple of other game mechanics thrown into the mix, but none of them really stand out. Co-op mode lets one person control the human character while another controls the Spectrobe. While this mode helps with targeting, the stripped-down Spectrobe controls make combat significantly more difficult. For those who have been following the series for a while, there's also DS-Wii connectivity for Beyond the Portals, as well as a new trading card game that lets you add new creatures and weapons. While these touches will likely impress franchise fans, newcomers will find little use for them.
I mentioned at the top of the article that this is clearly an anime-inspired game, but I have to give credit that while it may be generic, it looks darn good while doing so. The characters and planets all look great, with bright colors and inspired backdrops really bringing the world to life. The Spectrobes are also fun to gawk at, and you can tell that the artists really had a blast conceiving all these critters. Ultimately, the game looks like it fell right out of the Saturday morning cartoon lineup, and if you didn't know any better, you'd swear the franchise was based on an animated series. The only real complaint I can lodge in this respect is the camera, which is way too tight on the main character. Often Krawl will spawn all around your character, and you likely won't see one or two enemies until they sneak up and whack you in the back. The camera also messes up targeting, as you'll auto-target whatever enemy is closest regardless of camera orientation, and the manual lock-on mechanic is so clumsy that by the time you get the enemy in your sights, you're probably already dead.
While Spectrobes: Origins is a mostly fun and good-looking game, there are a bunch of little problems that really hamper the overall experience. Poor leveling mechanics, boring exploration and battles and a camera that fights you every step of the way hamper a lot of the potential fun. This is a decent game, and kids will likely enjoy it for a while, but it falls well short of being any sort of modern classic.Score: 7.0/10
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