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Spectrobes (DS) artwork

Spectrobes (DS) review

"That your angry little pets never leave your side is doubly annoying; not only does it mean you need to put yourself right in the face of intergalactic forces that want to eat you, but should you move away when they’re attacking to avoid being hit, or should your pets get smacked across the screen, they’ll come running back to you in as direct a line as they can, even if this means running right through a group and getting smacked up themselves. Spectrobes are very stupid creatures when they’ve grown up."

Spectrobes is trying very hard indeed to be the next Pokémon. Both games share a lot of traits: they both hinge upon the player collecting a stable of mini critters that contain elements which either gives them an advantage or disadvantage over whatever they battle. Both sets of beasts also have up to three sets of evolutionary stages. In both games, you can only carry six of these at a time while the others waste away in storage (where they'll more often than not, forever stay) and they both contain paper-thin plots, shallow, clichéd characters and an unconditional demand to explore and power-level. They also have their own series of trading cards to collect and enjoy, but Spectrobes tries to tie them more into the game; each of their cards have a code that you can enter on your DS to obtain the tiny monster it displays!

Didn't think of that, did you, Pokémon?! Of course, all you need is the code and not the card. For free monsters, check any websites cheat section for the game. Ooops.

Not that you’re able to use such nefarious means from the get go to bolster your ranks. That skill, and many others in the game like a wi-fi link and basic instructions on how to do even the most mundane tasks (instructions that really should have been given to you from the start rather than hidden away like some grand secret) have to be dug up in the form of data cubes. Along with fossilised remains and stat-building minerals, you can find and excavate these by playing a little mini-game which involves using your stylus to dig through layers of earth by tapping at the screen, then by rubbing the artefact to remove the dirt and earth until enough of it is exposed to pluck out unharmed. This little mini-game is fun the first few dozen times, but as the game relies heavily on you digging up a lot of junk, the repetitive nature of discovering these items sets in quickly.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before you unearth your first datacube, you must meet Rallen, the stereotypical lead. Rallen is keen, heroic and has a thirst for justice but at the same time is slightly rebellious and playful. He’s joined by typical anime sidekick, Jeena, the pink-haired obligatory smart girl who’s also a little forgetful (and surprisingly sans glasses). They work under Commander Grant for the Nanairo Planetary Patrol who’s constantly reluctant to send the rambunctious duo on any quests of importance unless he has to. However, no one is available and the pair is sent to investigate a suspicious radar blip on a nearby planet where they discover a crashed capsule containing a bearded man frozen in suspended animation. Nearby, Rallen finds a strange item that fits suspiciously well into the wrist compartment of his super-special-awesome space armour. But the second he attaches the odd item, he’s set upon by a swirling black whirlwind of mischief.

The blame doesn’t lie in an odd weather cycle, but in a bunch of planet-eating monsters known as The Krawl that trap poor Rallen in the vortex. Luckily for our plucky hero, the Prizmod (odd device that now sits upon his wrist) contains two fully-grown Spectrobes, the game’s namesake and an extinct race of creatures that are the only defence against the evil Krawl. You are prompted into battle!

Battling is…. odd. And clumsy.

Trapped within the circular tornado, Rallen will find himself flanked on either side by a pair of Spectrobes who I have named the-blue-ape-like-one-with-a-clubbing-tail-thing and the big-purple-cat-that-does-a-Sonic-spin-attack-ripoff. If he so chooses, Rallen can ignore his new allies and wade into real-time combat himself, punching the Krawl before him with power-gauntleted fists, just as long as he doesn’t mind racking up pathetic amounts of damage. To stand any chance of winning, his newly-found allies must be employed, which looks easy on the surface. A simple squeeze of a shoulder button prompts them into action, the problem being that this action is noticeably neutered. Rather than attack an enemy, they’ll simply pummel the space next to them and, if a Krawl happens to be in that space, all the better! It will then receive damage.

This means you need to position them. And, as the only way they move is by following you, it means you need to march directly into the enemy ranks until you and the Krawl are eye-to-eye, then initiate an attack and hope like mad something wanders brainlessly into a spin-attack or spinning mace-like tail. And you’ll need to do battles a lot.

That your angry little pets never leave your side is doubly annoying; not only does it mean you need to put yourself right in the face of intergalactic forces that want to eat you, but should you move away when they’re attacking to avoid being hit, or should your pets get smacked across the screen, they’ll come running back to you in as direct a line as they can, even if this means running right through a group and getting smacked up themselves. Spectrobes are very stupid creatures when they’ve grown up.

But when they’re in their child form (that being, once you hatch the fossils of them you dig up through a mini-game that has you whistling into your DS’s mic) they… well… still follow you around like a mindless idiot, but this time on the world map. Played mostly in the bottom screen (while the top screen is uselessly employed to show a further plot of land above where you explore) you can tap on your little follower to get him to do a little search of the area. Any buried items within his search range will flash on screen and, with a little tap of the stylus, you activate the archaeology mini-game that lets you find the datacubes you need to unlock the game’s features, the fossils you revive to bolster your ranks with baby beasties and minerals you can feed them in the evolution rooms.

Because your Spectrobes don’t evolve through combat but by being plonked in a barren room and fed minerals for a set amount of time. Keep them in these rooms long enough and meet certain stat-based guidelines and they’ll grown from their child form into their adult forms and from their adult forms into their evolved forms. You can play around with the elements for some rooms to suit the critters you choose to house there, pet them so they love you and carefully pick out pairs to house together. In fact, chucking your favourite Spectrobes in a room and building them up through feeding them minerals is a much more attractive and worthwhile way to train up those that you want in your main attack party than suffering through the clumsy battles. For any you raise that you don’t want to use as either of your main two, you can also reserve Spectrobes in a holding party that serve to boost the stats of those that actively attack.

And then you’ll use your set party to explore a differing set of worlds. You’ll get the mountain world, the sand world, the ice world and so on. You’ll fight clumsy fights, explore the somewhat confusing maps with no help at all from the top screen (which more often that not displays patches of land sitting comfortably outside your travel range) and advance an uninvolving, shallow plot which predictably boils down to Rallen being the only one who can save the universe from the evil. What with the datacubes being hidden around the maps, not exploring thoroughly stunts your gameplay thoroughly: after the second planet is explored (a jungle planet in which you need to rescue a lost professor from a small tribe of black vortexes) you’re told how the careful exhuming of a fossil will grant you custom parts you can then fit onto adult Spectrobes. The down side of this is if you’ve not found the datacube hidden away in the jungle, you’ll never be able to do this. There’s no warning to this, just the faint assumption that the player will want to spend hours wandering aimlessly around the clichéd environments searching for things to dig up and engaging in battles which, I think I mentioned, are clumsy.

Spectrobes wanted very much to be the next Pokémon, and it even exhibited some good ideas on how to build upon the ancient “gotta collect ‘em all” formula. But in doing so, it gave up on the simplicity that made Pokémon so accessible in the first place and instead left a hotchpotch of poorly executed ideas that don’t really mesh together without locking the gamer in a repetitive grey cycle. Enjoy the first five hours all you can – you’ll be playing the exact same thing for another ten or so.

EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (April 23, 2007)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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