Invizimals comes to our PSPs before we have been able to use up the first full charge on our PlayStation Move controllers. The game includes a camera, and is the first handheld offering of the superimposed virtual reality push that Sony has been leaning against so strongly.
Let's get this out of the way first: Invizimals works. In fact, it works really well, encountering no more visual glitches than your average game. The camera pops on top of the PSP and sets itself up with no trouble whatsoever. You won't even have to crack the booklet. The Invizimals bounce around in their virtual space, superimposed in our world with very few problems. You can rotate the camera 360 degrees around the charming little creatures, and zoom in and out - directing the angles of your battles like a skilled cinematographer. We let out a surprised giggle when the first Invizimal popped up on the screen, wholly impressed with the visual effect. The technology is neat, and totally functional; it works considerably better than EyePet and is much more a “true” game.
The game comes with a small cardboard square that must be placed in view of the camera in order to battle and capture Invizimals. The cardboard square works in tandem with the included PSP camera to make sure the Invizimals show up appropriately. As long as that cardboard square is in view of the camera, you will encounter very few problems with your Invizimals appearing correctly.
Interesting technology is all well and good, and can even inspire incredibly manly yet highly pitched giggles of squashed skepticism, but it doesn't count for much if it is not being incorporated in a fun and interesting way. Invizimals mostly succeeds in this regard.
There is no denying the inspiration Pokemon has had on Invizimals. You play as a sort of amateur scientist, helping solve the mysteries of these newly discovered creatures - by making them fight one another. There is a story revolving around some Sony scientists and their plight to protect the Invizimals. Cutscenes are live action and presented as a one sided conversation with a number of different characters who all happen to own Sony Vaio laptops. It's childish, but the game is made for children. If you are old enough to remember when there were only 151 Pokemon, then the story is nothing more than a skippable distraction, but the demographic for the game will likely enjoy the personalized banter from the friendly characters.
There is no over-world to explore a la Pokemon, but the battle and capture mechanics are at least reminiscent. Battling your Invizimals - the ones you are trying to protect, but still force to fight for your entertainment - is a faux-turn based affair. Each Invizimal has four different attacks of varying type, power and speed. The action is real-time, but you are forced to take turns attacking. A stamina bar indicates what attacks you can use, and for how long you can throw up a shield to protect against incoming missiles and attacks. We don’t know where these creatures store things like missiles, or how they are able to propel them from their mouths or hands at such violent velocities, but we’re already conceding that invisible bugs exist that only your PSP can see, so we suppose we can let this slide.
As you fight you collect energy, the currency of the game, which can be used to buy health items and special attacks. The special attacks involve using the camera in interesting ways. For example, one has you shaking your fragile PSP to create an earthquake, which is our favorite thing to do with all of our expensive electronics: shake them violently.
Your Invizimals level up and evolve as they battle, much like the creatures of that other game we have already mentioned three times. Battles can be tedious, and leveling can be slow. Despite capturing many different Invizimals, you’ll probably end up sticking to one, because why take the time to start from scratch when you’ve got a Toxitoad that has already been trained. You don’t throw your rookie boxer in the ring just because he is new and looks like a cute blue panther. You use that ugly toxic frog because he is a bad-ass - it’s science.
There is an online mode where you can pit your Invizimals against others across the world. Each player sees the battle through his or her own perspective with the camera, so if someone is battling his Invizimal on top of a Playboy magazine, you would never know. You can actually lose your Invizimals during these online battles, which lends a lot of weight to the online combat. If you lose your Invizimal to an online opponent, they are easy enough to recapture, but you will have to restart the leveling process from square one.
Capturing is where the game becomes the most interesting and innovative. Between battles, you are tasked with capturing certain types of Invizimals. This is where the hardcore gamer might see Invizimals as more of a survival horror title than a friendly monster capturing sim. You have to physically get up and walk around your house or public place (if you don't mind looking like an insane person) and find these Invizimals. Moving around is a scary concept for the longtime gamer. We have been burned before by movement in gaming, but Invizimals is fun. You’re not violently waving your hands around, or running in place, or dancing to No Doubt music. You’re leisurely exploring your home, typically in search of a specific colored surface. Once found, you throw down your trap, and start the capture process. We prefer to slide ours into frame like a Ghostbuster trap, but this is not required.
Each Invizimal requires a different process in order to perform a capture. Some are very simple and require that you only wait for the wild Invizimal to fall asleep, while others are more complicated. One has you literally dodging fireballs by leaning left and right, and offering return fire, moving the camera as a sort of on-screen reticule. Capturing these creatures shows off the possibilities of the PSP camera in a series of Wario Ware style showcases. Capturing each Invizimal rarely takes more than a few seconds (not including search time), and effectively shows off an interesting function of the camera with an entertaining minigame.
Finding the creatures ultimately becomes the most interesting aspect of the game, but the option to do so only appears intermittently between battles, and sometimes can only be performed at a certain time of the day. Some Invizimals are nocturnal after all. The actual battling serves only to show off the impressive technology. The real star of the show is tracking the creatures down. Battling doesn’t even lend itself to the story very much, considering you are just trying to learn about the Invizimals, and not trying to be very best, like no one ever was.
Invizimals won’t be toppling the house that Pikachu built, but it’s at least an innovative competitor. The technology impresses, but the combat can be shallow and somewhat tedious. Trying out all of the different ways to acquire the creatures is fun, but more importantly it fuels optimism for future gameplay applications with the PSP camera. Inivizimals proves to be more than a just neat tech demo, but it is made for younger kids, so if you are of legal drinking age, or can’t wait to be, this is probably one you can skip.
Bonus! See the video review below get an idea of what the action looks like: