IGN Review of Spectrobes: Beyond the Portals
A year and a half ago Disney threw its hat into the monster battle ring with Spectrobes. The Jupiter-developed RPG was a decent first effort at attracting the Pokemon-crowd with something new and original. Now Jupiter and Disney are back with Spectrobes: Beyond the Portals. It takes everything that was good about Spectrobes (and everything was not that good) and makes it better, creating an impressive, though still not ultimate, monster battler.
Rallen and Jeena, the heroic officers of the Nanairo Planetary Patrol are back. Their respite after defeating the evil Krawl is brief, however. New creatures calling themselves High Krawl have started attacking the planets in the Nanairo solar system. The story in Beyond the Portals is vastly improved by the inclusion of main villains. Before Rallen was just fighting the faceless entity of the Krawl, but now he has real bad guys to face off against. I really dig the design for the High Krawl. They're reminiscent of the Reapers from The World Ends With You, both in design and attitude.
As far as motivation goes, Beyond the Portals has that covered. Players aren't just collecting Spectrobes again for the fun of it. The Krawl bust onto the scene and attack everything, destroying the Spectrobes lab in the process, since the Spectrobes are the only things that can fend off the Krawl. It's a convenient plot device, sure, but at least I got a reason for why I'm doing the job again. More of a reason than any Pokemon Professor ever gave me. There are 185 Spectrobes to get, which is a solid amount, since every Spectrobe is fully rendered in 3D with multiple attack animations and upgradeable gear.
The worlds of the Nanairo system are presented in full 3D. The camera is situated behind Rallen, giving an almost over the shoulder view of the environment. It looks great, and both Rallen and the Spectrobes are well animated and move smoothly. I rarely saw any slowdown, even when six monsters were battling on screen simultaneously. The rest of the characters, like shop keepers and townsfolk tend not to move at all though.
Rallen and Jeena's journey to save the galaxy takes them to many different planets. They're themed pretty generically (jungle planet, ice planet, desert planet), but those themes work in the game's favor. Players are constantly digging for fossils, minerals, materials for the ship, data cubes and seeds. To excavate, players use the stylus to chisel away at the rock, exposing the fossil while trying not to damage it. Each planet, having a different terra firma, presents a different method of digging. Deserts require players to blow away the encroaching sand (by way of the DS microphone, or an in-game tool for those of us that don't want to look crazy). Fossils hidden under the ice need to be melted out. Sometimes players even dig in shallow water, which gets cloudy and hard to see through as debris and dust is kicked up. They're all variations on a single theme, but it keeps the game fresh. I've played many other DS games that use the fossil digging mechanic and Spectrobes has the best one by far. Beyond the Portals expands it, and the interplanetary paleontology is the highlight of the series.
There are two ways to battle in Spectrobes: Beyond the Portals. As Rallen runs around he encounters floating, spherical bad guys referred to as Krawl Dust. Rallen can use his sword, glove, and blaster to defeat the dust earning experience for himself. While it's nice that Rallen no longer gets thrown into the Spectrobes battles, this new setup is only a little bit better. For much of the first part, the Dust seems pretty harmless and is easily avoided. It isn't until about halfway through the game that the Dust even becomes significant by moving faster, firing projectile attacks, and doing significant damage while they protect the Krawl vortexes. Eventually I did have to fight my way through them in order to get to the vortexes. It would have been nicer if Rallen wasn't just fighting these things for the sake of it. Maybe if they dropped minerals, or Rallen had bosses to fight himself, then I'd feel more satisfied about leveling him up and upgrading his gear.
Fighting with the Spectrobes is a more significant and more satisfying part of the game. Players take two Spectrobes into battle, controlling one while the other moves on his own. Players can switch between the Spectrobes on the fly with a simple tap of the button. The battle system is pretty basic, but has a good deal of depth to it. There are three types of Spectrobes, with each type being weaker or stronger against the other types. The color of the vortexes show off what type of Krawl is inside, letting players set up their team strategically to do the most damage.
Each Spectrobes controls and fights differently. While some may have the same basic attack type, each creature is unique. Two long range Spectrobes won't send out the same projectile move. One may fire off a single energy ball, while the other sends out multiple arcing spikes. Finding the right Spectrobes is an involved process, and it increases the motivation to evolve other Spectrobes to see how they fight. I was constantly swapping out my team every time I stumbled upon a Spectrobe that had a cooler attack, or some that complimented its partner.
The game features an Incubator system that allows players to raise additional Spectrobes without battling. Feeding the Spectrobes minerals found on the planets helps levels them up. Every Spectrobe has a level, mineral number, and battle number requirement for evolution, so the Incubator allows players to fulfill the mineral requirement for a group of Spectrobes, while they're out filling the battle requirement for another group. It expedites the process of evolving, which in turn allows players to test out and customize their teams without getting in the rut of having only a few leveled up creatures and dozens of weak ones.
While the battles look cool, some of them tend to get a little clunky. The camera isn't fully controllable, and players can only snap it back behind the character on screen so it's facing where he is. This makes some of the battles hard to maneuver in since Krawl will run around and the camera won't get a lock on them. There is a Lock On feature, but it requires the player to get the enemy in sight first. It's annoying, but it doesn't affect the battle to the point of making the player lose.
Beyond the Portals has a good sized story, though the game isn't as lengthy as I would have hoped. Most of the Spectrobes are easily found and collected, so it doesn't take long to nearly fill the database. It's also pretty linear, and doesn't encourage much exploration. There are plenty of things to do, like collect badges, and beat high scores, but when the story is over the game feels pretty much over. The digging up and level raising of Spectrobes does keep the player from progressing too fast, but maybe some side quests would have kept me from blasting through the story.
Beyond the Portals supports both local multiplayer and Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection play, though they're very different. The Local mode offers trading and importing of Spectrobes from the previous game. The battling works just like a single player battle does. Players bring in two Spectrobes, controlling one while the other fights automatically, and try to defeat the opponent. There are three different modes for multiplayer battles: 1 vs. 1, Team Battle, and Battle Royale. The Battle Royale is a four player free for all and it can get a little crowded and hectic, but it's pretty fun. The other modes are a lot more strategic though. All the modes are fast paced, perform well, and allow for easy replays without having to quit back out.
Taking Beyond the Portals online presents a whole lot of features for the player. There players can upload their Spectrobes to a marketplace to sell (or buy others). They can download special items using a point allowance system. Players can also upload their stats to the Spectrobes website and get ranked with players all over the world.
The battling is the most interesting though. Instead of a real time battle like with local multiplayer, players compete in a 1 on 1, turn based battle system with mini games. Players have to follow the on screen command (hit the button combo, tap rapidly, or talk into the mic) and how well they perform helps determine the strength of their attack or defense. I actually was having a lot of fun with the system as a change of pace from the real time battles.
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