California-based developer Bionic Games has with Spyborgs for Wii shown that it has what it takes -- the creative and technical knowhow -- to produce finessed software for Nintendo's platform. The company's first game is a Wii-exclusive beat-'em-up that plays great and looks fantastic. As I quested through the adventure, which spans 35-plus levels overrun with gangs of futuristic robot fighters and gargantuan, screen-filling bosses, I found myself repeatedly impressed by the tight controls, synergetic two-player cooperative combat and uncommonly polished visuals. Simultaneously though, I searched onward for something, presentational style aside, that Spyborgs might claim as its own -- some exclusive gimmick, if you will, to set the experience apart. There's plenty of fun to be had in the action-packed romp and you will certainly be dazzled by the graphics again and again, but if you grew up hating the Final Fights and Double Dragons of the world, you probably won't find reason to like Spyborgs either -- for when you strip away all the extra explosive particle effects and slow-motion finishers, it is essentially a straightforward brawler without a winning hook.
The Capcom-published title arrives on Wii after a turbulent development cycle marked by a significant redesign. A critical reception met the unveiling of the project's original look, which has since seen a grittier makeover and aged-up character designs -- for the better, I believe. Spyborgs still announces that it'd be right at home sandwiched between some Saturday morning cartoons, with its big-haired leading man, puffy robotic sidekick and sword-wielding heroine, but the characters and locales successfully skate the line between stylistically cute and ultra-realistic. In other words, it's not sickly cuddly and neither is it going to give God of War a challenge in the grit and gore departments.
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The storyline, about super-enhanced humans under attack, is fluffy, but the presentation sparkles with good art and fabulous technology. There are absolutely no load times between levels. Everything transpires instantly. There are semi-achievements and unlockables. Spyborgs is a side-scrolling beat-'em-up with a fixed camera system that dynamically shoots the action as you go, which has allowed the developer to truly direct the experience, choosing optimum angles for the well-defined backdrops and highlighting waves of foreground combat. The character models are not only rounded due to higher polygon counts, but skinned in crisp textures and animate fluidly. Better still, there are multiples of them on-screen at any given moment and they're all surrounded in some of the most robust particle and lighting effects -- explosions, gunfire, sparks, etc. -- I've seen on Wii. The framerate generally holds strong, although it definitely does dip here and there during some later moments. Meanwhile, the sound effects are amazingly punchy and satisfying.
There are three selectable characters with different attributes -- Stinger has a big gun, Bouncer is a ferocious robot and Clandestine is quick on her feet and knows how to use a sword. When starting any level, you choose two of those characters because Spyborgs is all about team play -- you and a friend if you've got one, and if you don't, the second brawler is handled by the game's intelligence. Of course, your friends can jump in or out at any time, but also very intuitive, you can with the tap of a button alternate between characters even when you're playing alone, an inclusion that allows you to skillfully take advantage of your brawlers' exclusive strengths mid-level.
The developer might've forced a lot of unnecessary waggle on you, but it hasn't. Only finishers use gestural moves, they work well and they're fun. Even so, if you simply don't want to use motion-based controls, you can turn them off. You can also toggle the game's difficulty setting and it's a good thing, too, because Spyborgs is sometimes kick-you-while-you're-down hard. You'll be able to rip though the challenges without many hurdles if you play on novice, but even the casual option will give you some trouble now and again. Play it on core or adrenaline and you're going to die a lot, a big frustration because the levels are designed as all-or-nothing affairs. If you play 15 or 20 minutes into a stage and bite the dust, there's no checkpoints so you'll have to restart everything from the beginning.
This all sounds pretty good, I know, so what's the catch? Well, let's just say that what you see is what you get so if you like what you see, you'll probably be happy, and if you don't, you won't discover some hidden and amazing gameplay component that distinguishes the experience. Its a beat-'em-up, period. You run through environments and you fight hordes of enemies until you clear the area, at which point the process begins again, over and over. The controls work well, the action is frenetic and challenging, and there's an enjoyable character upgrade system in place that ties into heavy combos, but all said and done, these play mechanics are by today's standards somewhat archaic and quickly repetitive. Spyborgs' biggest competition on Wii is very probably MadWorld, and that game oozes both style and comedic violence, both of which are compelling selling points in their own right that Capcom's offering can't touch.
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