Spectrobes: Beyond the Portals
Fans of the original Spectrobes should enjoy opening these Portals.
Only a select few of us were fans of the original Spectrobes when it came out last year for Nintendo DS. Now Rallen, Jeena and the rest of the Spectrobes are back to save the universe again in Beyond the Portals, Disney Interactive's slightly improved follow-up. Fans should have no problem going all Spectrobey, but newcomers unfamiliar with the first game may not see much reason to get into it.
Spectrobes are mythical creatures that harness light energy, which in turn creates attacks to fend off enemies. These enemies are the Krawl. It's not fully explained why they're enemies, but we're assuming that the Krawl is, well, evil. Spectrobes are divided into three age groups (Child, Adult and Evolved) as well as three types (Flash, Aurora and Corona. There are various kinds of Spectrobes, each differentiating in design and attack style. Some even level up to the class of Exclusive and Ultimate, but that's after playing the game for awhile.
After putting down the league of enemies that tormented them in the first game, Rallen and Jeena square off against the dangerous High Krawl. How smart are these guys? They know what has the power to shut them down, the Spectrobes, and begin their dominant strike by destroying the Spectrobes' lab. Fortunately, Rallen has enough power to not only summon two of the 185 species of critters, but he can also incubate and add them to his army.
Battling is simplistic, with a player balancing control between Rallen or one of two pre-chosen Spectrobes. There are two types of battles to engage in, Field and Encounter. Mostly it's a matter of placement, with Field battles taking place outside Krawl vortexes and Encounter doing the opposite, going into them. No matter which way you go, Rallen and the Spectrobes each have attack techniques that are turn-based. As you successfully pull off attacks, you fill the CH Gauge, which make a return from the first game. Fill this up and you can execute a more devastating attack on your enemies. It takes a little bit of time, but with some practice, you'll have no problem filling it and letting loose with some Spectrobe diplomacy. Following each fight, Spectrobes can power up with Minergy and Gura, giving them energy and currency to spend in an online store. Jeena is also used on occasion to solve puzzles, but the game's really all about the turn-based battles, which aren't amazing but should still satisfy the core audience.
There's also some real-time scavenging. To do this, you interact with the Nintendo DS touch screen in innovative ways. You get rid of dust by blowing into the DS microphone, and then dig your way into the ruins in real-time by moving the stylus back and forth on the screen. Over time, it loses some of its luster, but overall, it's a neat play tactic, something not usually found in an RPG.
Visually, Spectrobes: Beyond the Portals shows mild improvement over the original. Character models look terrific, and with hundreds of Spectrobes available, there's plenty of variety. The stage design is also a plus, with lots of terrain to explore. Unfortunately, the game has a real issue with its camera. Half the time, you'll get stuck in a spot where you don't see everything that's going on. The lock-on system is somewhat broken as well. However, these problems don't occur often enough to throw you off your game.
Along with a decent (but somewhat shortened) single-player quest, Spectrobes also supports local and online options. Hooking up with others locally lets you engage in battles and Spectrobe trades. Out of the numerous options available, Battle Royale is the way to go, as it's an "anything goes" kind of match. You can also take the game online and fight against others, as well as put your Spectrobes on the market to see what they'll sell for. It seems inhumane at first, but really, how many Spectrobes can you carry around at one time? It's about on the same level as selling puppies after your dog gives birth. Just let 'em go.
Spectrobes: Beyond the Portal is engaging and fun, especially if you enjoyed the first game. However, it won't replace Pokemon. It's a solid clone, but still just a clone, failing to rise to the occasion with its presentation hiccups and limited single-player story mode. Perhaps next year, Disney can go all out with a true sequel, one that'll really shake up the Spectrobe foundation.
What's Hot: Interesting real-time battle system, a large variety of Spectrobes to choose from, nice visuals, fun gameplay mechanics.
What's Not: Camera doesn't always work in your favor, story isn't nearly as deep as we hoped, blah music.