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Spectrobes: Beyond the Portal

Score: 82%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Disney Interactive
Developer: Jupiter
Media: Cartridge/1
Players: 1 - 4; 2 - 4 (Online)
Genre: Adventure/ RPG

Graphics & Sound:

Spectrobes didn't set the monster-collecting genre on fire, but it was a fun, solid experience. With the sequel, Spectrobes: Beyond the Portals, Disney and Jupiter have gone back and retooled the experience. Though there are some noticeable improvements, there are still a few lingering problems.

Everything is presented in full 3D. Even though 3D isn't one of the system's strengths, it fits the game's stylized art style. There are 185 Spectrobes to collect in the game and all look really good. Each has its own traits, but still manages to retain a look that is consistent with the rest of the world. All of your Spectrobes can evolve into different types and you can even swap out parts, adding a lot of variety to the game. Even more impressive is the lack of major slowdown. The framerate catches a bit of a hitch when there are a lot of monsters on the play field, though this mainly happens when they're unleashing a number of effects-laden attacks.

Sound is, well, it's sound. Aside from a short battle cry from Rallen before each battle, there isn't much in the way of voicework. Both the music and sound effects are fairly bland (if not a little grating after an hour or so), but do their jobs.


Gameplay:

After defeating the evil Krawl in their first adventure, Rallen and Jeena are called back into duty when a new meanace, the High Krawl, begin attacking planets. One of their first targets is the Spectrobes lab, potentially knocking out humanity's only defense against the Krawl. This leads to the game's overall goal: travel the universe, collect Spectrobes and send the High Krawl packing. Though it isn't the most original of plot devices, the setup is much better than the first game, where you were basically collecting them just to do it. The story is also aided by the presence of a visible threat rather than the first game's faceless menace.

Spectrobes: Beyond the Portals takes place on several planets, and though they tend to trend towards the generic, they offer enough places to find Spectrobes that I doubt players will really care if the areas aren't that interesting to look at. The only real difference between planets is in how you go about collecting fossils. Each planet has its own ground type, so you'll need to use different excavation methods. Pulling fossils out of ice requires a melting tool while getting them out of the sand requires players to blow on the microphone.

One of the more noticeable gameplay changes is the combat system. In the first game, Rallen had to enter battle but was more of a liability than an asset. Rallen no longer participates in battles with Spectrobes; instead as he runs around levels, he'll encounter balls of "Krawl Dust." For the most part, Dust isn't a major threat so the new system isn't that much of an improvement. The action sections are great and feel like they were shoehorned in just to make Rallen a little more active than your typical Poke'mon trainer.

Fighting with Spectrobes is a much better experience. You can take two Spectrobes into battle and can switch between controlling each while the A.I. takes over the other. There are three types of Spectrobes - Flash, Aurora and Corona - and each shares a paper-rock-scissors dynamic. This relationship forms the basis for the entire combat system, though complications are added once Dark Spectrobes are thrown into the mix. Then there's the whole evolutionary aspect, all of which help to create a fairly deep combat system.

Using Local Multiplayer, players can trade Spectrobes or battle in one of three game types: 1 vs.1, Team or Battle Royal. All three use the same combat system used in the single-player game. Battling online is a completely different experience. Rather than using a real-time system, players compete via a turn-based system featuring a variety of mini-games. Attack and defense strength is determined by how well players perform these activities, which is a nice change compared to the other system. Players can also upload Spectrobes and sell them on the online marketplace or download special items. As of this review, Disney has already offered one set of downloadable content, which includes a new sword for Rallen and a set of new Spectrobes.


Difficulty:

Whether fighting as Rallen or Spectrobes, the controls are clunky. Attacks are responsive, though the mapping felt "off" to me. I constantly found myself hitting buttons thinking they would perform one attack only to perform something else. Combat is still pretty simple, so this didn't cause too many headaches, but it was annoying. The camera system, on the other hand, is a complete pain. You can only snap the camera behind your character's back, making it difficult to track down Krawl. Although you have a Lock-On system, it doesn't always work. The system won't cause you to lose a battle, but expect to see a few cheap hits.

Beyond the clunky camera and controls, battles are really just a matter of having the right type of Spectrobes for the job. The process is involved, but if you're willing to put in the time (rather than charging into battle with whatever Spectrobes you have on you at the time), the game isn't too difficult.


Game Mechanics:

As satisfying as the combat system is, it is still a bit bulky. Battles happen in real-time and since there's nothing controlling how combat plays out, they quickly devolve into races to see who can get off the most attacks the fastest. Things are further complicated with the addition of four attack styles that also share their own paper-rock-scissor relationship. Spectrobes only have one type of attack, so you'll need to constantly swap Spectrobes in and out of your party. It's an involved process and adds another layer of depth, but at the same time, it reduces Spectrobes to just a bunch of tools. Part of the "fun factor" behind monster-catching games is building a relationship with your team, something the system doesn't support that well.

This detachment is further helped with the Incubator system, which acts like a Spectrobes factory. Once in an incubator, you can feed minerals to Spectrobes and raise their levels once you meet a certain requirements. The system is great for making sure that you always have leveled up Spectrobes of a certain type, but it also takes away from some of the fun of building a good team.

Spectrobes: Beyond the Portals still has a ways to go before it is ready to challenge for the spot of top monster-collector, but it is still a fun game.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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