Spectrobes: Beyond the Portals - hands-on

These days, if you’re a monster collecting game, you’d better be prepared for the inevitable comparisons with the behemoth that is Pokemon. The original Spectrobes held its own last year with enough originality to distinguish itself from other kiddy fare. Now Spectrobes: Beyond the Portals furthers that agenda with its sci-fi atmosphere, as you resume the role of Rallen and travel from planet to planet, excavating alien fossils (Spectrobes = alien dinos) and resurrecting them for your glorious army.

Spectrobes fall into three color groups that have a rock-paper-scissors relationship: Flash (blue-ish to purple-ish) is strong against Aurora (greenish) which is strong against Corona (red-ish) which is in turn strong against Flash. The exact hue of each Spectrobe varies, and depends on the pitch of your voice when you initially bring its fossil to life. For example, when you speak into the DS microphone to finalize a Flash-type Spectrobe’s creation, using a higher pitch might result in a light blue Spectrobe, while a lower pitch could make it dark purple. In addition to the three color types, each Spectrobe also has one of six fighting styles, like melee or ranged, that have strong/weak relationships to each other.

This multi-tiered relationship forms the bulk of the strategy, because after you’ve sorted out the right dino for the job, the rest is pretty much button mashing. Hit the A button for your basic attack, and when your attack gauge fills you can hit B for a change attack or Y for a combo attack. In a feature absent from the first game, Rallen (he’s like the Pokemon trainer) can engage in combat as well, and even wields equipment like a sword, a blaster and gloves that level up as you use them. Also improved from the original, the camera has been moved to a behind-the-shoulder view (rather than the disorienting top-down view), with the top screen better utilized to display maps and info.

We also got an exclusive look at Jeena,someone you may remember from the first game,who's now a playable character alongside Rallen. She’s the brains of the operation, and steps in anytime there’s a puzzle to solve. If you’ve playedHoneycomb Beat, her puzzles will look familiar; you’ve got a hexagonal grid filled with three different colors of hexagons, and your goal is to flip the tiles until the whole grid is the same color. It sounds easy, but the catch is that when you flip one tile, all the other tiles around it flip as well, often making even simple looking grids difficult to solve. To make matters worse, you’ll have to race against a relentless clock. Although Jeena doesn’t gain experience like Rallen does, her puzzles progress in difficulty.