The first Spectrobes was a space-based, 3D clone of Pokemon, except you were digging up your critters, recreating them from fossils, and then using two of them at a time to fight off alien invaders. It had some great character designs, was nearly crippled by an absolutely useless real-time battle system in which the shoulder buttons executed attacks, and ended up selling remarkably well. The sequel makes marked improvements in most regards, though it still has quite a distance to go.
The plot just retreads the first game, but does it better: There are new invaders and bosses, so main man Rallen (you) again has to wade through cheesy dialogue and bounce from planet to planet beating in alien skulls and collecting as many of the 185 Spectrobes you can find. Gotta unearth ‘em all, or so they say.
When you disembark on a planet, your character wanders around looking for fossils and other goals – with an over-the-shoulder 3D view this time instead of the first game’s isometric view. Enemies are visible on this map, and can be punched, laser blasted, or bashed in the piehole with a sword. The controls are wonky here though, a strange combination of d-pad, buttons, and stylus action.
Some enemies on the map are too big for Rallen to handle alone. That’s when your two Spectrobes enter the fray. You control one entirely and the other acts on its own, with you jumping from one to the other at will. This actually works pretty well, much better than the awkward, “both at once” maneuvering of the first game.
However, the attacks themselves lack variety – this isn’t a sophisticated fighting game in which each critter has 20, ten, or even four different attacks. You really just pound the A button and hope to execute a special attack now and then. If your Spectrobe is the right color to fight a certain enemy (the three colors are basically the same as rock, paper, scissors – each is strong against one other color and weak against the other) you’ll do well. If your Spectrobe is the wrong color, it is probably doomed to die no matter what you do in battle.
Once you’ve purged the enemies from an area, it’s time to get space-paleontological and dig up some new critters. This is actually the best part of the game, as the way you find new Spectrobes is pretty cool. You get tools like a slime-sucking vacuum and ice-melting torch to make the fossils easier to get to, and you have to be careful when excavating, staying gentle with the tools and puffing into the mic to blow dust away. Once you’ve extracted all the fossils safely, it’s back to your ship where you yell ‘em awake, feed them rocks to help them grow and evolve (if you like), and move on to the next planet.
Overall, Spectrobes looks okay for a DS game, and the art design is actually really nice. Plus, the multiplayer modes (online trading and local trading and battling) and the ability to customize your creatures by feeding them minerals should add extra longevity. The controls and camera do you no favors, and it could really benefit from more complexity in battle - we’d like to hammer buttons other than A once in awhile, please. But if the series continues to improve, it could find itself running down a certain electric yellow chinchilla in a few more years.
Nov 3, 2008