Disney Interactive and Jupiter teamed up to make a new series with a manga feel and collectable monsters. It’s obvious that Spectrobes is inspired by games like Pokemon, but there is a little more background than the dream of being the greatest Spectrobes trainer. The story begins with Rallen an intergalactic planetary patrol officer who lands on Daichi when he is attacked by a group of aliens called the “Krawl”. Luckily for Rallen he can use the Prizmod to command fossilized creatures known as Spectrobes, which coincidently are the only thing that can defeat the Krawl. In his quest to save the universe he is aided by Jeena, who acts as the mission guide, and Mr. X who Rallen found cryogenically frozen after his planet was ruined by the Krawl. Ok maybe not that much more of a story than Pokemon, but the gameplay is completely different.
One thing that you’ll notice immediately about Spectrobes is that it uses both of the DS’ screens to show the world instead of using one screen for a map or HUD. Even though Rallen can only run around on the bottom screen, having the world on the top screen makes it feel like the areas are larger and you can see enemies from further away. Instead of having random battles purple tornados, which represent encounters with the Krawl, float towards Rallen. Battles aren’t turnbased and they aren’t like Kingdom Hearts, encounters share more in common with Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner than any other game out there. When you enter battle Rallen is aided by two of his evolved Spectrobes. Pressing the L button makes the Spectrobe on his left hand side attack and pressing the R button makes the Spectrobe on his right attack. Each Spectrobe’s has a simple attack animation like ramming forward or swinging their tail. However the Spectrobes aren’t “smart” enough to automatically target an enemy. You have to move them close enough to hit the Krawl. At first it’s awkward moving them into position because you don’t directly control them, instead they move next to Rallen in a set formation. You have to maneuver Rallen close, but not next to the Krawl to get a Spectrobe in range to dive forward and attack. Something that isn’t explained well is how chi energy works. While the stamina meter is automatically charging up so your Spectrobes can make a move you should be holding the A button to charge up CH energy. CH energy allows you to use your Spectrobe’s special attacks to do more damage or increase their range of attack. When you press “Y” you switch Rallen’s commands to special attacks which deplete the CH energy gauge by one or two blocks. If you charge up your CH energy to four blocks you can do a powerful combo attack that hits all of the Krawl on screen. Alternatively you can use Rallen to fight who can rotate between using a gun, sword and punch attack that has knockback. However, you’re not going to want to do this because Rallen is useless as a fighter. He gives about a tenth of the damage a Spectrobe can do and if you’re fighting with Rallen you are moving him in position to get hit. It only takes three or four hits for Rallen to lose all of his HP and force players to retreat back to the ship. The combat system isn’t the best part of Spectrobes. It’s a little on the simplistic side and I can imagine players who are used to RPGs getting bored of it quickly.
Spectrobes shows off its best features with its excavation system. While Rallen is out doing missions for the planetary patrol a cute looking child Spectrobe follows him around. If you poke the Spectrobe with the stylus it will scan the area for hidden fossils, minerals and cubes with information. When you see a blue or orange spark you can tap the glowing symbol and switch to the touch screen excavation mini game. You start the game by tapping the screen until you see a piece of the fossil or buried mineral. Then you hold one of the shoulder buttons to scan the mineral and show an outline of its shape. Then you scribble on screen with the drill tool to dig it out and use the blower tool to remove dust from the buried object. Once you uncover at least 95% of the item you can pick it up from the ground and add it to your list.
If you found a fossil you can bring it back to the ship and awaken it through a voice activated mini game. Waking up a Spectrobe requires a player to hold their voice at a certain volume level for three seconds. In early videos you see a kid shouting “wake up” to do this, but it’s easier to shout at the microphone than hold your voice while saying a phrase. Once you wake up a Spectrobe it’s a child so you can’t bring it to battle. You can have it tail Rallen and search for minerals, but if you want it to be battle ready you have to put it in one of the four incubator rooms. Each room can hold two Spectrobes and you can feed them minerals to boost their stats. Because of the stat boost you’re going to want to explore areas more and dig up as many minerals as you can so you can power up your new Spectrobe. After a set amount of time your Spectrobe will grow into an adult and you will be able to assign it as one of your two battle buddies. Alternatively you can skip over the whole excavation system and use the same Spectrobes for a large chunk of the game. There are a couple of advantages going for the not switching Spectrobes strategy like better team up attacks and higher levels since the same Spectrobes are always fighting and gaining “minergy”.
Spectrobes also has some interesting community features where you can access downloadable content through Nintendo Wi-Fi after finding the Tao cube. Every Friday you’re given 10 points added to your DL point total which can be used to purchase new Spectrobes and video clips. However, you have to log on each Friday otherwise the points are lost. Another feature hidden is wireless battles, which also require finding a cube to play. When you enter a wireless battle each person controls their Rallen and two Spectrobes as if they were fighting the Krawl, except they are fighting another player. The other unlockable feature in Spectrobes is the card input system where you can unlock custom parts and extra Spectrobes. While the cards are useful you can only use them to obtain a Spectrobe four times. After that you won’t be able to use it anymore. This encourages players to trade cards after they are done using them, which adds another social layer to the game.
There are a lot of positive ways that Spectrobes uses the DS and creates a community, but the core gameplay isn’t nearly as engaging. The reason Spectrobes has been simplified is that it is designed for a younger audience. If you’re willing to let the gameplay slide, Spectrobes is unique and seeking out hidden fossils is entertaining. But if you’re a core gamer who wants a tight battle system and engaging story Spectrobes probably isn’t for you.