Spectrobes - Staff Review  

An Exercise in Futility
by Jason Schreier

10-20 Hours


Rating definitions 

   There are a lot of things that developers have to consider when making games for a platform like the DS. Features like the touch screen and microphone can range in use from innovative to abominably awful, but ultimately the most important feature of a DS game is that it has to be portable -- it has to work as a handheld game. Unfortunately, because of a plethora of ugly interfaces and poor design choices, Spectrobes does not succeed in portability or any other aspect. As a Pokémon clone set in space with some sloppy superfluous features and one of the worst combat systems ever made, Spectrobes is a failure in almost every sense of the word, and a really disappointing product from Disney.

   You play as Rallen, a Planetary Patrol officer so shallow and unoriginal that you'll likely forget his name in a few seconds and start mentally referring to him as Cloud. Assisting our hero is a girl named Jeena, their boss, Commander Grant, and a mysterious space traveler called Aldous. The galaxy is under attack by a race of creatures called Krawls, and Rallen has to stop them before they conquer everything; that's the entire plot, no more, no less. In order to stop these creatures, Rallen must collect creatures called Spectrobes by digging their fossils up from the ground and awakening them by talking into a device called Prizmod. Rallen's quest ends up taking him to seven different planets over the course of the game, and each is populated with faceless and generic citizens who say bland, boring things.

The desert is almost as dry as the gameplay! The desert is almost as dry as the gameplay!

   The majority of the game will have you roaming from planet to planet, tediously stopping every few feet to touch Rallen's search Spectrobe with the stylus; certain Spectrobes, once equipped, can reveal where to find minerals, cubes, and fossils. Once you find some sort of buried treasure, the digging simulation begins, and using the touch screen you must sift through layers of dirt in order to excavate the jewel without breaking it by touching it for too long. It's a neat little system but gets extremely repetitive and tedious very fast, since it disrupts from the flow of gameplay so often, yet is essential in order to find the tools of the game. Minerals can be sold or fed to Spectrobes in order to power up their stats, cubes can be analyzed by Aldous to reveal information and enable new lab equipment, and fossils can be awakened into new Spectrobes. Unfortunately, in order to wake a fossil, you literally have to talk to the DS microphone, which is again anathema to portability. As well, fossils are rarely indicative of the Spectrobe you'll actually get, so the tedious process of awakening has to be done over and over again in order to see every Spectrobe you've found.

   To call the battle system in Spectrobes bad would be an understatement; more accurate would be the incarnation of everything that is an abomination in this world. Once Rallen initiates battle by walking into one of the Krawl-inhabited purple tornadoes that attack each planet, he appears on a small battlefield flanked by his two combat Spectrobes. Rallen can move around in real time and attack using one of several weapons, but his damage is negligible at best; the only way to really kill Krawls is by using the Spectrobes. Your pets, however, are not intelligent enough to attack on their own, and must be not only brought next to their target but told exactly when to strike. However, the small delay between when the L or R button is hit and when the Spectrobe attacks is enough to often wind up damaging them first. By charging up a meter in the bottom right corner of the screen, Rallen can activate a special move that, when activated, damages everyone on screen with the power of both Spectrobes in combat. Because the enemy AI is so bad, it's just a matter of patience to run around using the special attack in order to destroy everyone on screen. Adding even more tediousness to the pot is the fact that you can't pause in battle, which is completely inexcusable, especially considering that the Start button does nothing anyway.

   The menus in this game are abominable and should have been scrapped completely in favor of more friendly interfaces. Not only are they difficult to navigate and slow to open up, they switch between requiring buttons and requiring the stylus seemingly randomly, as do conversation bubbles. Spectrobes constantly overloads you with information and often fails to explain what certain things do, leading to a lot of confusion when it comes to things like how to evolve creatures and what works best against what.

The only game where you'll find moons underground! The only game where you'll find moons underground

   The only redeemable quality in Spectrobes, and the only thing that brings it up half a point above abysmal is its visuals. Environments on each planet are sprawling and beautiful, despite the desolate feeling you'll get when wandering around and not seeing any form of life or civilization for quite a while. The graphics are well-constructed and 3-D, with Spectrobes each having their own unique style and aesthetics. Character sprites lack detail because the camera remains so far away from them, and planet surfaces wind up getting repetitive, but overall the graphics are very good. Spectrobes' music, on the other hand, is awful; themes like the one that plays while in the Spectrobe Lab are beyond annoying and detract from the game's experience. Even the game's best songs don't achieve much beyond being forgettable.

   Spectrobes isn't a difficult game by any means, especially since it's so easy to take advantage of the combat system and reuse special attacks to harmlessly beat bosses and battles. Its length is artificially extended through needless repetition of areas on planets. For example, at one point Rallen has to get a blue keystone from a ruin where he discovers slots for red, green, and the aforementioned blue stones. Later, he has to re-insert those stones into the slots he found, but for absolutely no reason he forgets that he has removed the blue one; when you re-enter the ruins in order to insert the stones, Rallen's memory is suddenly jolted and you have to backtrack even more. This is made even more frustrating when the man to whom you originally gave the blue keystone disappears until Rallen comes to this realization. It is illogic and repetition like this that really hurts Spectrobes as a game, not even taking into account all of its other flaws. Other exercises in tediousness include the fact that both healing items and useful equipment upgrades cost hundreds of battles worth of currency.

   Spectrobes is one of those games that could have been so good, as it has so many good ideas behind it. Creature collecting and evolving, digging, and action-RPG goodness could have been amalgamated to make an excellent game, but unfortunately, all that Disney has produced is an awful freak of nature. Confusing and poor controls as well as a sloppy interface make Spectrobes one game that no DS-owner needs to touch.

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