If Nintendo taught us anything in back in 1996, it's that people have an obsession with catching, training, and growing attached to creatures only to make them fight to the death for a greater good. It's a theory that's tested and true, and it seems like every developer has dipped into its addictive gameplay at least once. Now it's Buena Vista Games, now known as Disney Interactive Studios, turn to try their hand at it.
"You will find a story that involves an ancient evil, extinct defenders, and globe-trotting dungeon crawling."
Spectrobes is set to be Disney Interactive Studios' first wholly original game, which means it's thier first game not based on any of Disney's cartoons, live-action properties, or anything else Disney-related. You won't be catching little Mickey Mouses or Winnie the Poohs to evolve and battle here, but you will find a story that involves an ancient evil, extinct defenders, and globe-trotting dungeon crawling. The game focuses on Planetary Patrol Officers Rallen and Jeena, who, during a routine scouting mission, find an old man trapped in cryogenic sleep. The old man, Aldous, tells them of an evil race of creatures called the Krawl that ravaged his home world. He goes on to explain that he had found the Krawl's natural predator, an extinct species called Spectrobes. Using the technology of the Ancients, Aldous developed a way to revive and control the Spectrobes, and set off with Rallen and Jeena to stop the Krawl menace.
Gameplay is centered around four key points: Excavation, Training, Exploration, and Battle. Spectrobe fossils can be found on a number of planets, and it's up to Rallen to search for them and dig them out. Digging is done by etching away the surrounding rock with the stylus and physically blowing into the DS microphone to remove dust. To restore life into the dead Spectrobe, the player must match his or her voice with a required loudness, different for each Spectrobe. These activities add another dimension to the gameplay, involving the player in new and uncommon ways.
After reviving the Spectrobe, the player must train him, sending the young Spectrobe through a number of exercises that eventually decide what kind of adult Spectrobe it becomes. There are three basic types of Spectrobes: Corona, Aurora, and Flash. These types work out to a rock/paper/scissors balancing system, but there are a number of sub-types. By training a Spectrobe down a certain path, you can focus them in defense, offense, magic, or create a well-balanced warrior for your cause.
Then there's the exploration and battles. There are multiple planets that Rallen and Jeena will adventure to in order to quell the Krawl threat. Each planet looks to be unique and alien, allowing players to dungeon crawl in exotic locales and find different Spectrobes buried in each one. Battles are just as exotic, mixing a technological interface with a flowing, organic battle system. Fights are in real-time, with Rallen and two flanking Spectrobes facing off against a party of three Krawl. The player controls Rallen, but can issue orders to either of his Spectrobes at the touch of a button. Enemies appear on the map as black tornadoes, so players can attempt to avoid battles or engage them at will.
Spectrobes also supports Nintendo Wi-Fi, allowing the player to battle friends across the globe one-on-one, or participate in a local sixteen-person tournament. Accessing the Nintendo servers also lets the player create a Spectrobes profile which records data and ranks players on a massive scoreboard. Disney Interactive Studios has announced that it will have free, downloadable content available in the form of new Spectrobes, items, and videos. Another way to gain items and Spectrobes is by utilizing its trading card system. The cards will have the design of a Spectrobe or an item on it plus a series of numbered holes. By laying the card on top of the DS's touch screen and pressing the holes in order, players unlock things in-game. Disney Interactive has announced that they are releasing at least forty cards, and they plan on making the cards available for free.
In game graphics look like a mix between Pokemon and Final Fantasy III, with just a hint of Enchanted Arms. They're colorful, heavy on the polygons, and combine fantasy and science fiction. Character art is detailed, and shows that while the main character dresses like the space-faring pilot he is, the Spectrobes he commands look just like you would expect alien warrior-creatures to: Primal and fierce, but not without a touch of elegance. These graphics are contrasted by the game's FMVs, which sport live voice acting and 3D Saturday morning cartoon-style animation.
Released music has been limited to the background of a few trailers. There's not much to make a judgment call on, but the music and the settings seem to match up nicely and it didn't get unbearable in the fifty seconds of the video it was in, so that's a plus.
The game is being developed by Jupiter Corp., the company behind Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, so would-be buyers can safely turn to Jupiter's record for a solid precedent. For those of you itching to get your paws on a new, addicting “collect 'em all” game with plenty of unique twists, Spectrobes ships worldwide on March 10. Until then, you're left hunting Insectrons in Rogue Galaxy.