Spectrobes: Origins - Staff Review  

Pokémon... IN SPACE!
by Adriaan den Ouden

Click here for game information
Less than 20 Hours
- Bad camera.
- Needlessly time-consuming game systems.
- Awful story.
- Poor and imprecise controls.
+ Solid visuals and music.
+ Great boss battles.
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   In 2007, Disney decided that Nintendo's Pokémon franchise was raking in way too much cash and decided to try to get a slice of the pie. They created Spectrobes, a blatant clone of Nintendo's best-selling franchise with a science fiction setting and a Saturday morning cartoon-style story. Thanks to an absolutely brilliant marketing campaign, the game was a smash hit, selling over 500,000 copies. Unfortunately, the game sucked. Its DS sequel performed notably worse at market. Now Disney has unleashed a third game in the series, Spectrobes: Origins for the Wii.

   Spectrobes: Origins continues the ongoing saga of Jeena and Rallen, Nanairo Planetary Patrolmen (space cops) who make use of ancient creatures called spectrobes to battle the invading krawl who are trying to destroy the galaxy. Origins sees Jeena and Rallen sucked through a wormhole to a distant star system, where they discover past secrets of their arch-nemesis Krux as well as their Commander-in-Chief Grant.

   Not that you'll particularly care any which way. The story is awful in every aspect. The characters are all uninteresting and generally irritating, the dialogue is poorly written and poorly read, and the plot is predictable and generic. The entire thing feels like a really bad Saturday morning cartoon, one of the ones that tries to be edgy and cool, drawing in the third graders but lacking any kind of lasting, broader appeal.

   The gameplay isn't much better. In addition to poorly implemented and imprecise waggle controls, the game sports several systems with terrible, tedious design. You play as Rallen or Jeena, and are at all times followed around by a spectrobe, a Pokémon-esque monster that helps you in battle. Out of combat you'll be accompanied by a child-form spectrobe that can assist in solving puzzles as well as finding treasure buried in the ground: minerals to increase your spectrobes' experience, healing items, and of course fossils from which you can discover new spectrobes.

Iku ze!  I still have no idea what it means, but Rallen keeps shouting it. Iku ze! I still have no idea what it means, but Rallen keeps shouting it.

   Fossil-hunting was probably the only aspect of the original game I found to be even remotely entertaining (and I was even more impressed when Pokémon Diamond/Pearl copied it a year later), but Spectrobes: Origins somehow manages to turn a simple, addictive mini-game into a tedious chore. Origins brings the fossils fully into 3D, and the player has to rotate and chip away at a cube of rock in order to unearth the fossil that lies inside. Unfortunately, the process is now ridiculously lengthy, lasting anywhere between one and two minutes per fossil. Compared to the ten to fifteen seconds of the first game, it gets old very quickly. Luckily, duplicate fossils are immediately recognized once they've been unearthed once, so players can discard unwanted ones without having to go through the tedious excavation process.

   The system for making use of minerals is equally annoying. In order to feed a mineral to a spectrobe, one must enter the incubator where the spectrobes are being kept. Once here, you must find the spectrobe you want to feed, and then give him minerals one at a time, waiting between each for him to eat. You can't feed them minerals in bulk, and you can't feed them minerals while in the field; you must first find a save point so that you can access the incubator. Furthermore, you can't feed spectrobes that are in your party, they must first be placed into an incubator, fed, and then placed back in your party. The entire system is needlessly cumbersome and seems to have been designed to mimic WiiWare's My Pokémon Ranch. You can even take pictures of your spectrobes here to share with friends over Wi-Fi. However, My Pokémon Ranch was designed as a superfluous extra that is completely unnecessary to the actual game, which is not the case for Spectrobes.

   Combat is a marginal improvement over the noncombat mechanics, but it's far from perfect. When a battle begins, your child-form spectrobe is replaced by an adult or evolved-form one. You then proceed to battle Krawl in real-time. You control Rallen or Jeena and can attack with your weapon by pressing the A button. You can also command your spectrobe to attack by swinging the wiimote vertically, or call it back to your side by swinging it horizontally. Unfortunately, the game often has trouble recognizing these movements, making it difficult to adequately control your spectrobe. You can bring six spectrobes into battle with you and can switch between them at any time.

Some games have to get by with nothing but a pretty face. Some games have to get by with nothing but a pretty face.

   Enemies, spectrobes, and weapons all possess one of five elements, which are opposed to each other in a simple circle. Fire is strong against plant which is strong against earth and so on. Making use of these systems can be advantageous in the earlier parts of the game, but as the game nears its conclusion, it's far more effective to simply power up a single spectrobe and only make use of the elemental system for weapons. The game also has terrific boss fights, which are probably the only upside to an otherwise weak combat system.

   Combat has other issues that wear on it as well. There is no currency in the game and items cannot be purchased. With no other way to heal your character, if you run out, you have to go out and farm some up. Spectrobes cannot be healed at all, though a handful can learn a special, passive ability that lets them regenerate health every time they deal damage. Another irritation is that Rallen and Jeena's capabilities in combat are very limited. Aside from attacking, all they can do is run around. Making use of the five different types of weapons can add a bit of variety, but not much. Finally, the camera is a nightmare, and gets in the way constantly.

   The audio and visuals are pretty much the only praise I can give the game. The graphics are polished, colorful, and attractive. The models are all crisp and show only the faintest signs of aliasing. Likewise, the music is surprisingly catchy. The voice-acting is also quite good, for a Saturday morning cartoon show at least. It's hammy and overacted and is likely to irritate anyone over the age of ten, but it works for what it's trying to do.

   Ultimately, Spectrobes: Origins and the series as a whole fail to match Pokémon's appeal. With a simplistic, weak story that will only entertain young children and drab, tedious gameplay that only young children could overlook, Spectrobes: Origins is a game that should only be played by kids, and even then, any Pokémon game will provide them with three times the content at three times the quality.

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