Review: Spectrobes: Beyond the Portals

SpectrobesBeyondThePortals.jpg Spectrobes was a funny sort of game. When I initially played I predicted that the moment Pokemon Diamond and Pearl for the DS were released this game would become extinct. And to a large extent I was correct … for a while. My younger son never really let it go – he found it charming and captivating and actually enjoyed it more than the Pokemon games. I found that there were quite a few kids who felt the same way. When I heard about the sequel, my assumption was that Disney was just trying to grab what they could before the franchise collapsed. And while I’m sure there is some of that going on, the amazing thing is that they managed to make this game better in every way than the original, to the point where I am wondering what they will do next with the franchise.

Spectrobes: Beyond the Portals picks up after the end of the original game, with the same characters featured in a much deeper and better written story. We’re not talking epic here by any stretch, but the basic setup is more interesting than the original. Sadly, after getting you engaged based on some interesting kidnapping and subterfuge twists, the game settles into pretty much a ‘find the next big boss and wipe them out’ formula.

But Spectrobes fans are really not here for the story. They enjoyed the strategy involved in gathering up new Spectrobes using the mini-games to uncover them all. The mini-game can get tiresome after dozens and dozens of times, but this really isn’t meant to be played in a long and sustained gameplay session. By playing a bit at a time, as most kids do, you lose the annoying grind feel and just get to enjoy evolving your Spectrobes. Again, this is a game that knows its’ audience and has done a good job of catering the game to them.

Beyond the Portals enhances the 3D graphics from the original – and those were already pretty good. While not the best looking DS game, it is certainly not going to be mistaken for a GBA carry-over. The music tends to get annoying after a while of listening to the limited array of themes, but the rest of the sounds work well enough to remain unremarkable – and in a kid-oriented game that can be a good thing for the parents who have to listen to it incessantly!

The combat system is perhaps the biggest problem with the game, and mainly because of the annoying camera control. Since combat is real-time and requires you to lock on to enemies, the fact that the camera system makes it hard to engage anything not directly in front of you is really annoying. Fortunately they have simplified the combat system from the original which had you controlling both Spectrobes on the field; now you control one and the other does its’ own thing, which is actually useful most of the time.

Fortunately, as Obi-Wan said there are alternatives to fighting. You can excavate in order to advance the story and develop your Spectrobes, using the minerals you find as ways to gain power. Depending on how you manage the combat, this is a nice alternative – because the game is loaded with the need to grind levels, either to advance, or to out-stat your enemies so you can win battles in spite of the camera.

There are also some nice multiplayer features that allow you to interact with other players either online or locally. In a game that features so much collecting and developing, this is a definite ‘must have’ feature, but it is implemented in a robust way. Not only can you trade Spectrobes locally, you can ‘sell’ them online for points, use those points to buy new items, upload your stats and find out how you rank against other players, and more.

Overall Spectrobes: Beyond the Portal is a solid second effort for the franchise, albeit one with some significant flaws. If this was a game marketed at a broader audience, I would advise you to ‘Try It’ before buying. But for the target market – elementary school kids and tweens – this is an easy ‘Buy It’ recommendation. Any doubts I had about this were dispelled last weekend. My kids were in a regional FiRST LEGO Robotics tournament, which involved ~6 hours of driving each way. I let them (and the other kid from the team we were driving) at the game, and they had a blast with it, taking turns with it in each of their DS systems. They weren’t concerned about the camera or combat or the repetition – they were constantly comparing what they found as they explored. I still haven’t pried it out of my younger son’s DS case … and probably never will.

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Pros:
+ Addictive ‘catch em all’ gameplay
+ Decent story

Cons:
– Lousy camera system
– Story loses steam after promising start
– Too much walking

Game Info:
Platform: DS
Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios
Developer: Jupiter
Release Date: 10/07/08
Genre: Action-RPG
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1-4

About the Author

I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!