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In the DS handheld market, the landscape is full of competitors that have challenged but failed to topple the vastly successful Pokemon series.  Enter developer Jupiter Corp with Spectrobes, the handheld title on DS, published by Disney Interactive Studios, that fights to share the limelight against the Pokemon giant in the market.

Spectrobes begins with Rallen and Jeena, two Planetary Patrol officers sent on a mission to identify clues surrounding reports of large wreckage on a distant planet.  During their mission, they discover a lone survivor in a damaged space pod near a gigantic crevice on the planetary surface.  As the events unfold, the elderly survivor, Aldous, explains to the young officers that his planet was ravaged by the Krawl, a relentless and cruel species.  Narrowly escaping with his life, Aldous states that an invasion by Krawl on other planets are inevitable and as fate has dictated, only Rallen and the Spectrobes can stop them.  The Spectrobes are all buried deep within the soil grounds of neighboring planets and must be excavated to awaken them from their comatose state.

The gameplay can be summarized with one word: excavation.  You begin with Rallen, who is accompanied by a baby spectrobe in your Patrol Cruiser.  As you freely roam the grounds surrounding the ship, you are searching to discover and excavate spectrobes in the vicinity.  By tapping the baby spectrobe with the stylus, a circular perimeter is formed around Rallen that scans the area for shiny buried objects.  The real excavation starts when players are switched to excavation mode after an artifact is located.  Players are equipped with 3 types of drills: Drill L, Drill M and Drill S.  Each of these drills varies functionally as Drill L is used for excavating around an object whereas Drill M is used to remove dirt on top of buried artifact.  To excavate an object, you rub the screen with your stylus to clear the soil surrounding your artifact.  A special meter indicates precisely how much of the artifact is uncovered.  Essentially, a damage meter reflects the condition of the object to be excavated.  Drill too hard and you risk damaging the artifact so severely that it cannot be recovered.  On the other hand, drill too conservatively and you will not be able to retrieve the buried artifact at all.

Battles are initiated when Rallen encounters a swirling, purple vortex on the open field when searching for buried items.  You will be able to control Rallen and two spectrobes that stand beside him respectively.  Rallen is very weak and the damage he inflicts is rather minimal forcing you to rely on the spectrobes to take down your enemies.  Launching an attack on enemies is executed by pressing the L and R shoulder buttons for each of the spectrobes on the field.  When dodging the enemies’ attacks, you can build up energy with the A button for Rallen and launch special charge attacks when the CH meter is full by the entire team.  Battles feel dull and uninspired as Rallen and the spectrobes all move together in a linear fashion and have no intuition of their own to attack the enemy, even when they stand face to face against the Krawl monsters.  Much time is spent keeping Rallen out of harm’s way while the spectrobes engage the enemy.  The fight is over when all enemies are defeated with the spoils being distributed amongst the team evenly.

A unique feature of the game is the card input system.  This system is unlocked by excavating special Upsilon Cubes from the planetary grounds.  Once the card input system is initiated, new spectrobes, minerals and custom parts are unlocked by using real cards packaged with the purchase of your game.  Each of these cards is punctured with holes in a numerical pattern.  Once aligned with the lower DS screen, the stylus is used to touch the holes of the card in an ascending order.  Consequently, this makes it nigh impossible for players to obtain new spectrobes without these cards by randomly guessing such patterns.  These cards can be used and traded with other users to maximize the spectrobes available at your disposal.  Extra creatures and parts can be downloaded with the Nintendo WFC service once the Tau cube is retrieved from excavation to obtain additional content.

The lab systems are extensively used in this game to micro-manage your excavated spectrobes and to nurture their growth.  Spectrobes do not awaken on their own as they require your assistance; namely, your voice.  That’s right.  They only wake up when you speak directly to them via the DS microphone at a certain volume for a short period of time.  Mere whispers or outright shouting do nothing for them for those prone to using either extremes.  After assigning your baby spectrobe a name, they are fed and carefully watched inside the designed Incubator.  By nurturing your baby spectrobes and lavishing attention on them, such as petting them, they evolve at a much faster rate.  For the studious players, information is readily available in the library for all the identified spectrobes, both young and old.

Visually, the game is average.  They aren’t bad by any means but there isn’t anything remarkable about them.  The environments, on the other hand, leave much to be desired as the planetary grounds outside the Patrol Cruiser are bland and rather lifeless.  As for the sound, there is nothing worth mentioning.  The localization for the English voices is typically standard with the background music fitting appropriately into the “common but nothing special” category.

Overall, Spectrobes is a game that falls considerably short of the mark.  The bland environments, dull combat and complex menus are the biggest flaws surrounding this game.  Despite the excavation mode, most players will quickly lose interest after the first few hours of gameplay.  In the end, Spectrobes is a game full of ideas but one that ultimately fails due to its dreadful design and execution.

 

BEST FEATURE = Excavation Mode

WORST FEATURE = Dull Combat

 

Visuals: 6/10
Gameplay: 5/10
Control: 5/10
Sound: 7/10
Replay Value:  5/10
Impact Rating: 6/10
Overall Rating: 57%

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