Spectrobes for the Nintendo DS is one of those games that tries to put a unique spin on an established concept. Unfortunately, it's one of those games that fails to accomplish this. It takes the monster-collecting formula that became popularized ever so long ago by the Pokemon series, tries to play around with it and breathe new life into it, but just ends up becoming a hash of half-finished concepts and ideas.
I sat down with the copy of Spectrobes in my hands, ready to play it, but a little worried at the fact that the box was bulging. Opening it, I find out that the cause of this is the instruction manual, which is a very large eighty pages. Being the jaded gamer that I am, I put it aside, confident that my experience and hopefully some in-game hints would be able to keep me afloat in what looks like a pretty enjoyable game.
The story starts out simple enough: Rallen, something of an intergalactic police officer, is off on a simple mission with his partner when he finds a device (the oddly-named Prizmod) and an unconscious/cryogenically-frozen scientist. Well, no sooner does this happen than Rallen is drawn into a black vortex and thrown into battle with something he later finds out is called the Krawl, a race of planet-eating monsters. The creatures that come out of Rallen's Prizmod, the titular Spectrobes, come to his, and eventually the universe's, defence and immediately I am introduced to the fighting system of the game. No help, no prompt, no idea what is going on.
The battle system is a little confusing at first (especially when one does not read the instruction manual), but extremely simple. Rallen can keep up to six Spectrobes with him, though only two will fight at any given time. The other four modify the fighting creatures' stats either by raising them or reducing them, depending on what type of Spectrobe is in the supporting role. By pressing L or R, the player can order one of the two monsters to attack, while moving around in real-time on the battlefield, though you do have to wait for a stamina bar to fill before anyone, Spectrobes or Rallen, can make an attack. The addition of a 'CH' bar for special attacks allows you to charge up special moves and execute them when you have enough 'CH' power.
This makes every battle a game of just running around in circles, out of the reach of the Krawls' attacks while waiting to attack on your own. Even the addition of extra moves that are revealed later in the game don't help to vary the combat, and each battle quickly becomes simple and dull as you repeat the same moves over and over again. The few boss battles that occur are a little different, but still just as repetitive once you find a simple pattern to their attacks.
In addition to the fighting Spectrobes, a child Spectrobe will follow Rallen around as he walks through the various planets. With this child Spectrobe, Rallen can mine the ground to find other fossils. The digging minigame that is used to remove the fossils is something you'll see a lot of. In it, you try to exhume the fossil under the ground using a variety of tools without damaging and ultimately destroying the treasure underneath. The first few times I played the minigame, it was pretty interesting. After the hundredth time, it started to seem a little dull. And while it tries to add some strategy in how you pull up the item, simply dragging your stylus across the screen quickly can get you results easily, and any real strategy is gone right out the window.
These fossils, with some fancy laboratory equipment, can be revived into child Spectrobes using the mic on the DS, which then join Rallen's collection. The problem here is that there are a lot of fossils in the ground, but only around two dozen types of Spectrobes to collect. It wasn't long before I found numerous doubles and triples in my Spectrobes collection. The game justifies this by saying that there are multiple colors of the same Spectrobes that should be collected, but there's no real point to it. This lack of Spectrobes types makes the collecting aspect really weak, which isn't good for this type of game.
Spectrobes are able to evolve into Adult and Evolved forms, by way of a device called an Incubator, which is one of the more mundane aspects of the gameplay. Each incubator in the game can contain two different Spectrobes that you can feed minerals to (also dug up from the ground) in order to raise their stats. You can also pet them. And then you wait. Just wait. And then wait some more. And eventually, with good enough stats and enough time, your Spectrobes will evolve. Waiting is not the most exciting game mechanic, and the incubator in general is fairly tedious to use.
The last thing you're able to dig up from the dirt is a series of cubes, full of data that can be analyzed by the scientist you find at the beginning of the game. Most of them just contain tips, facts, and tricks for the game, but some unlock gameplay features such as WiFi capabilities. Forcing the gamer to unlock gameplay content like this might irk some, but it's a good way to keep the player from being overwhelmed.
I sat down with Spectrobes hoping it to be similar in gameplay and quality as Pokemon, but it turned out to be a derivative instead. There's a lack of collectible species, the battle system is slow and repetitive, and the mining system is overdone. Unfortunately for the game, it relies on these gamplay elements to make it fun, and each of them comes up short. In turn, so does the game.