When you finally have a Spectrobe unearthed, it’s time to take it back to the cruiser lab and awaken it. You do this by sliding it into the incubator and calling to it through the mic. Per usual I simply shouted obscenities at my DS until my new Spectrobe reconstituted from its fossilized state, but supposedly the tone of your voice affects the appearance of the Spectrobe you awaken. Regardless this was a cool use of the DS hardware and just another facet of the game’s complexity.
Your Spectrobes have two stats that need maxing out in order for them to evolve into a more powerful form: mineral and battle levels. The battle level is taken care of when you send them into combat, but for the other one you need to dig up minerals and feed them to the Spectrobes you have stored in the incubator. This gives incentive to dig up minerals and swap your Spectrobes in and out, leveling them in different areas at different times.
The game also has an elemental rock-paper-scissors system, with three colors of Spectrobes that are weak and strong against each other. The color of a Krawl vortex indicates the color of the enemies inside, letting you pick the Spectrobe that is most powerful against current enemy. The actual combat may be simple, but the strategy for winning the battles and getting the most out of them is deep.
It’s a good thing that the core gameplay is fun and involving, because you’ll be doing a lot of it. There are occasional puzzles that let you play as Jeena but for the most part you’ll be exploring the planets as Rallen, talking to NPCs, killing Krawl and digging up Spectrobes. The beautiful planets and variety of Spectrobes is really what keeps Beyond the Portals from getting tedious. Unfortunately, once the main story is over there isn’t much to do. The worlds are nice to look at but are rather static and linear, and the game has little in the way of side quests aside from collecting the 185 individual Spectrobes. There are tools and items to buy but once you beat Krux, the final boss, the game is pretty much over.
Jupiter extended the replay value with a healthy online component, including multiplayer. This comes with the unfortunate necessity of friend codes, but also changes up the gameplay as well—online battles are turn-based, while local wireless multiplayer is real time like the main game. In the online mode you are give actions to perform—button combos, use the stylus, even shout into the mic—and your performance influences how well your Spectrobe fights. I was puzzled by this dramatic shift in play style, but the online fights turned out to be pretty fun in a quirky kind of way.
Online mode also lets you buy Spectrobes from other players and upload your own for sale, while members of Disney’s DGamer service can get special goodies linked to their account. There’s even some DLC on the way, a relative non-entity on the DS.
After an interesting but generic debut title, Spectrobes: Beyond the Portals proves that the series is full of surprises. Jupiter has adorned the core gameplay with numerous creative companion elements that create a consistent, complimentary package. Spectrobes might not be as long or exhaustive as Nintendo’s latest Pokemon games, but it stays fun and involving while the main story lasts, and even has a few extras to encourage further play. Pokemon has been mined and retread half to death; Spectrobes may be an imitation, but with Beyond the Portals, the series is just beginning to explore its potential.
No pun intended, but Spectrobes: Beyond the Portals is a game that gets more interesting the deeper you dig. There are a lot of cool little features that compliment the main real-time RPG gameplay, and numerous multiplayer options to keep you interested. If you’re sick of Pokemon and want something fresh, try this game out.
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