Being the first original video game intellectual property made by Disney Interactive Studios, Spectrobes has quite a hefty weight on its shoulders. However, it has managed to make a name for itself on the Nintendo DS, and Disney have now decided to bring the game over to the Nintendo Wii. Developed by Genki, the game looks to utilise the Wii Remote to offer a new experience, but does it translate well to Nintendo's home console?
The story once again focuses on the journey of series protagonist, Rallen and assistant, Jeena. After going on what appears to be a routine mission, they find themselves in unfamiliar territory, with their Spectrobe Master powers gone. However, after finding out that the Krawl, their mortal enemy, are invading their new surroundings, they embark on a quest to save the Kaio System and destroy the Krawl once and for all.
The story is fairly standard and involves the team going from planet to planet in search of Shards, which they hope will help them defeat the Krawl. Each of the planets is fairly unique, and there are some interesting people to be met. However, due to the age range the game is targeted at, the story can be a bit patronising sometimes. The characters will often join the dots long after the player has, and in some cases, they will even ignore what's directly in front of them in what one can only assume is a veiled attempt to explain things more thoroughly.
The Spectrobes add a nice element to the gameplay though, although it's a premise that might be getting a bit too familiar now in general. Spectrobes can be dug up, and then excavated. From here, they can then be evolved from the child form, enabling them to use stronger attacks and change their appearance. Each of the Spectrobes also has an element assigned to them, which enables them to be effective against other elements. It's possible to hold up to 6 adult Spectrobes at a time, and 3 child Spectrobes, so it's possible to have a fairly varied group.
Controlling Rallen is fairly straight-forward. However, the majority of controls don't actually utilised the Wii-specific controls. This is quite surprising considering the game has been developed specifically for the Wii. To compound this, the motion controls that do actually exist generally serve as more of a hinderance than an aid and they can often lead to frustrating gameplay. For example, to send a Spectrobe to attack, the player must flick their wrist forward with the Wii Remote, and to call the Spectrobe back, the player must move it from side to side. However, it often doesn't recognise the side-to-side motion, and it's all to easy to have a Spectrobe attack at completely the wrong time. Another misplaced usage of the motion controls is with blocking. Players must hold the Nunchuk and Wii Remote close to their chest, but moving the Nunchuk also serves as performing a dodge. This causes the game to get confused, and actually blocking is much more trouble than it needs to be.With the game being an Action RPG, all of the combat is real-time, but it can get quite repetitive. It's usually a case of shaking the Wii Remote to tell the Spectrobe to attack, and mashing the A button to try and deal some extra damage. The combat actually seems quite adequate earlier on in the game, but later on it starts to show its limitations. The dodge feature is nice, but that's only if it works the intended way, and later on when dodging is necessary to survive, this can become a real pain. There is a good amount of diversity with the weapon classes available, but some of them feel really awkward to use and just aren't practical most of the time.
Considering the target audience for the game, it can actually become quite tricky later on unless some serious level grinding is undertaken. Facing off against High Krawl for the first time represents a serious increase in difficulty, especially for players who have done the bare minimum to level up at that point. The controls don't necessarily help, but it does raise some questions about the pacing of the game.
Despite the shortcomings of the Wii motion controls in combat, they are very effective when excavating fossils. Generally Spectrobes are initially found in blocks, and they must be excavated before they can be woken up. This involves some fairly delicate work, and there is a wide array of tools which can be used to cut the solid matter away from the Spectrobe fossil. Players are rewarded for both speed and accuracy so it's not necessarily a good thing to rush, at the risk of hurting the Spectrobe.
In terms of presentation, the game looks pretty good. The colours are quite vibrant, and it really helps to give the environments their own personality. There are quite significant frame-rate drops in some of the busier areas but it doesn't detract from the gameplay experience that much. The voice acting is also of a very high standard and it's one of the areas where Spectrobes: Origins excels.
With a vast number of Spectrobes available, there is plenty to keep collectors busy. It's also possible to play through the game as Jeena, although it doesn't actually alter anything from a story perspective. Should the default campaign not be enough, extra missions are also unlocked upon completing the game, and these allow players to square off against even stronger Krawl bosses. It's also worth noting that the game can be played with 2 players, with this mode allowing the second player to effectively control the Spectrobe. It's not the most engaging experience though, and the 2nd player can feel quite disconneced from the game outside of combat situations.
While the voice acting in Spectrobes: Origins is of the highest order, the rest of the game ultimately ends up falling short of the experience it could have been. The motion controls are poorly implemented, and the story makes it difficult to really care about what happens to Rallen, Jeena and the Kaio System. However, it's still a respectable RPG and is worth a look for fans of the genre that have a Wii.