Disney Interactive Studios
Anthony: From time to time, the primitive meathead gamer in me longs for a good, solid hack and slash game. Sure, they’re repetitive, but there’s always something to be said for being able to hit a button over and over and it make carnage happen. In my search for the next co-op hack and slash for us to play, I came across Spectrobes: Origins, which had the added benefit of being a monster-based RPG and having drop-in/drop-out co-op gameplay. While I won’t claim for a second that this is an excellent game, I’ll absolutely say we had a lot of fun playing it.
Tearing pages straight from Saturday morning cartoons and “Japanimation”, Spectrobes: Origins follows two young space.. somethings.. who control some kind of monsters called Spectrobes to combat an evil race of some sort. What that actually means is you control a character who fights with various weapons and can issue commands to explore and fight with various diminutive and hulking monsters. The “Spectrobes” are unearthed and excavated by the player, and can be controlled either issuing commands via remote swings or a second player.
Naturally, the plot is rather groan-inducing. That’s not from a lack of presentation though... oddly enough, the voice acting is very solid. But as you might expect, characters have very typical personalities, poke at each other with very childish jokes, and the story never really goes beyond “Beat bad dude.” They give a little exposition, but it doesn’t really mean much. That said, I’ve seen reviews actually dock the game for the plot, and to that I say.. what? I seem to recall a decade of Pokemon RPGs receiving 8.5-10 scores despite never having a plot more than “win badges, but don’t let bumbling bad guys get strong pokemon!” So let’s not be inconsistent and claim that suddenly the plot should matter in scoring the game.
The gameplay is the heart of everything here, and though there are a slew of minor issues and “huh?” moments with it, overall the news is good. Although the main character starts with very generic and some borderline unusable weapons, exploration in the world reveals a host of improved weapons that have special attacks, different combinations of attacks, status effects and elemental properties. If one thing surprised me most about the game beyond the graphics, it was the wide variety of different weapons you can get throughout the game.
In single-player mode, Spectrobes are commanded by swinging the remote to either send it out to attack or call it back to retreat. Timing the attack orders with the main character’s attack can produce different attacks and combos, which is an interesting feature, while special attacks are simply triggered with B. In two-player mode, the second character controls the active Spectrobe, and the retreat/attack options are disabled. Instead, the second player freely moves and attacks using the Spectrobe’s strongest attacks, and becomes the one to initiate special attacks. The only advantage single-player mode offers is that Spectrobes will teleport to and from the enemies, making chipping at threatening bosses a potential strategy. Otherwise, having a partner makes things infinitely easier and saves your wrist a lot of swinging.
The prognosis is similar for exploration. Alone, a player has to swing the remote to send a baby spectrobe to search for shining items on the field. It’s repetitive, and a little annoying in both hearing “Go!” repeatedly and having to wait for the Spectrobe to do its thing. With a second player, a simple remote point-and-click interface immediately unearths items, and is a vastly superior system to doing it solo.
Excavating fossils to spawn new Spectrobes is a pretty robust system that can be both fun and challenging while having huge benefits. All items start as a chunk of rock, but with a combination of tools like a world-destroying laser, an X-ray beam and gentle drill, you can unearth the creatures within. Then a very simplistic music minigame awakens them for use either as an exploring baby or an evolved, battling adult. Minimal damage and time elapsed results in a better ranking and higher leveled Spectrobe.
A moment should be taken to mention the graphics. This aspect went well above and beyond my expectations. Environments look nice and fairly pretty, but especially the scenes in space and the few limited CG scenes look excellent. On top of that, the models for the Spectrobes are unique and impressive looking. Each one starts out as a tiny baby, and ends up a miniature-Godzilla when fully evolved. They look cool, and all manage to have a good amount of personality and variety to their designs. Menus are cleanly designed and smartly work with either the remote pointer or button input as you see fit. I might’ve liked the weapon-change screen to load a little faster, but that’s a minor gripe.
It’s worthy of note that despite being geared at children, the difficulty is not quite at kid-level. Although you can keep up to six, the Spectrobes can never be healed in battle unless they level up... and as the game goes on, the main character’s damage output begins to pale in comparison to a same-leveled Spectrobe. Combine those aspects with enormous bosses that typically have huge area-attacks with little room to attack and dodge safely, and you have a game that just might humble you once or twice. Even normal enemies can pose a challenge if you don’t keep healing up and aren’t switching to the right elemental properties. I’d be impressed if some kid managed to tackle the impressively challenging final boss without a ton of exp-grinding.
Thankfully, they let you retry from the beginning whenever you wipe out to a boss, and typically provide save points prior to them, so it’s not like Disney hates children per se.
But let’s not kid ourselves, there are some definite flaws to point out. While the drop-in/drop-out co-op feature is great and very helpful, it’s baffling to me why they’d make the exploration so obtuse for a single player in comparison. And in battle, despite Spectrobes typically having a few attack patterns, a second player is limited to only using the strongest (and sometimes the slowest) attack available. Why limit anything? Stranger still, the very short instruction booklet doesn’t even cover the second player’s controls, despite the box advertising the drop-in/drop-out gameplay.
Oddly enough, you’re kind of discouraged from sticking with the same Spectrobes throughout the game. Because you can take up to six with you in battle (and realistically, you want at least five.. one for each element), the main character levels up much more quickly than his/her Spectrobes. Exp-granting crystals can be unearthed all over to help augment this, but especially as levels get higher, they don’t come close to offsetting this disparity in levels. The reason this discourages loyalty is that getting an “A” rank on fossil excavation nets you a Spectrobe of your main character’s level, and there’s no stat difference between a levelled-up Spectrobe and a newly born one. As a result, every 10-20 levels, you’ll probably just want to excavate a fresh batch of your current team to keep them appropriately strong, rather than try to grind and gut it out with each of the five-six members in your current crew.
A few more oddities... Special weapons are found throughout the world that are locked behind one of five elemental barriers, and are unlocked by a child Spectrobe of the same element. However, you can only have three child Spectrobes at a time, so it means you’ll have to backtrack to a save point/the ship to switch Spectrobes if you don’t have the right element.. silly. A few bosses guard literally everything, forcing you to use only the main character with an Axe for potential damage. Guarding as the main character is a little awkward, as it requires lifting the remote/nunchuk.. something not easily done when you need to quickly defend. And while it clearly marks the fossils you obtain as “New” or the name of the Spectrobe inside, you can unearth Crystal-containing fossils that are arguably pointless for the time spent, yet always say “New” instead of just telling you it’s a crystal. Why?
But for those oddities and flaws, there are some other pleasant things to report too. The game has a nice map overlay for navigating areas and finding the zones. Save points heal and are at placed at good intervals, with it not forcing you to redo mandatory battles within the same area if you backtrack. Encounters are often voluntary in areas when you’re looking to level up or charge special attacks. Switching Spectrobes in battle is easy, with it even showing you how much of their special attacks are charged as you scroll through.
There’s a lot of variety in the Spectrobes themselves, which made trying new ones and finding ones that Lauren liked to use quite addictive. The game length is a respectable 15-30 hours, with plenty of play value if you try out different Spectrobes or do the silly post-game quest. Slamming enemies with their elemental weakness is nice and satisfying enough... But gathering up your Spectrobes’ special attacks, and unleashing all in succession and watching a Boss’ HP bar shoot down... is pretty dang cool to do.
So this isn’t a world-smashingly amazing game by any means, and having played it, I still don’t know what a Spectrobe is nor do I have any interest in more of the storyline. With that said, I only look back on the game fondly, because it was pretty dang fun piling up a team of hulking beasts and having Lauren and I smash them in sometimes quite epic fashion. I’ve played better games that aren’t as fun, and guess what matters more to me in the end? Spectrobes: Origins is great, mindless entertainment, though much moreso with a partner. Plus, you can make fun of the corny dialogue together.
Lauren: Every now and then, we crave a good co-op hack-and-slash game, even if it's almost completely mindless. Games like Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance usually fit that bill, but surprisingly, a cutesy Disney Pokemon-esque title gave us a similar experience.
Spectrobes: Origins is mainly a monster-training RPG. I'll leave the main gameplay descriptions to Anthony, since I was just his monster co-pilot through the adventure. From the Player 2 standpoint, I can say that even the level grinding was pretty entertaining. You can swap between several different Spectrobes during battle in order to maximize elemental damage. The Spectrobes also have a special move gauge that fills up as they deal damage, which can then be unleashed with a tap of the B button and a silly Wii-mote pose. These attacks can be extremely useful on difficult bosses, since it's possible to charge up every Spectrobe's special move in advance, then unleash them all consecutively.
The graphics are very nice for a Wii title - pretty, though a little on the simple side. Environments are generally colourful with pretty details, especially the mountainous backgrounds. Each Spectrobe's appearance is impressively unique, from swordfish to cacti to a pair of dancing boots. The attacks and animations are also varied and fun to watch. The human character models are fairly simple in comparison, but it's not really a problem.
The story was the weakest point for me. It might not be fair of me to say that, since we knowingly purchased a Disney game that's geared toward kids, but it still bears mentioning. Don't expect an epic storyline - just the usual generic fluff with innocuous dialogue that tries a little too hard to be funny. Though the voice acting is generally quite good and features some very well-known actors, I found it to be a little less enjoyable because of the script.
All plot complaints aside, it was still a very fun (and even occasionally challenging) game to play. I got to explore, collect shiny things, and beat the you-know-what out of enemies with a variety of neat Spectrobes, and that kept us both entertained for many hours. I also got to feel like an anime character as I busted out various Wii-mote poses.