Someone at Disney noticed the numbers Nintendo is doing with Pokemon. Or maybe it was Viacom’s success with kids Web site NeoPets. Then he called a meeting. “Where’s our Pokemon?” he demanded. “Where’s our Neopets?” And thus, it appears, “Spectrobes” was born as Disney’s first ever original videogame IP. The result is a mish-mash of child-oriented gameplay, anime artwork, and Nintendo DS gimmickry that goes from charm to chore in about three hours.
In “Spectrobes,” players control a typical Japanese anime teenager who explores planets looking for fossils. Using the DS stylus, you carefully dig up the fossils, whisking away debris by blowing into the microphone. Sounds fun, but easy does it. The more careful you are, the better the spectrobe that will be born when you literally call him awake in the lab (again using the microphone). This exercise in drawing shapes and cooing at the DS is certainly unique, and it will probably appeal to kids.
Your newly hatched baby spectrobe can help you look for more fossils, or you can feed it so it’ll grow into a fighting spectrobe. The adult versions will help you fend off the wandering monsters that force you into fussy bouts of real-time combat. Here’s where the game gets more demanding and younger kids will probably be frustrated. Battles are all about precise timing, jockeying for position by dragging your spectrobes around, and carefully avoiding enemy attacks. It’s sluggish, meticulous and not very forgiving.
But there’s no shortage of peacetime activities in “Spectrobes.” Grow your best fighters into fully evolved creatures, with custom body parts, colors, and names. Spend virtual money improving your excavation equipment, weapons and armor. Go online to download new stuff or play battles with local friends who also have the game. There’s even a set of included cards with carefully placed holes through which you poke the stylus to unlock bonus spectrobes. A lot of these things are strictly cosmetic (the custom body parts) or pointless (you’ll probably never use most of your spectrobes), but this is a game that knows how to appeal to obsessive-compulsive collectors.
The graphics eke as much personality as they can from the rough 3-D models, but they’re at a disadvantage in comparison with Pokemon’s stylized 2-D drawings or Viva Pinata’s lush cuddliness on the Xbox 360. With only marginally lovable critters, frustrating combat and lots of overbearing detail, “Spectrobes” could have a tough time finding an audience. There may be a lot to do, but it ultimately turns into the kind of tedium that only an obsessed kid could love.