Cynics may say it was made to do nothing more than shift the latest iteration of PSP peripheral Go!Cam, and it is no coincidence that Sony’s connectable camera comes bundled with Shadow Zone as well, but don’t let that fool you into thinking this is a throwaway franchise or demo material. The original title received mixed reviews but established a platform of solid gameplay and innovation aimed at a younger audience.
Essentially a Pokemon style monster hunting game, it differentiated itself from the many other doppelgangers by utilising the camera functionality in a manner that made gamers actually move and search their own environments. Now, with the sequel upon us, the
question remains whether the update, boasting 100 new creatures to capture, can take the franchise any further.
The Go!Cam, in its PSP-450x variation is still a pretty impressive bit of kit, especially when you consider the price tag. It picks up the capture card perfectly and makes playing possible even under low light. With this being a title primarily aimed at the younger end of the market it is not surprising that the bright colours and jangly music are back, but they fit the content well and hold back from stepping into either eye-scorching or musical torture territories.
If anything this is actually a surprisingly adult integration of the camera functionality as there is plenty of FMV to take you through the plot and it is all played out with techy HUD displays laid over the footage.
Everything menu-wise has still been designed to place simplicity as a clear priority. The bright colours, large letters and bold font make selections almost impossible to mess up, even on a small screen. A quick tap of the L or R buttons takes you to the necessary sub-menu from where you have a minimal amount of options to choose from, helping to make the selection process staggered and intuitive. Even the stats screens are uncluttered – there isn’t much of a flourish to these elements of the game, but at least they’ll allow the younger crowd to get into the flow with little fuss.
Character animations are fairly fluidic, and considering this game doesn’t incorporate a turn based battle system, the polygonal monsters are capable of some stylish attacks with neat use of effects.
Once the pleasantries are out of the way (cinematic and impressive though they are) you can get down to the business at hand. Like any creature capture game there are four distinct elements to the gameplay – find a creature, capture it, grow it and finally battle with it. The way the Invizimals games have sought to differentiate themselves from the raft of similar titles that were washed upon us by the tidal wave of popularity that was Pokemon, is by utilising the PSP Go!Cam as a means through which you must find the hidden monsters. Far from exploring a virtual map in the third person perspective, everything is viewed, understandably, from the first person view of the camera, and the environment you must search are your own surroundings. You are tasked with scouring your whereabouts for different colours, these block shades will cause an Invizimal (named because they are invisible animals) to appear. Once they are visible you must place your “trap”, a fiduciary marker, onto the surface and the process of actually capturing the little blighter will commence. This inventive approach can be equally enjoyable and vexing as you strive to find the right colours, but for a young mind eager to suspend disbelief it is likely to be far more involving.
Once summoned and held temporarily in the trap, you are given instructions as to how each beast may be captured. This varies wildly, and in the opening couple of hours you will find yourself blowing into the mic to inflate a miffed snake, whilst avoiding it’s projectiles by dancing around the room, or quickly twisting and whistling to distract a guard dog from passers by. As with many augmented reality games, the more cynical and lazy will find the strategy that requires the minimum amount of effort, but if you throw yourself headlong into the reality of the game it makes for some thrilling encounters. Problems do arise though, particularly with the more vigorous or sudden movements when obviously, with this being a handheld camera, the object you’re fixating upon can be temporarily lost.
With your Invizimal added to your burgeoning stable the next stage is development. There are no obvious ways to grind and power up your beasts, as watts (the in game equivalent of experience points) are not added for going back and re-facing previously defeated foes. Perhaps a criticism, but it makes the process of choosing the correct Invizimal for battle and making sure you have a fairly equal stable at your disposal more of a primary concern than it might be in other similar titles. The ability to enter competitions that are secondary to the story and the multiplayer options of battling and trading also make this less of a concern.
Once you have your Invizimal captured and trained you can continue with the pleasantly adult storyline. It isn’t War and Peace, but there aren’t many collecting games that feature instructions such as “catch the Invizimals that inspired Gaudi to build this park”. As you are sent to various globe trotting locations you must investigate, and you do this by battling other collectors. The fight mechanics are well honed but lack a certain amount of polish. The fact that they are not simply turn-based makes for an interesting trade off between attack and defence, but it becomes all too easy to find one particular Invizimal to power up and rely on the more generic attacks. The options of strong, quick and two basic attacks, as well as various special attacks that require input such as shaking the PSP add much needed depth and come into play the more you progress, but the opening salvos can be quite uneventful and the difficulty curve doesn’t prepare you suitably for when a genuinely strong opponent suddenly enters the fray. Learning the strengths and weaknesses of the elements associated with your menagerie, such as you can’t slice ice etc, will aid you, but rarely get you over the finishing line by itself.
What appears incredibly simplistic is in fact far more layered than expected and over reliance in the early stages will prove the undoing of those eager simply to progress without learning the appropriate attacks. The drawback being that the difficulty curve isn’t tailored sufficiently to make the early fights exciting enough to force players into learning. Viewed through the eyes of an adult this is a distinct flaw, but for the Pokemeon crowd eager to dive headlong into the Invizimals world this will be less of an issue.
The battles don’t have the depth that other similar titles offer, but for a younger audience it has enough variations, attacks to learn and specialities to acquire to make it complex enough. It isn’t the most polished experience in terms of progression but the many side aspects that will draw the gamer away from the central narrative are ample enough to paper over these cracks. Perfect fun for youngsters eager to jump on the augmented reality bandwagon.
Gotta catch 'em all
- Good use of the Go!Cam
- More Invizimals to catch
- Stylish presentation
- Gets the kids moving a bit
I've just caught a cold
- Not as honed as a certain other creature collection titleother
- Whistling will upset your dogs
- You can't capture Brian Blessed
Invizimals: Shadow Zone PSP Review
Stylish and innovative, Invizimals: Shadow Zone is a perfect accompaniment to the PSP Go!Cam for those keen on a slightly different type of creature collection game. The integration of the camera works as well as one could reasonably expect and, other than a few minor difficulties that are mainly down to the developers’ decisions to implement vigorous movement, it draws in the user in exactly the right manner.
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