Billed as Disney's first original video game-only intellectual property, Spectrobes has been brewing for several months now as a series of short, full-CG animated webisodes, which can be found on Disney's Web site or your local video-sharing site. Each of the six episodes is about two minutes long--you can go check them out now, we'll wait. Perhaps indicative of Mickey's plunge from Steamboat Willie to the glamorized little rodent he is today, and as you'll plainly observe from the webisodes, Spectrobes lacks the charm you'd expect from a game built around collecting and fighting with cute and/or imposing creatures. Further, the painfully tedious task of searching out these creatures, coupled with the different, though ultimately cumbersome, battle system and the unimaginative story, means Spectrobes is mostly just a boring game.
From a company that once prided itself on creative, imaginative characters, Spectrobes packs a remarkably sterile and dispassionate story. You play as Gallen, a young, and therefore brash, space cadet who's apparently a fan of monkey business. Your partner is Jeena, a smart and by-the-book straight shooter who regularly encourages Gallen to refrain from said monkey business. There's also a gruff old commander, who occasionally chastises Gallen for engaging in the monkey business, and a sagacious yet mysterious advisor known as Aldous, who, as it turns out, doesn't seem to have an opinion on Gallen's monkey business. On a routine mission, Gallen and Jenna discover an unconscious Aldous in an escape capsule, and after reviving him, they find out that he is the sole survivor of a long-dead solar system that was destroyed by the planet-devouring Krawl. The Krawl are now knocking down your system's front door, and as fate would have it, Gallen alone is capable of commanding the only creatures able to harm the Krawl, these creatures of course being the spectrobes. Unfortunately, the entire spectrobe race is in a state of fossilized hibernation, buried deep underground in the various planets of your solar system. Thus, it is your mission to find, awaken, and train the spectrobes, and then use them to eradicate the dervish Krawl hordes.
It's a stereotypical setup for sure, and it's only made worse by the context in which it's told. The dialogue between characters comes off as very formulaic, and the occasional attempts at personality seem to be waiting for a laugh track to cue up. Also, the character stills that accompany the dialogue aren't emotive or expressive in any way. Despite being vibrantly colorful, the spectrobes lack distinction, being neither PokÃ©mon cute nor Transformers cool. Likewise, the environments you'll traverse all feel barren and devoid of life, mostly because the only things you'll encounter are the twirling Krawl vortexes and the occasional large stone. Cities have a few random inhabitants, who stand around spouting out typical RPG rubbish ("Boy, when I grow up, I want to be a hero just like you!"), and since you only ever need a few services from any given city, they feel empty and entirely too large. The Nintendo DS displays your surroundings on both of its screens, so you do at least have a wide field of view that really captures the nothingness all about you.
As for the gameplay, well, have you ever gone to the beach and stared at that one guy wearing hiking boots, tube socks pulled up midcalf, 1980s-style jean shorts, and huge, conical headphones, who's carrying a DIY-looking metal detector and tugging a small, red wagon to haul his horde of loot? Well, if you feel some special kinship with that dude, or you are that dude, then the vast majority of Spectrobes' gameplay may appeal to you. Key to the story is that the spectrobe population in its entirety lies dormant and buried, and the only way to defeat the Krawl infestation is to find and awaken these critters and then feed them precious stones, which you also need to find. Only baby spectrobes are able to detect fossilized spectrobes and minerals, and you'll use the one that initially follows you around by pressing on it with your stylus. The rub here is that the circumference on your search is quite small, so as long as you're interested in collecting these items, you have to slowly and methodically work your way across the sparse, empty environments. There's a sense of pleasure that accompanies all treasure-finding expeditions, but the problem here is that it's hard to get excited after unearthing the same fossil or mineral for the umpteenth time.
Once you've found a fossilized spectrobe and some minerals, you take the spectrobe back to the ship to awaken and evolve it. If you're even remotely interested in appearing like a normal, well-adjusted human being, you can finagle blowing into the microphone to awaken the critters (yes, this is the option that makes you appear normal). However, blowing won't always cut it, so you'll occasionally have to resort to the developer's intended method of hitting the right sound volume with your voice. This method can be all kinds of embarrassing, and it really hampers Spectrobes' on-the-go portability. Once you've awoken your spectrobe, you can either use it to find other spectrobes or stick it in your incubator with some minerals so it will evolve. Spectrobes are capable of progressing into an adult and evolved form, which is accompanied by an appearance change as well as increased attack, defense, and hit-point levels. The incubator also features one of the most annoying and persistent sound effects in existence, sounding a bit like when you force air from out of your cheek--over and over again. In fact, the game features several ridiculously annoying sound effects that just don't stop, and they're a serious detriment to the otherwise quite nice soundtrack.