I've played a lot of Pokémon. This ain't no Pokémon.
Whenever a new piece of tech comes out, someone in the world gets an idea that could be really, really cool. With Kinect, it was Dance Central (which is awesome, by the way). With the PSP's camera, it's a take on the classic “gotta catch 'em all” formula that has worked for over a decade now. The only problem with Invizimals, though, is that many of those games are on handheld platforms as well, and many of them are a mile above this game on sheer gameplay. Which doesn't say too much, since there's hardly any actual game here to speak of.
[image1]Invizimals is a monster-collection game that relies on the PSP camera and a card included in the case to “find” the little creatures because otherwise – get this – they're invisible (and yes, one character actually makes that pun). The story is told through live-action video, but from what I understand it's basically Pokémon with little adjustments. Keep the bad guys from the information you've collected in your Pokédex Catalog, and take down everyone in your path along the way… basic.
Even the action is basic. Each Invizimal you capture or acquire comes with four attacks: usually a strong attack, a lighter jab-ish attack, and two specialty attacks that depend on their type – fire, water, ground, and a small handful of others. The battles are in real-time, so it's a series of “punch/counter-punch” fights with the only strategy coming from “should I use a life power-up now, or maybe later and block now?”
Each trainer Invizimal catcher can use a small grouping of power-ups, chosen before the battle starts, that can restore life or stamina (which is used for each attack), or can use an attack outright. Some power-ups actually show up during battles to be picked up, which defeats some of the purpose of thinking out what to use against a particular foe.
But here's why it's “cool”: The Invizimals are fighting on your table! The game comes with a card that serves as a marker for the camera, and the software can generate the characters so they look like they're standing on the flat surface of your choice. Unfortunately, the first problem comes from just that: The software has trouble getting a grasp of movement and angle. Even if the camera stands still, the characters will be jumping around the area, glitching on the screen, and sometimes not even working at all if you're too close or too far away (or even sometimes just because you're trying to use the camera).
[image2]Capturing the beasts involves moving the camera in different ways, and shooting the mark from different angles. While you can see the little ones in a variety of angles (when it works it's a cool little trick), the mini-games needed to catch different characters is a pain. The mark always has to be in the middle of the screen, but to capture a character, the camera has to be moving in a wide variety of ways… many of which will move too far from the mark, telling you to find it and try again. If it were strictly a battling game, there wouldn't be an issue, but moving about the area is a serious pain.
One more thing that Pokémon did so well and other games have yet to catch on to is that their characters – while based on real animals – had some sort of personality and unique look to them. The characters found in this game look like rejected Digimon or something. You know that guy online that taped a horn to a horse and claimed he'd found a unicorn? I wonder if he had a part in making this game…
Since the story is told by real actors in small segments designed to look like a satellite uplink, it goes to remind us all why FMV games of the 1990s never caught fire. The story isn't very well told, and you'll likely zone out of a lot of it due to the bad acting. The approach is commendable, but it's so bland and badly performed it takes a player out of the experience altogether. It's also good to note that when Keni – your on-screen pal – is travelling to other parts of the world, finding an Invizimal takes him back to the lab for a walk-through on how to capture it. It removes any possible continuity and stops the “realistic” experience dead in its tracks.
But there is one glaring flaw with this game that sticks out like a big, virtual middle finger. One repeated task is the "find and capture a specific set of the little bastards", which is all right, but when you think you've found one the game will often try to tell you that you can't catch it. Instead of glowing intensely and telling you you've found something, a message comes up saying “(character name) in less than (random number) minutes”…
[image3]That's right, it says catching that character can't and won't happen until you wait. Nope, you can't even try and catch a different one while you twiddle your thumbs. The longest it told me to sit around is 35 minutes! Seeing that message basically told me “go away for a half-hour and try again later”. Any game that essentially says to turn it off and do something else is a game-killer.
Invizimals really wants to be Pokémon, but takes away everything that was great about it. There isn't any customization or depth, the story is in FMV with bad actors performing a boring script, the capturing mini-games are broken, and the whole damn thing reminds me that I could be playing Pokémon instead. It has a few cool tricks with the camera, but this is simply an interactive tech demo… play it for a minute if you're buying the camera anyway, but it won't be plugged in for long.