Last year's Spectrobes on DS sold around a million copies, but I have heard tell that critics found it lacking in substance a bit. From what I saw at Disney Interactive's E3 booth, though, they've fleshed things out.
For monster-collector nerds like me, it's exciting to know that Spectrobes: Beyond the Portals has doubled the number of Spectrobes you can unearth through touch-screen archaeological digs, and it looks like they've expanded upon the battle system, too.
So how does the new Spectrobes stack up?
It's no Pokemon, but it looks cute and complex enough to possibly be fun. You play as either Jeena or Rallen, interplanetary police officers, and as you traverse the story you unearth fossils that you can take back to your ship to make into creatures. Each one has a child form, an adult form and an evolved form, and, paging through the scrapbook of character designs, I was thoroughly impressed.
That level of detail, though, doesn't translate so well to the full 3D graphics on the DS. The 3D adds depth, but looks a little bit crude. Not that that's necessarily a deal-breaker — after all, no one ever called Pokemon graphically sophisticated, and it thrives on gameplay.
When you get a fossil, you actually use the DS' microphone to wake it up — you need to pitch your voice exactly the right way, and certain variations in how you speak can affect what colour affinity your new Spectrobe will have (red, green and blue in Spectrobes work the same way element types in Pokemon do). This has the potential to make me feel pretty silly — I generally feel dumb making noise at a video game machine — but I bet kids would love it.
You can take two Spectrobes adventuring with you at a time; one follows you like a pet or "helper", and the other one handles the combat, which you engage by approaching ominous-looking funnel clouds. The colour surrounding the cloud tells you what element you should get ready to face.
When they're not with you, Spectrobes "live" in one of many little environment screens you can access from your ship; there you can check on them and feed them, which helps them get ready to evolve. Spectrobes will do better in a screen that suits their elemental affinity.
The game was developed by Japanese developer Jupiter Corp., and as such retains a lot of JRPG aesthetic that should help it appeal to traditional monster-hunter fans.