Part man. Part machine. All beat-em up. This is Capcom's Spyborgs for the Nintendo Wii.
First introduced at Capcom's 2008 Captivate event, a ho-hum reception cause Bionic Games to go back to the drawing board, changing what was a cartoony action-adventure puzzler into a darker, somewhat grittier cooperative beat-em up. What could have been a subtle, nuanced title became an in-your-face, no-holds-barred biomechanical brawl to the death featuring three cyborg spies taking on an evil army led by a rogue member of their organisation. Was this rapid change in direction a change for the better?
Spyborg Style: Spyborgs feels like an attempt to establish a brand, and in order to do so you need to have a distinctive style that sets you apart from similar titles. While not wholly successful, Bionic Games certainly nailed it with the visual design of the characters and enemies in the game. The robotic enemies you face have a unique look about them that I really liked, and the player characters are unique enough that I really wanted to know more about them and their motivations. Unfortunately the game doesn't delve into those areas, but I appreciate the effort the developers put into making things at least look interesting.
Loved Playing Doubles: Spyborgs shines brightest when played with another living person. The repetitive gameplay and lack of depth that make the game a poor single-player experience make it perfect for an afternoon of mindless cooperative gaming with a friend. There isn't much thinking involved, there are hidden items to squabble over, and when the game gets too tedious you can always poke fun at it mercilessly to help keep things fresh. Definitely a title that plays better with a partner.
Difficulty Curve: In its quest to appeal to gamers of all different skill levels, Bionic Games has include a wide range of difficulty levels in Spyborgs. At its easiest, you'll be able to survive for a good long time merely mashing the attack buttons. Ramp up the difficulty and suddenly you'll find yourself hugging the guard button for dear life. It's a nice spread, though even at the lowest setting you need to keep an eye on your health bar when fighting larger enemies.
Hated Invisible Gimmicks: Talk about tacked on. Spyvision is a mechanic that requires you to point the Wii remote at the screen, press a button, and then swing the remote in order to reveal hidden objects that the enemy has cloaked in order to impede your progress. There is no compelling reason for this feature to be in the game, other than to perhaps half-heartedly justify the word 'Spy' in the title. When the 'spies' spend 95% of the time mindlessly bashing away on a horde of robots, stopping to play hide and seek seems like a silly way for them to catch a breather. As you progress through the game, enemies begin to cloak, but the action of de-cloaking them just seems silly. Obviously you can see where they are. Why not just hit them to make them appear and cut out the extra step?
Walking The Beat: Endless hordes of enemies, walls that appear and disappear when you clear the area — you all know the drill here. While new enemies appear on a regular basis, they're generally just slight variations on the old enemies. Repetitive stages don't help either, and it soon becomes readily apparent in any given level when and where the bad guys are going to pop up. Upgrading your abilities doesn't have enough of an effect on gameplay to really keep things fresh.
Mindless Cyborgs: Without a human partner at your side, Spyborgs' flaws become more obvious. The repetition eats away at your patience faster, and the fact that your AI teammate for the most part does their own thing doesn't help matters much. At several points during my play through I noticed my partner standing off to the side, waiting patiently for something while I got pummeled senseless, or wandering off to chase down some smaller enemy while the larger ones showed me their various implements of destruction. Luckily the enemy AI seems to suffer similar problems, sometimes failing to acknowledge your existence until you are right on top of them, and other times seeing you from a mile away. A little more consistency would have been appreciated.
Ultimately Dull: Despite the visual flair that went into creating the characters and their enemies, Spyborgs suffers from a distinct lack of personality. These unique characters do battle across repetitive landscapes, with brief tidbits of story teasing a depth that never really gets explored.
Simply put, Spyborgs feels like a video game based on a licensed cartoon property, only there is no licensed cartoon. Cartoon tie-ins tend to present simple gameplay and only the barest of stories, relying on the animated properties they are based on to fill in the blanks. Unfortunately, Spyborgs' blanks are just that — blanks. There is no fill-in.
Spyborgs was developed by Bionic Games and published by Capcom for the Wii on September 24 in Australia. Retails for $79.95. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Completed the game on Hard, and played a couple of hours of co-op on casual.
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