Invizimals: Shadow Zone Review

   14/11/2010 at 18:17       Flying_Pig       0 COMMENTS. - Score 3/5
 - Invizimals: Shadow Zone Review, PSP Review, Sony, Eyetoy, PlayStation Portable

When you’re young, nothing seems impossible.  Imaginary friends, monsters under the bed or small, almost-invisible creatures infesting our everyday world are all plausible.  It’s the final one of these on which Invizimals: Shadow Zone is based.

Using the decent-but-underused PSP camera, Invizimals is another game which makes use of augmented reality; super-imposing these elemental, insect-like creatures into the real world, be it on your dining room table or your bedroom carpet

Shadow Zone is a sequel to Invizimals, originally released for Sony’s PlayStation Portable in 2009, following the same premise of hunting these elusive beasts, capturing them and using them to battle against other challengers.
While this may sound remarkably similar to other well-known creature collection and battling franchises, the twist here is that you're not looking for these tiny monsters in some far away fantasy land, but in your own environment, using the PSP camera to locate these creatures and coax them out of hiding.

Gotta Catch ‘em All

Seeing these well designed elemental creatures appear out of your living room carpet and onto your PSP screen is remarkable, and the game really does impress, at least initially, with its clever augmented reality visuals.

The story behind this sequel is outlined by some reasonably high-quality video, although the acting is pretty weak, even if one of the main characters is the usually brilliant Brian ‘Gordon’s Alive!’ Blessed.  The storyline itself refers to the main bad-guy from the original, who somehow survived being vaporised by his PSP (who would have known a handheld console could be so dangerous!) and occupies the titular Shadow Zone, somewhere between the real and virtual worlds, between life and death.  In reality, it’s all fairly inconsequential and plays out like a low budget children’s drama.

Initially, you’re tasked with capturing several specific Invizimals.  You’re directed to point the PSP camera at variously coloured objects around the house, the scanner identifying whether one of the mini-beasts is lurking there.  When one is identified, you need to use the ‘trap’ – basically a white piece of card with an intricate design – to make the hidden creature appear.

Once found and identified you are required to complete a short mini-game, different for each individual Invizimal, to secure the creature. These mini-games are generally pretty simple, ranging from simply swatting the animal with your hand, to more complex games such as blowing the Invizimal through hoops as it floats across the screen.

On occasion you’ll end up fighting against the technology; one example was when I needed to get the attention of a newly trapped target by whistling.  Unfortunately, the microphone seemed unable to hear me whistle despite me placing my mouth mere millimeters from the PSP.  There is sometimes also a difficulty in locating the next Invizimal you’re tasked to find if you can’t locate the right coloured item, with the game frequently grinding to a halt until you do.

But these are fairly minor issues, with the overall locate, trap and capture process working well; making you feel like an active participant, like you’re a genuine part of the Invizimals universe.

Battle Bugs

Once trapped, an Invizimal is added to your collection making it available to use in battles. With more than 120 Invizimals in the game, you will eventually be spoilt for choice, but in the beginning your options of which of these creatures to use in a battle is pretty limited.

The focus here is to level up your chosen protagonist by winning battles and tournaments against other players.  These battles are real time, rather than turn-based and winning them earns sparks – the game’s currency allowing you to buy special moves or similar power-ups.

Additionally, each battle success wins you experience, leveling up your selected Invizimal and allowing you to boost your stats, resulting in a tougher creature for the next battle.  One very neat aspect of this is that every 5 levels you’re rewarded by your Invizimal changing physically; evolving in to a larger more powerful beast.

In battle, your selected Invizimal has four basic attacks, each with various advantages and disadvantages.  The currency in battles is Health and Stamina.  Health needs no explanation, but Stamina and your careful use of it is the key to success here.  Attacking and defending cost stamina, with the more powerful attacks costing more stamina to use; meaning that being either to aggressive or even defensive can leave you out of stamina and vulnerable.   While this generally works well, you can end up in a position where neither you nor your opponent have any stamina left, leaving you both powerless waiting or your stamina to recharge for another attack, but using it by blocking instead.

Battling has some engaging light strategy, with the elemental nature of the Invizimals (Ice, Rock, Fire etc) resulting a rock-paper-scissors aspect to your character and attack selection – for example any Invizimal’s slice attack is ineffective against an ice element opponent.  However, while this concept sounds brilliant, but is extremely poorly explained giving you no real idea of whether a given element is strong or weak against any other.  In reality, it doesn’t appear to be an essential component to success in this game, instead feeling more like an annoyance than a key feature.

Another point to mention is the opportunity to acquire more sparks in battle.  These are knocked out of Invizimals with each successful attack and can be collected by pointing the PSP camera at them.  However, with the real time nature of the battles, grabbing these sparks can be a distraction often leaving your Invizimal on the edge of the screen and vulnerable to attack while you try to grab them.

A great feature that is worthy of mention is the multiplayer aspect.  Invizimals: Shadow Zone is one of the too few PSP games which include the ability to battle against friends either via Ad-Hoc or Infrastructure modes.  While the battles will still suffer from the weaknesses of the single-player game, the option to pitch your highly trained battle beast against a friend is a compelling concept and is certainly something which will propel your enjoyment of this title well beyond the score at the bottom of this page.

Look Harder

Invizimals: Shadow Zone is a solid game albeit with some fairly fundamental flaws.  In many respects, the game frequently suffers for its ambition and feels hampered by the desire to make use of augmented reality and the PSP camera, leaving you battling against the technology rather than the game.  Furthermore, given that the PSP is a portable device is seems a nonsense that you’re unable to play any aspect of the game without the PSP camera and Trap Card.

While the battle aspect is the strongest component of Invizimals, at best it is nothing more than competent and really feels all too similar to other such creature battling games, with no stand-out differentiation.

For a game so clearly aimed at young, genre-savvy audience there are a number of early challenges which these players will find very tough and some will simply give up.  This would be a shame as if you can look past the technological and design issues you’ll find there is a reasonably solid creature battle game lurking underneath.

Stars
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