When Invizimals showed up in the list of video games Blogcritics writers could offer to review, I was intrigued. A creature capturing game that requires a brand new accessory, this is probably the most unusual game I’ll ever get to review!
Invizimals was obviously designed to capitalize on two gaming industry trends, the immense popularity of Pokemon for the past twelve years or so, and the trend toward interactive accessories for video game consoles.
Following the success of the Nintendo Wii and its’ Wiimote, the PS3 recently followed up with the Playstation Move, and Microsoft will release Kinect for the Xbox 360 next week. So, imagine Pokemon, but take away its’ RPG format, and replace it with augmented reality.
Augmented reality is the concept of taking your real life environment, and adding digital elements, such as graphics or sounds. Your reality has become digital, part real and part imaginary.
The PSP’s brand new camera attachment debuts with Invizimals, and it’s included in the box. The camera plugs into the USB port at the top of your console. The game also includes a ‘trap card’ that must be used with the camera and the game. I suppose the markings on the card facilitate the camera to focus on a particular spot.
There are two basic tasks in the game, capturing Invizimals, and using your captured Invizimals to battle the Invizimals of competitors.
The augmented reality in the game is that the camera takes video footage of your immediate environment, and super-imposes Invizimals in it. You see, Invizimals are all around you, and all you need is your PSP and PSP camera to see them! Otherwise, they’re invisible, hence they’re called Invizimals.
For the first few times, capturing Invizimals is very exciting. The first Invizimal I caught crawled onto the ‘trap card’, and I had to swat it with my hand. Not with the buttons of my PSP, but I had to swat the real trap card in my real environment. It’s quite a novelty.
Other types of Invizimals have to be rubbed with your finger, or fed steaks you throw at them at a certain target, also super-imposed in your environment. There are different ways to capture all 100+ Invizimals, the game will give you video instructions the first time you encounter a certain type of Invizimal.
When you’ve captured some Invizimals, you can then fight other Invizimals, owned by AI characters, or by other human players over the PSP’s Ad Hoc or Infrastructure modes.
In the game’s story mode, you’ll meet some experts on Invizimals, like Kenichi Nakamura and Professor Dawson. As you further progress in story mode, there’ll be different locations on the globe to travel to. Kenichi is in Tokyo, Japan, and Professor Dawson is somewhere between New York City and my city of Toronto, guessing by where the dot is. The actors playing the characters in all the videos in the game make the characters very interesting.
As your Invizimals obtain more experience, they’ll accumulate ‘watts’ that can level up your Invizimals and their stats, such as stamina, armor, or attack strength.
When your Invizimal causes damage to the competitor’s Invizimal, ‘sparks’ can be collected by aiming the camera at them. ‘Sparks’ can be spent on useful items in the game.
When battling other Invizimals, you’ll use your PSP buttons. Your Invizimals have different health and stamina stats, and attacking or defending consumes stamina, which regenerates very slowly. Different elements can be used for attack as well, such as Ice or Rock. Certain elements are stronger against certain other elements, much like the elements in Pokemon.
In additional to conventional attacks, special attacks can also be performed in the game, such as causing an earthquake. An earthquake is executed by shaking your PSP just the right way. It was a lot of fun to shake my PSP, and see augmented reality earthquake cracks appear to hurt my opponent’s Invizimal.
Novarama deserves kudos for thinking out of the box a little bit, and trying to implement some new technology. The game works very well sometimes, but is quite frustrating some other times.
The game will often complain that your PSP camera is either too close or too far away from the ‘trap card’. The difference between too close and too far away seems to be a matter of milimeters. It may take a little playing around to make the game happy.
When you’re looking for Invizimals in your real environment, sometimes the game will tell you that you need to put your ‘trap card’ on a surface that’s orange, purple, or some other color. Sometimes the camera wants a very particular hue, so if your home doesn’t have good lighting, you may be pulling your hair out a little. At one point, I tried to use clothing to find an Invizimal on. My wardrobe is 80% solid black, and 20% solid fushia, so I had to use my boyfriend’s more colorful clothes.
There are often physical actions you must execute to capture Invizimals, and you must hold your PSP at the same time. The camera is very fussy, though, and doesn’t always enjoy being accidentally shaken.
Invizimals seems to be a title that’s being marketed to kids, so kids playing the game should have excellent fine motor control. My fine motor control often isn’t good enough, and I’m 26 years old!
There are definitely technical quirks to be smoothed out in this game, but Novarama and other game developers need practice and experience producing games like Invizimals in order to improve the technology.
The next PSP game to be released that’ll use the new camera accessory is Invizimals: Shadow Zone, which will be released in another few months. It seems that Novarama and Sony are trying to follow the Pokemon formula of having a number of different ‘versions’ of the game released around the same time.
If you or your kid has enough patience to deal with some of the technical frustrations in this game, then it’s a worthy purchase. The game actually isn’t very portable- how can you catch Invizimals while you’re on the train, the bus, or in a car? But if you have a well lit home with many brightly colored surfaces, the game should be easier to play.
Invizimals is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for Crude Humor, Fantasy Violence.