Note: iOS 9 + Facebook users w/ trouble scrolling: #super sorry# we hope to fix it asap. In the meantime Chrome Mobile is a reach around
hot  /  reviews  /  videos  /  cblogs  /  qposts

Destructoid review: Spectrobes: Beyond the Portals

2:13 PM on 10.07.2008 // Joseph Leray

Last year's Spectrobes was a marked success: Disney shipped over 700,000 copies of the game, and it was the highest-selling third-party game for March 2007. Not bad for Disney's first original IP, developed by the then-unknown Jupiter (their earmark title, The World Ends with You wasn't published until 2008).

Of course, that isn't to say that Disney didn't hype the holy hell out of the title, or that part of its success is due to its striking similarity to another popular franchise about battling creatures against other creatures. It may be glorified cock-fighting, but it sells.

It seemed inevitable, then, that a sequel would come. After Jupiter announced Spectrobes: Beyond the Portals, they also announced that they were building the entire game from scratch instead of polishing the existing framework. That's fine and dandy, but I'm not sure how much the game actually benefits.

Spectrobes: Beyond the Portals (DS)
Developed by Jupiter
Published by Disney Interactive Studios
Released on October 7, 2008

Beyond the Portals continues the sci-fi/RPG adventure of Rallen and Jeena, Nanairo Planetary Patrol officers. After defeating the Krawl in the original game, the Nanairo solar system settles into a comfortable peace, until it is again attacked by the Krawl, this time directed by the mysterious Krux and the High Krawl. The story, naturally, evolves into a sprawling space epic shrouded in mystery, danger, and questionable dialogue. To aid him in his quest, Rallen excavates Spectrobe fossils from the ground, awakens them, and then uses them in battle.

The characters are relatively flat, and the dialogue never really fits the action. "What did you do that for?" isn't a particularly pertinent question to be asking, ever so politely, to a pan-dimensional being bent on annhiliating your civilization. That isn't to say that the story isn't a relatively engaging framework in which the game's mechanics operate, but it's certainly nothing to write home about. Furthermore, the story quickly devolves into a pretty predictable pattern -- land on a new planet, fight three screens worth of Krawl, find a boss, sit through some narrative exposition, rinse, repeat. There are a few nice set pieces and puzzles to solve, but the basic outline stays the same.

Beyond the Portals' art direction is typical anime fare, rendered in full 3D. The different planets are nicely varied and the Spectrobe character models are superb. The cutscenes that pepper the story also feature some of the most beautiful animation I've ever seen on a DS. 

Beyond the Portals is, ostensibly, an action-RPG, but it only really excels at the later portion of its label. The combat is split into two separate parts: in the field, Rallen fights Krawl Dust; after he encounters a swirling Krawl Vortex, his Spectrobes enter into the fray. The story never really explains what Krawl Dust are, and their only purpose seems to be to drop healing items and to knock you into bigger Vortexes. It's not like Rallen even gains any experience by killing them -- that happens through excavation.

In the field, the controls are relatively straightforward -- you can attack with a sword, stun your enemies with a punch, or shoot at them with a blaster. The L shoulder button resets the rather finicky camera and the R shoulder button activates an equally finicky lock-on system. In short, the switch from the original's isometric perspective to the sequel's full 3D was neither graceful nor necessary and only makes an unresponsive and clumsy field combat system even more cumbersome.

It's worth noting that Rallen is controlled by the directional pad, which is nice. It isn't nice, however, that all the menus are controlled by the stylus. This is an RPG. You use the menus -- a lot. Constantly switching between the stylus and the d-pad is, to put it bluntly, a pain in the ass. Do I put the stylus back in it's slot on the DS, only to pull it out again? Do I hold it uncomfortably in my hands while I try to play? In my mouth? Since the menu navigation is unnecessarily cluttered and some of the most unfriendly UI I've ever seen in an RPG (barring Mass Effect), the constant switching back and forth quickly becomes a problem.

After Rallen encounters a Vortex, two of his Spectrobes will engage in a fight with some Krawl. The player controls one Spectrobe, while the mostly competent AI controls the other. Each Spectrobe and Vortex is associated with one of three properties, and preparing for battle boils down to a game of rock-paper-scissors. If the Vortex is, say, red, then you simply have to bring two blue Spectrobes into the battle. Then you just beat on each other (with the A button) until it's over.

Unfortunately, Beyond the Portals has a nasty habit of periodically forcing you into fights. It's a slap in the cock to descend a staircase and be forced into a boss battle that you weren't expecting and aren't prepared for -- it's artifically difficult and annoying. The battles do get more interesting when the Vortexes start carrying different types of Krawl (a red and a blue, for example), forcing you to make some strategic decisions in your preparations; however, even these fights boil down to keeping the elementally disadvantaged Spectrobe alive while your AI does all the heavy lifting.

I should mention that there's no way to heal your Spectrobes in the middle of the battle. When the combat is simplified to the point that having the wrong color Spectrobe results in certain death, Jupiter really should have included some sort of recourse -- being able to heal or switch Spectrobes would make those unanticipated fights interesting and surprising, instead of a pain in the ass.

While boss battles are long enough for you to make full use of each Spectrobe's special attacks (activated once your energy bar is full), more often than not, Spectrobe battles consist of exchanging attacks until someone dies. Considering a suprisingly steep difficulty arc, that someone will most likely be you unless you take some time to either a.) grind your Spectrobes or b.) excavate often enough to find the goodies and powerful Spectrobes you need. Thankfully, Spectrobes' excavation mechanic offers some of the best uses of the DS hardware I've ever encountered.

Excavation is, or should have been, the meat of Beyond the Portals. After clearing out all of the Krawl in a certain area, Rallen can use his Spectrobes to search for buried fossils and items. Using the stylus, you gently scrape away the dirt and rocks encasing the valuable minerals. Throughout the course of the game, you'll acquire different tools to make your life easier -- a blowtorch for melting ice, a vaccuum for clearing away murky water and mud, a blower to clear away sand, etc. A timer in the top right corner creates a sense of urgency -- if you excavate a fossil in under a minute, the Spectrobe inside will be stronger than usual.

Not only is the idea of excavation a neat replacement for kicking open treasure chests or raiding townspeople's closets as a way to gather items, but it also works exceedingly well on the DS. If you push too hard during excavation, your fossils will break. You can blow into the microphone to clear away debris. Simply put, Spectrobes could not have worked on another handheld, and Jupiter seems to really understand how to use the DS-specific features subtly and to great effect.

Since you have to clear an area of Krawl before you can dig up fossils, excavation, in addition to being a really cool mechanic in itself, functions as a nice foil to the unengaging and frustrating combat. I really can't overstate how satisfying it is to search for items and fossils and to chip away at them, ever so slightly, until they're yours. Sure, the excavation mechanic is a really elaborate Easter Egg hunt, but it pushes all the right buttons to create a highly addictive sub-game in its own right. Coupled with the inherently addictive nature of catching and raising assorted monsters, the excavation of fossils almost compensates for both of the lackluster combat systems.

After excavating a fossil, Rallen takes it back to his spaceship-cum-laboratory and goes through the awakening process, which consists of yelling "wake up!" into the microphone. For all of you above the age of eigth years old, blowing softly into the microphone will suffice. Congratulations, you've just acquired a child Spectrobe.

Child Spectrobes can't fight, but they help you search for fossils and minerals. To get them to grow, you stick them in the Incubator and feed them minerals. Once they become adults, they can fight the Krawl, and once they've reached a certain level, they evolve once more and become even more powerful. Unfortunately, the Incubator system is a little more complex than it really needs to be. Again, an unfriendly and inefficient UI rears its head, making sorting through your incubated Spectrobes more difficult than it really has any right to be.

While different Spectrobes have slightly different stats and attack patterns (some Spectrobes can fire projectiles, or attack more than once), there's no real reason to pick one over the other. The battle system isn't deep enough for the differences in strength or speed to really matter. That's really a shame, since each Spectrobe is pretty unique, and there's an extensive customization mechanic that allows you to create an infinite number of specific and varied creatures.

Nevertheless, there is a very distinct sense of nuturing that comes with raising your little Spectrobe from child to death incarnate, and the system goes a long way in compensating for some of the game's more frustrating aspects. Given that there are several different planets to explore, myriad sidequests and optional bosses, and a ton of Spectrobes to collect, the micro-managing collectioneer will find plenty of game in Spectrobes: Beyond the Portals. It's just too bad that not one, but two clumsy combat systems and a cluttered UI detract from an excavation mechanic which provides some of the most fun that can be had with a touch screen and stylus.

Score: 6* (6s may be slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy them a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.)

* Yes, buy it. When it gets a price cut.


Photo Gallery: (5 images)
Click to zoom - browse by swipe, or use arrow keys

Joseph Leray, Former Features Contributor
 Follow Blog + disclosure Tips
Joseph Leray is a long-time features contributor, reviewer, and (self-styled) editor-at-large for Destructoid. He lives in Nashville with a menagerie of pets and a Final Fantasy IX obsession. more   |   staff directory

 Setup email comments

Unsavory comments? Please report harassment, spam, and hate speech to our community fisters, and flag the user (we will ban users dishing bad karma). Can't see comments? Apps like Avast or browser extensions can cause it. You can fix it by adding * to your whitelists.

Status updates from C-bloggers

Flegma avatarFlegma
Played half an hour of Last Story. Yay, British voices! But the absence of colours makes me want to play other games instead, especially in this greyscale season.
HeyItsDad avatarHeyItsDad
There's not even enough reviews out to give Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth a rating on Metacritic...what's up with this?
ooktar avatarooktar
Dat Booty.
ooktar avatarooktar
LinkSlayer64 avatarLinkSlayer64
Just came across someone who tried to debate that people don't hate change - They hate BAD change - Ahahahahahahah!
Agent9 avatarAgent9
I miss Crash and Spyro. They had a fantastic trilogy on the ps1 and I loved every minute of it. Here's one of my favorite Spyro tracks, why not post one of your favorite tracks from wither of these great games.
Larxinostic avatarLarxinostic
Many thanks to a pal from time immemorial for his sneaky late birthday present to me of a digital Amazon gift card, which I promptly redeemed for this alluring beaut. Cheers! Viva la PS Vita~ [img][/img]
Parismio avatarParismio
So I played xcom eu last night to get that xcom hype back. Half hour ago I already lost my brother, my best friends and my dog. Its been a stressful evening.
Nick R P Green avatarNick R P Green
Asides from a last proof read and any final edits, the script for my final 2015 reflection video is now complete. I will see this through to its conclusion. There'll be a blog version as always and once it's done and over with, I'll finally update my bio!
Pixie The Fairy avatarPixie The Fairy
Gore Magala set complete! That only took like 15 or 16 tries!
Gamemaniac3434 avatarGamemaniac3434
KnickKnackMyWack avatarKnickKnackMyWack
I'm glad that the Amiibo stock situation got much better. Because Hasbro sure as hell didn't get the memo with their Marvel Legends figures. These two seem more elusive than a western Lucina Amiibo!
taterchimp avatartaterchimp
Yay, finally beat the Necrodancer!
Jinx 01 avatarJinx 01
The next time you're getting riled up about game news, politics, drama, etc. just step back and be like The Dude.
The Dyslexic Laywer avatarThe Dyslexic Laywer
So #TeamCap or #TeamIronMan ?
Gundy avatarGundy
*Neps Internally*
SeymourDuncan17 avatarSeymourDuncan17
Seeing as how SMT is nowhere near as massively popular as Pokemon, this probably won't become a thing. Still, I'm curious about whoever's favorite demon/persona. Mine's probably Trumpeter! Without 'em, I would've never aced P4G on Very Hard.
CoilWhine avatarCoilWhine
Playing Tearaway Unfolded without glasses on makes it looks even prettier, gives it a glossy papercraft or almost dreamlike feel to it.
Parismio avatarParismio
eating cold pizza RN. i would warm it up but eeeeeeeeeehhhhh.
Kieronpowell14 avatarKieronpowell14
Just some Marvel stuff
more quickposts



Invert site colors

  Dark Theme
  Light Theme

Destructoid means family.
Living the dream, since 2006

Pssst. konami code + enter

modernmethod logo

Back to Top

We follow moms on   Facebook  and   Twitter
  Light Theme      Dark Theme
Pssst. Konami Code + Enter!
You may remix stuff our site under creative commons w/@
- Destructoid means family. Living the dream, since 2006 -