When Pokemon first made its way to our shores 12 years ago, kids everywhere imagined what it would be like if our world was overrun with these monsters. Invizimals for the PSP tries to capture that imagination by using augmented reality, and projecting monsters into our world using the PSP camera. Can the innovative use of the camera liven up the monster training genre?
The premise of Invizimals is that tiny creatures (invisible animals) live among us, and only the top-secret PSP camera is able to see them. You are recruited to hunt them down, train them, and take down rivals in battle, all the while learning about their existence. Sound familiar? It's more or less the same setup that any Poke-fan is accustomed to, except this time, 'you' are the main character.
Main characters speak directly to you, as if the PSP is a communications device. The live-action cutscenes, starring an overly happy scientist and a wise, full bearded professor, are over-acted and extremely cheesy. Still, it's a fun touch of immersion if you're willing to let yourself believe the fantasy.
The main draw of Invizimals is seeing the critters scurry and battle in the world around you, be it outside, in your bedroom, or on your desk at school. There are three different gameplay components to Invizimals; searching, capturing and battling. The former is a miss, while the latter two are quite well done.
When searching for different Invizimals, you're tasked to wander your surroundings, focusing on specific colors. When you find the right color, the PSP starts clicking, alerting you to lay down your trap card - a patterned square that comes with the game. You then can watch as a new Invizimal pops up. There are over 40 creatures, each with three stages of evolution, so you will have quite a few monsters to round up.
The tiny creatures won't join you unless certain conditions are satisfied, and each Invizimal is associated with a mini-game. For instance: one mini-game requires you to throw pieces of meat around the creature until it's full, and another has you tickling and Invizimal until it succumbs to your mighty finger. Though some mini-games are silly and some, usually involving the microphone, were downright annoying, I welcomed the innovative ways to capture the different monsters.
You have to make your Invizimals stronger so that they can evolve into powerful creatures. Battling is turn-based, with each button associated with a different attack or block that drains stamina. A more powerful attack will consume more stamina, and once you're out of stamina, you're vulnerable until it charges back up. It's a semi-strategic battle system that requires some thought, instead of an all out offensive strategy.
Color me skeptical, but I have never been the biggest fan of augmented reality. One tiny mistake can tear the illusion apart, but Invizimals perseveres even in less than ideal conditions - dim lighting, off-color backgrounds, shaky camera, etc. The most impressive feature is the ability to move your PSP camera around the trap-card and view the battle from different angles.
Invizimals isn't the most portable-friendly game, but it is easily the most impressive augmented reality game, let alone on the PSP. It's certainly no Pokemon-killer when it comes to story, but the awe-factor of seeing Invizimals come to life on your desk is addictive. The gotta-catch-'em-all fever has now officially spread to the PSP.