Invizimals: The Lost Tribes: review

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Imagine: you’ve bought a new CD, one with a generous number of tracks. The first few songs show innovation yet are somehow comfortingly familiar; you like this disc. Before long however things get a little too experimental, and it doesn’t work; it’s just unwelcome noise. Then another good song, another failure; you see a pattern. The biggest problem is that there’s no way to skip straight to the good songs on this CD. Turn this album into a game via the magic of imagination, and you have Invizimals: The Lost Tribes.

Let’s get the story out of the way. As terrible as it is, it’s the least of the game’s worries. I:TL makes a real effort to tell a deep and engaging story, but you’ll wish it didn’t. It’s all live action, with a sprinkle of cheap special effects thrown in. The best thing about it is the impossible-not-to-love Brian Blessed but, for the most part, he’s thrown to the sidelines to make way for actors and actresses you don’t know (and after this, wish you’d never begun to know). The sets, direction, and desperate acting are reminiscent of the nineties fad for FMV games (this is not a good thing). Best of all, these sequences are unskippable. Oh joy!

The basic idea is that you find and capture the eponymous Invizimals (oh, like ‘invisible animals’ – clever!) and then pit them against other Invizimals in fights, like some kind of evil dog trainer. Yes, it does sound rather like… you know, but it differs in various ways. First of all, you have to ‘find’ each one. This is set up as you progress through the story, but doesn’t really work as well as it’s supposed to; while the on-screen characters are babbling about you finding Invizimals in, say, Greece or Thailand, you’ll always be sweeping the PSP camera’s view over your sofa, floor etc. in your search.

Is it just us, or does this one look like Michael Caine? No? Never mind.

In a quite frankly stupid decision (not the last), each Invizimal is ‘hiding’ beneath a particular colour, meaning you’ll usually be scrambling around for objects rather than floors or tables. How many dark purple surfaces do you have in your living room? Worst of all, without 100% perfect light the camera struggles to recognise colours correctly, rendering the whole idea utterly pointless. Once you’ve managed to get the ‘scanner’ to accept a place the Invizimal is hiding, you can get on with the capture.

In theory you’re supposed to place the ‘trap’ (the specially marked piece of card bundled with the game) on the spot the scanner was happy with, but any surface will do. After an overly simple minigame lasting a few seconds, you’ll trigger a video of one of the characters talking to camera, explaining how to capture the Invizimal. There are 150 Invizimals in total, and each has its own minigame you need to complete in order to capture it. It seems odd that there’s no menu allowing you to replay any you’ve already done, but then there are few – if any – good enough for you to want to replay them. Mostly they’re inoffensively forgettable affairs, but some are downright infuriating.

The developers have now and again used the presence of the camera to mimic a gyroscope, which is a great idea – until you try it out, when you immediately realise that it is in fact a really, really stupid idea. You need to tilt the PSP at fairly steep angles to have the game recognise what you’re doing, meaning that it’s very easy to lose sight of the trap – which you will do again, and again, and again. Once you’ve repositioned and centred the system to reactivate the AR imagery, more often than not you’ll be in completely the wrong position (and frame of mind) to tilt quickly enough, and you’ll be another step closer to failure – which means scanning again.

Combat, in ‘club fights’ (essentially optional fights to level grind) and tournaments, is actually great fun. A mix of turn based and real-time combat, stamina bars and delays between activating moves prevent you from spamming attacks while guarding is entirely manual; timing your guard perfectly will reward you with a perfect or near-perfect defence. Each Invizimal has two standard attacks (minor stamina use, average damage), one quick attack (major stamina use, difficult to defend against), and one strong attack (major stamina use, major damage but slow to perform, so easier to defend against). This forces a tactical mindset during matches, especially as there is a kind of ‘rock paper scissors’ effect between certain classifications of Invizimal and certain types of attack.

Once captured, you can name an Invizimal whatever you like. The biggest challenge of the game is resisiting the urge to be rude here.

It’s not usually clear which classification each Invizimal falls into, though this does at least become (fairly) obvious during a fight. Of more concern is levelling your creatures. You’ll need to do at least some grinding, as it’s not long until you come up against your first fight unwinnable with level 1 Invizimals. Though fights are fun enough for grinding to avoid becoming frustrating, it seems almost pointless when you realise there’s usually a ‘boss’ waiting to be captured around the corner, already several levels above most of your horde.

These fights are separated regularly not only by unwelcome movies and occasionally frustrating minigames, but also by virtual jigsaws (each with a time limit) and initially confusing lightbeam redirection puzzles. Some of these are optional; why on Earth others were made compulsory in order to progress is beyond us, especially as they jar horridly with what should be the focus.

You can fight matches locally, a good reason to buy the game if you know other Invizimal fans. Online matches are an option too; but lobbies are few and far between, and packed full of high-level creatures. Not much of an option unless you’ve finished the main quest and/or are up for some serious grinding. In fact, the online aspect sums this game up nicely – there’s fun to be had here, but you’ll have to work for it.

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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