Invizimals wows for a while with its augmented-reality visuals, but the limits of the technology and some baffling design decisions soon shatter the illusion.
- Augmented-reality visuals are impressive when they work properly
- Some fun capturing minigames
- Battling has some engaging light strategy
- Entertaining live-action scenes.
- Many capturing minigames don't always work properly
- Color and movement demands are frustrating and easy to cheat
- Graphics often glitch out.
Creatures made of pure energy are all around us, invisible to the naked eye. Luckily for us, a brilliant engineer at PSP R&D has figured out how to detect these creatures using Sony's handheld and a PSP camera. Seeing these elemental creatures on your PSP screen is remarkable in Invizimals, a game that makes it appear as if these tiny animals are doing battle on the desk, table, or floor right in front of you. But the novelty wears off quickly, and technical issues and baffling design choices soon sap much of the magic from this groundbreaking but ultimately frustrating experience.
Invizimals opens with a live-action introduction in which Keni, the PSP engineer who discovered the invisible creatures, communicates with you from his lab in Tokyo and introduces you to the basics of scanning for and capturing them. The process is done using the PSP camera and a patterned capture card you must place in the camera's view whenever you're trapping, battling with, or otherwise interacting with invizimals. Keni conspiratorially impresses upon you the importance of keeping the powerful invizimals a secret, making you feel like part of an elite global club with only a few members. As you progress through the story, live-action sequences are frequently used. These scenes are well produced and fun to watch thanks to energetic performances by the actors, including the booming-voiced British thespian Brian Blessed, perfectly cast here as a mad professor who regularly introduces you to new special attacks and other concepts. The plot has you acquiring invizimals and battling with them in nearly every corner of the globe and winds up involving wealthy industrialists, kidnappings, and arms dealers, which is pretty serious stuff for a game about capturing and battling with invisible creatures. But there's a slight hint of camp to the whole thing that keeps it from feeling like it's taking itself too seriously.
You soon need to get down to the business of capturing invizimals yourself, and it's here that some problems start to come into focus. To capture an invizimal, you need to point the PSP camera at a surface of a certain color. Scanning your immediate surroundings may be enough to trigger the appearance of an invizimal, but if the needed color isn't nearby, you have to go hunting for it. And sometimes, even if the camera is focused on the specified color, it may not work. For instance, while you scan for invizimals, a voice may instruct you to try a purple surface. But simply finding something purple to scan may not suffice if the lighting is less than ideal and the object doesn't appear purple to the camera, forcing you to try to adjust the lighting or move the object around until the camera registers the object as purple and the invizimal finally appears. Moments like this break the illusion the game tries to create that invizimals inhabit the world around us, just waiting to be discovered.
At a certain point, this already frustrating process becomes an even bigger aspect of gameplay, when invizimals, after first being spotted, escape into various ecosystems, which is just a fancy way of saying that you need to scan yet another color to capture them after they make their first appearance. If they escape into the fire, scan something red. If they escape into the ocean, scan something blue. And so on. The idea, as Keni explains in a video, is to get up off your feet and hunt them from room to room, but it's far easier to just gather items of various colors around you so you have them ready to scan when needed. This feels a bit like cheating, but what you're asked to do is so unnecessary and so easy to get around that it's almost as if the game encourages you to do it just to save time and give yourself a more pleasant experience.
The capture process isn't over once you scan for and locate an invizimal, either. Each invizimal has a minigame you must complete before it's successfully trapped and added to your collection. Many of these are engaging little games that make you feel like an active participant in the capture process. For instance, capturing a jetcrab requires you to dodge fireballs it shoots at you by moving the PSP left and right, while shooting back at it with the X button. And capturing a vipera is a bit like playing a game of Whac-A-Mole; you wait for the snakelike invizimal to pop out of a hole in the ground, and then you slap down on top of it with your palm. But some of these minigames don't work well. To capture a roarhide, you need to block the charging creature by placing your hand in designated areas. But the camera may not register your hand's position, and in that event, the roarhide will charge straight through your hand and escape, forcing you to start the capture process over. Issues like this can happen with infuriating frequency and take much of the joy out of the initially exciting technology at the heart of Invizimals.