Reviewed: December 12, 2010
Released: October 12, 2010
For years I have heard of the elusive PSP Go!Cam (aka Chotto Shot) and seen the PSP Camera option on the cross medial bar, but I never thought that when I actually got my hands on one of these devices that it would be used in such an amazing way. But for the past few weeks I have had the pleasure to check out a couple of Sony’s recently released camera-aided PSP titles, and I have to say that while both titles are lacking a bit in the actual gameplay, I am very impressed with the technology and the unique nature of its implementation. |
The first of these titles is the Pokémon-like creature capture-and-battle of inviZimals, and the second a Nintendogs styled virtual pet simulator EyePet. These two titles will be treated to individual reviews, although the results are quite similar. As I mentioned earlier, inviZimals is a creature capture-and-battle game along the lines of Pokémon – only, instead of spending countless hours traversing a 2D onscreen map hoping for a random battle to generate, inviZimals brings the search to your own home though a very unique use of the included PSP camera.
The basic way the mechanic works is that the camera, mounted atop the PSP and pointed away from the player, projects on the screen the real-time image of the area “behind” the PSP. The player is then instructed to place in the viewing area an included cardboard “trap” that is printed with a particular design that allows the game to determine the surface conditions upon which the three-dimensional inviZimals will appear onscreen, as if they were physically in the room behind the PSP.
Believe me, describing the experience to you in words is more difficult than it sounds, but seeing the technology in action is simply amazing, especially once you realize that the PSP can be moved around the creatures and as long as the “trap” stays in the view, their three-dimensional characteristics are rendered appropriately. The key word in that description is the trap, which must always be in clear view so the game can keep aligned with the design – if the camera loses so much as a corner, is moved too quickly, or if focus is lost, the characters disappear from view. The trap (technically called a “fiduciary marker”) is a nagging limitation of the technology, but most gamers will quickly adapt to the requirements of camera movement and focus required to keep the creatures in view.
So with the basics out of the way, how does Sony go about wrapping the technology into a cohesive game storyline? Well, in the case of inviZimals, through a series of FMV video segments that place the gamer in the shoes of a young recruit helping a Sony R&D Engineer and his colorful cast of friends study a species of invisible creatures that are hiding amongst us all. As the inviZimals study progresses, a security breach at Sony R&D compromises the research, and the gamer is tasked with solving the crime. These FMV cutscenes are surprising well-produced, and although a tad on the corny side they really do help add structure to the gameplay.
Finding creatures is as easy as scanning rooms around the house looking for telltale hiding spots – generally near bold and colorful objects. Once a creature’s presence has been determined, out comes the trap and the creature appears. The gamer is then tasked with a random mini-game to push the creature towards, and eventually into the trap – these mini-games might have the gamer tracking a characters movement, or hopping them around lily pads. These mini-games are really quite disappointing, and more than once I found myself reaching for a stylus to perform touch-screen controls only to remember that it’s buttons-only on the PSP.
Thankfully, the turn-based battle sequences are actually quite enjoyable and required a great deal more strategy than I expected. The input it quite simple, with each creature assuming four moves assigned to each of the four face buttons, each move requiring different amounts of energy that must be recharged before the player can perform another attack. Play the card right, and fighters can often pull off multiple moves while the opponent is awaiting a recharge – and so starts the strategy.
Similar to Pokémon, creatures are also classified into one of six elemental types making them more vulnerable to certain attacks and less vulnerable to others – further emphasizing the need for strategic planning. Seasoned collectors can also play against friends via Ad Hoc, or take their creatures online via the PlayStation Network. At the time of this writing the online was not fully functional so we will reserve final judgment.
As alluded to earlier, inviZimals’ presentation is top-notch – from the well-produced FMV movies to the excellently rendered 3D creatures, the only thing that could have made inviZimals look any better would be for me to clean my house since it plays such an important part in the visual package! The audio is likewise excellent, with well-produced voiceovers and solid sound effects.
InviZimals is a wonderful feat of technology, and the fact that it has pretty good gameplay is an added bonus. While I wish that the mini-games were a bit more fleshed out, and that it wasn’t so dependent upon the “trap” card, all in all it is a great example of out-of-the-box game design and something gamers will definitely be collecting if only to show friends the cool stuff that can be done with a PSP.
And yes, the camera can be used to take still shots and movies outside of the game, but the .3 megapixel resolution does leave a bit to be desired, especially with poor lighting conditions. I also found that it can be used as an audio input device for the Skype application, meaning gamers no longer need to purchase the PSP headset, but video chat is not yet available.