Invizimals: The Alliance review for PS Vita

Platform: PS Vita
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Novarama
Medium: Digital/Vita Card
Players: 1-4
Online: Yes
ESRB: E10+

I’m fully aware that Invizimals: The Alliance isn’t intended for someone like me. Not only am I a child-free, thirtysomething male, I never got into games that involved collecting things/monsters/pets, so essentially the two obvious points of entry into the series — having kids or loving Pokemon — don’t apply to me.

Still, I figured that there was a decent chance I might like it. After all, I’m a fan of some kid-oriented games, and just before I started with The Alliance, I had a pretty decent experience with the first Invizimals game on the PS3, The Lost Kingdom. All in all, I was cautiously optimistic.

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Unfortunately, after spending some time with the game, that optimism now seems pretty misguided. Even making allowances that some aspects of it obviously aren’t intended for someone like me, I have trouble seeing how The Allliance, as a whole, could appeal to its target audience. Simply put, it’s just not very fun.

This absence of fun begins at the very heart of the game. Not only does the game rely on the Vita’s camera, you need to have AR cards (and only AR cards — the sheet of paper that accompanies the Vita-2000 definitely doesn’t cut it) and a flat surface handy as well. In other words, while The Alliance may seem like a fun portable game that will allow you to discover the invisible (er, Invizimal) monsters lurking all over the place, the reality is that you’re tethered to one spot when you play it.

That’s not even the worst of it, though. No, what’s really bad is that the game’s core function — finding and capturing monsters — doesn’t work all that well. Arrows pop up on the screen telling you which direction to turn to find the monsters (which, by the way, reminds me: you and your kids will probably want to play this in a chair that spins easily, because nothing says gaming fun like sitting in a wheeled office chair), but half the time the directions aren’t very clear. Is that arrow pointing up? Sideways? Behind you? Only Invizimals knows, and it’s committed to making sure that you don’t.

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On top of that, it has a completely random sense of color and direction. “Point your Vita at a colorful wall to find the monster!”, it will say, only for it to accept a brown-ish floor. Or, conversely, “Point your Vita at a solid-colored floor!” leads to me finding monsters in my rather colorful shopping bag hanging on the wall. Never having interacted with kids, I’m willing to take the game at its word that they aren’t too big on differentiating between walls and floors and colorful and beige, but, uh…that seems off to me.

And, of course, when you do find them, that’s when the “fun” begins. And by fun, I mean: another entry in the game’s love of randomness. “Sing at your monster!” it will say. “Tickle it!” “Throw meat into its mouth!” “Dodge its fireballs!” Those things are all well and good, but it seems like a crapshoot whether it will work. I could not move and have fireballs miss me completely, and I could move my entire body and still get hit. I could sing loudly and be told the game couldn’t hear me, while other times the quietest noises would do the trick. Again, I’m not up to speed on these things, but I’d have figured that even kids want some consistency in their games.

Though I guess if they really want consistency, they still have the Invizimal battles. Those are just mashing buttons over and over again, with minimal strategy, until your monster has beaten the others. While it’s sort of fun the first few times, it doesn’t take long before it becomes apparent how repetitive it all is. On that front, I guess, the game deserves marks for working as it should, but “working competently” seems like an awfully low bar to ask a game to clear.

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What’s surprising to me is that the parts that should’ve bothered me didn’t…or, at least, didn’t all that much. Case in point number one: the story, and the live-action that accompanied it. While I’m not going to say that the plot drew me in or that the acting wowed me, I will say that both seemed perfectly legitimate. Not incredibly inspired, since it was your basic save the world stuff, but it was still decent. The same goes for case in point number two, the graphics. Again, while the little AR creatures may not have interacted with you as a player all that naturally, they still seemed to fit in with the general environment, at least when the stars and AR cards aligned and I got them to show up.

Somehow, however, I can’t imagine that “okay plot and graphics” are what the developers were going for in Invizimals: The Alliance. It seems like they’re promising a hidden world that gets revealed by your Vita, when it reality all you’ll really get out of it is finding out how much you can contort your body while still keeping a flat surface in front of you. I suspect that a lot of these issues may be solved when the next game in the franchise, Invizimals: The Resistance, arrives with its card-free ways, but at present, that’s still a barrier to entry, and it’s a big enough barrier that you’d be wiser to just wait for The Resistance to wash up on North American shores than to invest your energy in this entry in the series.

Grade: C-