Novarama’s Vita-native entry in their augmented-reality monster-collecting franchise actually turned out better than I thought, although some issues with its core feature cause some particular frustrations along the way.
|Physical English||Yes – EU only|
World-building & Story
The invizimals are in a state of panic – their portals into our world are seemingly under attack and the mysterious Xtractor Industries are present at each of them, alongside their army of unidentified metal creatures. It’s up to the titular Alliance led by a brand new member – you – to uncover the truth about what’s going on and help the invizimals in their hour of need.
Although The Alliance does continue the story of the previous PSP entries in the series, you can go into this one without any knowledge of past events. All you know is that the invizimals are invisible animals that can only been seen using a PlayStation Vita (previously a PSP!), that have come from their world to ours using a ‘Shadow Gate’. There’s a group of people headed by a scientist called Keni who want to help these creatures and you’re the newest recruit into their ranks as the owner of a Vita yourself!
Amusingly, the game uses full live-action cutscenes reminiscent of the FMV games of long ago, complete with cheesy acting. Each character addresses you in the first person – as the player – which is a really nice touch to immerse you in this world (which is of course the real world, as the creatures are invading whatever room you’re in). The main plot is typical children’s entertainment – portrayed in super-serious fashion and with comically mad villains, but entertaining enough for the most part and I enjoyed seeing where it was going.
Probably the thing I liked most in The Alliance is the characters – whether it be young adventurer Hiro (who ties in to the PS3 title Invizimals: The Lost Kingdom), the constantly-captured Jazmin or my favourite of all Dr Dawson, played with gusto by Brian Blessed who truly hams up every line he’s given. Having a cast of real people surprisingly endeared me to what was going on and beyond their cheery delivery they’re a likeable bunch, making me root for their cause.
There’s nothing revolutionary in Invizimals and this is undoubtedly a kid-focused adventure without much nuance – but it kept me engaged enough to see it through to the conclusion.
Presentation & Sound
Mixing some simple 3D graphics with surprisingly competent AR technology, The Alliance isn’t going to impress anyone but it looks decent enough as a Vita title.
Honestly, the most impressive part of the package for me were the live-action cutscenes – I’m a huge fan of these in games in general (thanks mostly to Command & Conquer) and the ones here are impressive quality, featuring a variety of locations and some fairly solid CGI. You’ll witness places like a lab, abandoned factory and dense forests and there’s a really nice final scene of a battle between invizimals and xtractors that I enjoyed watching, even if the direction is always campy and over-the-top.
Elsewhere, your time in game will be spent flicking through brightly-coloured menus and looking at your home base, which has a number of simple buildings that somewhat reminded me of Invoker’s Tournament (I wonder if these games shared technology). Battles take place in 3D arenas with a variety of themes – lava, ice, wind etc. that were fairly pleasant to look at, if somewhat generic at times.
In battle, there’s a good selection of spell effects and since there can be up to four invizimals in the arenas at any one time, the screen can often light up with colourful effects and attacks (which can be a little difficult to keep track of at times). That said, there’s no slowdown and I found things responsive and smooth at all times, which was definitely important.
The other element to the game’s presentation is the AR effects which are sadly of more mixed quality, although they’re impressive when they work. AR cards are used most often (you can print your own) and you’ll get simply-animated 3D creatures and buildings when you place them (that are at least a big step up over the PSP titles). The problem is Vita’s camera would often stop reading them causing effects to wig out and things to stop working, which really killed my immersion.
There’s nothing interesting in terms of soundtrack here but I was very impressed with the voice acting – Keni provides guidance with a gentle calm while Brian Blessed booms all his lines as Dr Dawson – I never got tired of listening to the two of them.
Gameplay & Content
Invizimals is definitely a game of two halves and sadly those two halves vary wildly in quality – the AR mini-games involved in catching creatures are incredibly hit-and-miss, but the actual battling and raising them is surprisingly enjoyable.
You’ll start off watching a few cutscenes that introduce you to this world and then it’s straight into capturing your first invizimals. This is done through a variety of augmented reality effects – the rear camera will activate and you might be asked to find a certain colour, follow a trail or make a loud noise to attract the creature which is hiding in whatever room you’re in. Often these will be combined one after the other leading you on a mad wild goose chase to get to your target.
This, unfortunately, gives The Alliance a very bad first impression. It’s probably a good amount of fun for younger gamers to charge around searching for certain things but I found it pretty frustrating – for example colours often wouldn’t register in certain lights or the game would want me to walk through a wall to reach the invizimal I was after. I had to use tricks such as pausing the game then moving to ‘trick’ it and succeed, or pulling up the colour I needed on my phone’s screen and then holding up to a light source, which felt pretty immersion-breaking.
Once you’ve located your target, you’ll have to play some further AR mini-games to capture your invizimal such as dodging attacks, scanning its body for injuries using the touchscreen or tracing a pattern using the rear touch. The majority are actually really inventive and make good use of the hardware (it really does feel like this is a title designed to make the most of Vita) but some are absolutely infuriating – particularly ones that involve blowing which rarely registered for me and led to many ‘fail’ attempts.
Other problematic areas involved when I had to move my Vita to ‘look into’ something (such as a hole) or dodging out of the way of attacks using the gyroscope, which would move me too far away from the AR cards. The game had real trouble keeping up with these and I had to repeat the same things time and time again after failing – the amount of light in the room I was using also affected the sensors and I found my bedroom lights were rarely bright enough to let it work properly. Worst of all, these moments are often integral to progressing and there’s no option to skip no matter how much you fail – an odd choice for a child-focused title.
Once you’ve captured your first invizimals you’ll be able to start building up your home base (buildings come with blueprints that you need to put together, of course). There’s plenty more AR mini-games in here such as cooking (chopping food and putting it into an oven) and a surprisingly competent rhythm game that gives you certain buffs, meaning if you want to see what else your Vita can do you’re we’ll served here (although they all suffer from the same tracking problem).
The other major aspect to The Alliance is battling and raising your creatures and this is thankfully where it shines much more brightly. Combat take place in 3D arenas between one or two monsters and are a notable improvement over the PSP entries which preceded them. Your invizimal can move freely and has four attacks bound to the face buttons which cost stamina to use, offering some minor resource management as you figure out how best to strike your foe without leaving yourself vulnerable.
There’s plenty more to the combat than this – you can shield and dodge with L and change invizimal with the dpad; collect sparks which are used in the shop to buy new allies and there are even ‘vectors’ you can use which provide buffs and even summon powerful elementals to help out (which are activated by tracing patterns on the touchscreen, something I found actually worked surprisingly well in the heat of battle despite sounding rather counter-intuitive).
Sure, it’s not the most complex system but it reminded me things like Digimon Rumble with flashy effects and a lively feel, and the 3D perspective allows a decent amount of freedom. Fights can degrade into absolute mayhem at times (particularly in the 2v2 settings when everyone is using different spells) and I found that really enjoyable – even if on the whole the combat is a little on the easy side presumably to help younger gamers, with enemies not being as aggressive as I’d like.
Victory in combat awards skill points which can be used to customise your invizimal to your pleasing – health and armor can be boosted to make a tank, or strength and stamina to make a glass cannon, or a mix of both to have a well-rounded creature. You’re also able to evolve them, change their colour or even turn them into ‘dark’ versions – again there’s not as much depth as something like Pokemon (especially since they only level to 30) but there’s a lot more than I was expecting and it kept me hooked for a good while.
Once you’re done with the story – which should take a good 5-6 hours – there are a handful of tournaments to enter, although sadly the last few require you to use invizimals of certain affinities which will likely mean a slow grind from level 1 with characters you didn’t use, which is a bit of a boring slog. Other than this there will be a few more captures to mop up, foods to cook and other various tasks, meaning you can squeeze more than 10 hours out of the game.
There’s definitely a lot to love in Invizimals: The Alliance, it’s just that you have to dig through sometimes patchy AR challenges to get there – whether you want to do that is your decision, but I certainly had fun with it the majority of the time (a lot more than I was expecting, in fact).
Invizimals: The Alliance definitely exceeded my initial expectations and I spent a good while hooked thanks to its addictive combat system, creature-raising systems and campy but fun story. Yet mixed in with that enjoyment were plenty moments of frustration thanks to wonky AR effects and mini-games that I just didn’t particularly enjoy – I’m glad I saw the game through though.