People compare Invizimals to Pokémon. People may also compare it to the sadly-still-fictional Star Wars chess, last played by Chewbacca and R2D2. Try one more comparison: This game is like a flying contraption made prior to the Wright Brothers'.
Invizimals is an augmented reality video game, one of the few games you can buy that makes it seem like video game characters are standing on your living room rug, crawling on your bookshelves and ready to battle on your kitchen counter-top. The game uses a camera peripheral to turn the PSP into a magical lens. Activated, the PSP screen will show the Pokémon-like Invizimals standing in your real world, requiring you to interact with them to capture them and send them into battle. The game is an imperfect innovation, not ready for Kittyhawk.
Anyone who hasn't seen augmented reality in action before and would be charmed to have virtual creatures appear to battle on their desk — as long as said ideal player doesn't mind hair-pulling technical problems. Also: Sony-only gamers looking for a Pokémon fix.
Why You Should Care
Augmented reality gaming is potentially thrilling. Why look at video game graphics that are rendered on your TV if you could see them propped in your living room ready for you to poke them and talk to them. Invizimals, like the PlayStation 3's EyePet and several PlayStation Move title, is among the few augmented reality games you can get now to see how this rough technology is improving.
The Wright Brothers analogy used up top is not reassuring. This game is a failed experiment? One way to judge a successful video game is if it a) allows you to do something interesting and b) makes that interesting thing happen when you try to trigger it. Invizimals nails the first part, exciting the player with the idea that video game characters are out there in the world to be found like ghosts or lost keys. It bungles the latter because many of the commands needed to capture the Invizimals fail.
How is the game supposed to work? The video in this review will explain a lot, but the simple explanation is that you are supposed to walk around, using the PSP-attached camera to search for Invizimals. Your PSP serves as a viewfinder, emitting buzzing sounds and you close in on hidden critters. Once you've detected the presence of one of the game's more than 100 Invizimals, you need to play a mini-game to capture it. You drop a cardboard "trap" on the real life surface where the Invizimal has been detected. The creature emerges, and then you need to whistle along to a tune... or hide behind some virtual bushes and scare it... or move the PSP to dodge fireballs the little monster is shooting at you in order to capture it.
As with the PS3's Eye of Judgment, you can enjoy the neat trick of holding a virtual creature.
Alright. How does the game really work? The PSP camera is cued by color. Signs of Invizimals pop up on strongly-colored surfaces. Often they then rush off to the "ice" or the "desert" or some other place, which means you then need to find something white or yellow or other color to detect them again. You can game this system, as I did, with an array of colorful books. No big deal. Capturing, though, can be a nightmare. I have an e-mail saved, written Sunday morning, to Kotaku reviews editor Mike McWhertor, confessing I couldn't review the game because I could not get the PSP camera's microphone to register the huffing and puffing I needed to do in order to blow a blizzard in a rebellious Invizimals' face. (Thank Google Translate, I found a Spanish message board that helped me trick that one into working.) Another mini-game kept failing because my hand was too pale for the camera to recognize it as the wall into which I had to get an escaping Invizimal to bash its head. I don't have the patience to recount my struggles whistling for one Invizimal.
Pokémon doesn't have this nifty camera stuff, so what's with the comparison to that series? Augmented reality aside, Invizimals is a pleasantly hokey game about traveling the land, putting captured animals that are named Metalmutt or Rattleraptor into tournament battles against similar creatures, each of them armed with a few attacks and subject to the advantages and disadvantages associated with their elemental alignment. Sound familiar? This one has a storyline about chipper kidnapped scientists and the battles your Invizimals must fight to save the world. The story is mostly told with real actors in full motion video.
If this is Sony's Pokémon, that's not such a bad thing, right? They could certainly call it that. The Invizimals are colorful and fun to observe in action. It is delightful to watch my level 11 Porcupain battle a big blue elephant names Sallah on the seat of my couch next to my slumbering real-life cat. Catching many of the Invizimals was fun for me, as I'm sure it would be for a kid, and leveling them, evolving them and even battling and trading them online are all great options to have.
But it's not superior to Pokémon? Correct. Cool animals. Simple but solid battles involving timed button presses for attacks, defenses and special items. But the tech here is shaky.
Invizimals In Action (In My House)
The Bottom Line
Sony would have had something wonderful in our hands if the augmented reality worked well enough not to be frustrating a third of the time. Any gamer interested in the future of the medium should find a way to try the Invizimals camera-based tech. The potential for augmented reality gaming is thrilling. But the execution here, while rich enough in variety to make this game last many hours, is imperfect enough to fall off a cliff. Hopefully soon, augmented reality gaming will have lift-off. Until then, Invizimals flaps and stumbles as an intriguing test on the runway toward something special.
Invizimals was developed by Novarama and published by Sony Computer Entertainment of America for the PSP, released on October 12. Retails for USD$39.99, required PSP camera included. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played through the campaign, captured 53 Invizimals, failed to find an online competitor who would either not disconnect during a losing match or implore me to trade them a Tigershark.