The world is full of magical creatures, but you can’t see them. In fact, a whole world full of exotic animals exists right under our very noses, but it is invisible to us. Only with the PS Vita are we able to see these Invizimals as they roam our world, and only with the PS Vita can we capture them.
The story of Invizimals: The Alliance is told mainly through live action videos. These clips, which are surprisingly well produced and feature notable actors such as Brian Blessed (who also provides the in-battle narration) tell the story of a group of scientists known as The Alliance who study the behaviors of the Invizimals. Recently something strange has been happening and more and more Invizimals have been entering our world for unknown reasons. Only with your help (and your PS Vita) can this mystery be solved.
I think it’s fair to say that story is a bit hokey and about as cheesy as it gets. It features over-used clichés such as the young group of environmentalists fighting off the evil billionaire industrialist. It’s so over the top at points that you might just cringe in disgust. But then, it’s not much different than many of the other games/movies aimed at the tween-age crowd. It’s a basic good guy vs. bad guy story that has no room for plot twists or character development. Alas, you don’t play this game for the story, you play it for the battles.
The main idea in Invizimals is that you use your Vita to capture the different animals in our world, and then put them in the battle arena where you fight them against each another. This is where the game really shines. The process to capture an Invizimal usually begins as an augmented reality mini-game, and once you beat it, the Invizimal is yours. There are dozens of different Invizimals to collect and each one has its own unique set of fighting moves. The battles are quick and intense. There’s no turn-based combat here, so you need to think fast about how to attack. You need to dodge at the right moment and then counter attack when your opponent is vulnerable. And as you win, you level up your Invizimal in whichever manner you choose. You can make your Gryphon stronger on the attack, or perhaps choose to make it more resistant to damage. It’s your choice.
There are two basic fighting modes in the Story portion of the game. You have tournaments and one time battles. Most of the battles will be 1v1 while others will change it up and make it 2v2 or even 1v3. Despite being a “kids game” these battles are no easy task. They require quite a bit of strategy and skill to get through, especially as you start battling higher level Invizimals. To aid in the fights are add-ons you obtain called vectors. These vectors can be as simple as a health pack to boost your life bar or as complex as calling in a giant monster to fight alongside you for a few seconds. Selecting which vectors you bring into the battle is almost as important as which Invizimal you choose.
The tournaments are scattered throughout the story and more will become unlocked as the game progresses. Each one revolves around a different theme, and the reward for winning is usually a new, more powerful Invizimal to use in battle.
Outside of the Battle Arena is a hub world that you build throughout the game. Buildings are constructed by completing various puzzles that get increasingly difficult as the game progresses. These other buildings, such as the Marketplace to buy new vectors or the Kitchen (where you’ll “cook up” vectors) provide a good break to the battle frenzy of the arena and give the player a wealth of different things to do.
Multiplayer is an important aspect to the game that allows you to engage in combat in several different ways. You can do local ad-hoc play between two Vitas, or you can do local cross-play with a PS3 running Invizimals: The Lost Kingdom. There is also online multiplayer which sets you up against other players around the world. This was the one that I have the biggest issue with and was also the least fun. The online multiplayer has little to no sense of balance in making matches, so while I went in to a fight with a level 11 pup, I was put up against a level 30 dragon. Suffice it to say, the match lasted about five seconds, and I was not the victor. To make matters worse, you can choose to turn on “bets” for each match which means the winner gets to decide the fate of the vanquished opponent. Sure he could have spared me, but every match I lost ended up with my Invizimal getting destroyed. That meant I suddenly lost all that time and effort I spent leveling up my creature. Not one to quit lightly, I tried again… to the same fate. Lost another one. It takes a lot of time, and a lot of battles, to level up a creature and to see it all disappear after a few seconds of a blow-out is very disheartening. That said, local multiplayer is where this game really belongs.
Controlling your character during a battle is (thankfully) really well done. With the exception of using a few of the different vectors, combat is carried out with the sticks and face buttons. Each of the four face buttons is assigned to a different attack while the shoulder buttons are used to dodge. Occasionally you will need to do something silly such as blow into the microphone or tap out a pattern on the screen, but these are the exception and not the rule. And like all augmented reality games, the controls can become a bit wonky when the AR cards are being used. Things can jump around on the screen unexpectedly if you happen to move too far away from the cards, or turn in the wrong direction. For the most part though, everything works as it should.
The game is also very good looking. As I mentioned earlier, the live-action sequences are really well done, and while cheesy, they look good. The character animations during battles are all very fluid and colorful. Likewise, the audio in the game is quite good. The narration during the battles is done really well by Brian Blessed, though some of the standard phrases do tend to get a little over-used. The characters themselves also have very distinct and well designed sounds from roars and screeches, to the sound of a well laid punch.
Since Invizimals: The Alliance is aimed at kids, I was originally excited to watch my 8 year old daughter play it and see what her take on the game was. After glancing at the screen for a minute, her response was “Monsters? No thank you.” I guess battling creatures in a fight to the finish isn’t for my princess-loving little one. That highlights the point that Invizimals: The Alliance is definitely not a game for everyone. It has a very specific target audience in mind. This game is aimed squarely at the youth market, and 10 year old boys in particular. As I played it, I could feel how this is the type of game I would have been obsessed with when I was growing up. It puts you in the roll of a member of a special alliance, and the PS Vita is your magical tool for capturing an array of invisible animals. You can’t beat it.
The games heavy use of augmented reality will also be another turn off for a lot of people. Some people hate AR and some people tolerate it just fine (I’m sure there are some who love it, but I’ve yet to meet any of them). I tolerate AR pretty well and can even enjoy it if it is done right. Invizimals does AR right in my opinion. Yes, it can get a little annoying when you have to run around the house to follow the on-screen instructions, but it works. The biggest disappointment is how, despite being a game that encourages you to get up and move around, the AR cards are required for so many of the mini-games used to capture the animals. For some of the AR games you just have to point your Vita at a spot on a table or wall, any surface with distinct color variations will do. This allows you to play the game while on the train, in a car, or sitting in your backyard, but when it asks you to lay out the AR cards, that sense of freedom is lost.
Much to my surprise, Invizimals: The Alliance is a really good game. It’s not a game that everyone will like, but that’s OK. It is very intentionally designed with kids in mind, and to that purpose, it does everything very well. Despite being made for a younger audience, I can confirm that it does in fact provide a challenge to almost everyone. The battles are fun and the hunt for new Invizimals can often be very rewarding. But if augmented reality turns you off, this game is going to be nothing but constant frustration.