Once upon a time, titles like Invizimals: The Lost Kingdom were ten a penny. The movie tie-in boom ensured that supermarket shelves were crammed with action platforms, each bearing colourful characters on the cover and containing gameplay more average than the mathematical mean. Gradually, consumers started to realise that these releases were, on the whole, garbage, and so came the sudden demise of the film franchise spin-off, much to the dismay of Trophy hunters around the world. Alas, the format has failed to wither during its spell on the scrapheap, as the latest entry in Novarama’s monster hunting property feels like a bit of a blast from the past – but is it worth your attention any more than the dozens of dreadful cinematic adaptations that once fought for a place on every kids’ Christmas wishlist?
It’s probably worth stressing that this release is not the handiwork of the abovementioned series creator, but instead a supplementary experience designed by British studio Magenta Software. The property’s first console release, it ties into PlayStation Vita sequel Invizimals: The Alliance, shedding light on the ongoing conflict between the titular alliance and renegade rival organisation Extractor Industries. You play as the eye-rollingly named Hiro, who appears to be subject to the worst case of child labour since Oliver Twist. Sent through a so-called Shadow Gate and into the Invizimals world, he’s encouraged to form allegiances with the various creatures that he encounters, and get to the bottom of a robotic plot that’s about as interesting as beige wallpaper. The narrative’s mostly relayed through in-game cinematics, though the franchise’s famous full-motion video sequences also put in an appearance, as does the indomitable Dr. Dawson, who’s played, once again, by legendary thespian Brian Blessed.
The gameplay itself is all perfectly functional, but it’s about as bland as scampi and chips without any salt and lemon. After fusing your body with one of the many Invizimals that you encounter, you’ll unlock the ability to perform new tricks. These include – but are not limited to – climbing up vines, swinging over inexplicably large drops, swimming underwater, and, er, tossing toxic snot. You’ll be able to switch between all of your available characters on the fly courtesy of a Resistance-esque weapon wheel, while the game will automatically transform your physical appearance depending on the specific action that your current activity requires. Collecting the throngs of untouched Z-Sparks that litter the deserted landscapes allow you to level up your characters, unlocking new moves as you limp your way towards its head-scratchingly clunky conclusion.
And that’s really about it. Alternate routes ease the monotony of the otherwise linear levels, providing you with different paths to explore – and collectibles to accrue. Pup Idols, Dark Seeds, and Blue Sparks can all be invested into the Battle Mode, which mimics the real-time face-offs from the handheld game, and even allows you to transfer your data in a Pokémon Stadium-esque cross-play mode. As with the classic Nintendo game, its undeniably entertaining seeing your biggest and best beasts blown up to the big screen, and while this portion of the package feels strangely separate from the core single player campaign, it actually makes the PlayStation 3 outing an acceptable accompaniment if you’ve already invested a serious amount of effort into raising a killer party in the portable release.
In fact, it’s a shame that the combat from this section hasn’t been repurposed for the main adventure, because the arena battles are far superior to the insipid God of War-inspired dust ups that are on display elsewhere. The biggest problem is that it never feels responsive enough, leaving you waling away on the buttons without any real rhyme or reason. You do have access to a light and heavy attack, as well as a special, but despite the addition of different moves for each of the cast of 16 characters, you’ll almost always rely on the dizzying spin strike, which remains the most effective super from the opening minute right through to the conclusion. This lack of variety is mirrored by the pacing of the adventure itself, which provides you with access to eight or so unique characters in the first couple of hours, before padding out the remainder of the laborious outing with hidden heroes who effectively act as palette swaps for your core roster of creatures.
Still, at least the game has great presentation in its favour. While the decision to employ a fixed camera perspective may result in some awkward platforming segments, it’s allowed the developer to get the most out of its limited budget from a visual perspective, and that’s resulted in some unexpected accomplishments in the graphics department. Naturally, it’s never going to make Naughty Dog shudder, but there are some impressive looking locales on display here, which are accentuated by a colourful art direction and some impressive character animation at times. The world does feel a bit static – a problem furthered by invisible walls – but the BioShock Infinite-esque cloud stages are particularly pretty, and supported by an evocative score, which sports all sorts of exotic instruments to create an inviting soundscape.
Invizimals: The Lost Kingdom is never inherently bad, but it’s far too basic to compete in a genre that’s brimming with better options. The copious LEGO titles have proved that kid-friendly releases can be both accessible and feature rich, but despite its sizeable cast, Sony’s latest foray into the crowded space feels like a one-trick Toxitoad. The ability to share data with the superior Vita entry is probably its biggest selling point, but even then we suspect that it’s targeting a subset of gamers that, like its titular creatures, don’t really exist.