Invizimals: The Alliance is the latest entry in the augmented reality game series from Spanish developer Novarama. Having made a name for itself on the PlayStation Portable, it’s apt that this new instalment’s made the jump onto the newest Sony handheld, giving kids of all ages the chance to hunt down more of those troublesome creatures using everything that the pocket device has at its disposal, from the built-in camera to the rear touchpad.
After all of their previous adventures, Keni and his group of Invizimal wranglers are still travelling the globe in search of new subjects to study. When they notice that Invizimals are appearing in our world and are acting much more aggressively than normal, they soon realise that someone or something is forcing them from their home. On top of this, a mysterious corporation – Extractor Industries – always seems to be operating in the vicinity of where the little beasties are crossing over. As a new initiate to this secret group, you’re enlisted to get to the bottom of what’s going on, while building your own stable of Invizimals to aid you in your battles.
The story’s told mostly through full-motion video cutscenes which are so numerous that they’re enough to put even a nineties CD-ROM game to shame. The use of actors in these scenes, which have surprisingly high production values, works well and managed to keep us engaged throughout, even if it’s a bit overdone at times. It's simply difficult not to be entertained, especially when you’ve got Brian Blessed reprising his role as Doctor Dawson. Yes, the big man’s playing his usual larger-than-life persona in scenes that look like they were filmed while he was at home sitting in a comfy chair, but there’s an endearing charm to the whole package that will translate particularly well to the younger audience that the title's targeted at.
You start the story by building a shadow gate in your Invizimal sanctuary, and as you add each new structure, you’re introduced to another gameplay element. It’s not long before you get the chance to start capturing the titular monsters, and with over a hundred to collect, you’ve got your work cut out if you want to fill the full catalogue. The miniature beasts can be acquired through a variety of routes such as winning them in arena tournaments or hunting them using augmented reality, and no matter how they cross your path, there’s a number of customisation options that help your creatures stand out from the crowd. Initially, you can only change their names, but later you’re able to not only tweak their colour palettes, but also transform them into ‘dark’ versions of themselves.
Each of the thirty or so that can be captured in our world require you to go through multiple steps before they can be added to your menagerie. The first stage is to locate the Invizimal, which can involve using the camera to search for a certain coloured surface, making noises into the microphone to attract their attention, or even chasing them around with the camera to track their movements. Following these instructions will reveal the wild Invizimal and prompt Keni to brief you via a short video on the minigame that you’ll need to complete in order to finish the capture.
These minigames are uniquely tailored to the personality and traits of the monster involved, and will put you in a variety of situations that see you guiding a dog across an obstacle course, outdrawing a gun slinging lizard, or providing covering fire for choppers that are taking on the beast in question. These games all use augmented reality to super impose the monster into the real world, either onto a flat surface or the AR cards that come with the Vita. It's worth mentioning that the latter can be printed from the PlayStation website if you’ve misplaced them.
These captures are fun for the most part – when they work correctly – but the reliance on augmented reality as well as the Vita’s touch controls led to our quarry escaping on a number of occasions when they decided not to play well together. There were also a number of times where we failed because the game wanted us to follow an Invizimal through a physical wall or where the instructions for a minigame were less than clear, leaving us to rely on luck or trial and error in order to progress. However, the most annoying thing about this is that when you fail, you'll be sent all the way back to the beginning of the capture process, and there were a number of times where we kept having to hunt for the same creature over and over again in order to get back to the minigame that initially gave us trouble.
Fortunately, the real time arena battles are much more enjoyable, and serve as the main route for levelling up your monsters. With every win, you’ll accumulate experience points based upon the difficulty, and as you gain levels, your monster will get more and more formidable. At first, these battles seem quite straight forward as you stand toe-to-toe with another Invizimal trading blows until one of you gets knocked out. But a few battles in, things get tougher. The direct approach soon leads to defeat after defeat, with it becoming very clear that more strategy is required.
Not only do your attacks and abilities have their own cool down timers, but they also use stamina. Fire all of your abilities off too quickly, and your Invizimal will become exhausted, putting you on the defensive with no option but to try and block or dodge incoming attacks. This makes some tussles back-and-forth affairs where you’ll need to hang back looking for just the right opening to get your hits in, while trying to minimise your vulnerability to counter attacks. In addition to these charged strikes, single use items and multi-opponent battles all ramp up the complexity, meaning that there’s ultimately a lot to take into account before unleashing your animals into the arena. You can bypass the more complex aspects of the combat by grinding experience from easier battles, but this takes a lot more time and you’ll miss out on the best aspects of the monster-on-monster warfare.
By the time that you’ve completed the story mode and become a veteran of the arena tournaments, you’re likely to have only accumulated about half of the Invizimals available, and there’s a significant amount of work involved should you want to fill out your stable – especially if you’re going to take them all to the level cap. It’s a real shame, then, that by the time you’ll have reached this point, you’ll have seen pretty much everything that the experience has to offer, with the only way to level your beasties being to return to the battle arena over and over again, eking out experience in depressingly small increments.
Should you want to see how your beasts fare against other trainers, you can compete via local and online multiplayer, testing not only their brute strength but also your own skills. Before you do this, though, it’s best to make sure that you have some very high level companions at your disposal, as you’ll come across numerous players with super strong creatures that’ll pound you into the ground if you’re not prepared. This, as you can imagine, isn’t the most enjoyable experience. Unfortunately, while we never had any trouble finding people to battle online, the prevalence of high level players shows that there’s either a complete lack of matchmaking, or a very low player population.
Despite the well put together cut-scenes and the brilliant use of Brian Blessed, the finicky augmented reality and less than precise touch controls will seriously impede your enjoyment of Invizimals: The Alliance. However, if you do have the patience to push past these problems, you’ll find a surprisingly deep real-time battle system that’s also rather enjoyable. It's just a real shame, then, that once you’re done with the story, there’s not much more to see unless you've got the urge to catch 'em all or run with the big dogs online.