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Spirit Hunters Inc: Light/Shadow - DSiWare Review

Game Info
Spirit Hunters Inc

DSiWare | Nnooo | 1 Player | Out Now | 800 Nintendo Points
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Review
22nd November 2012; By KnucklesSonic8

For collectors in particular, taking notice of abnormalities in an environment comes almost naturally, and if you're an observant person it's hard to tune out of such a mode. Individuals of this mindset are often prompted to peer closely at textures; to weed through shrouding materials to uncover a displaced fragment of some kind. Such discoveries are often cause for further examination, but not for the goal of determining what caused the minor upset to the scene, as a detective or forensics specialist would be concerned with; rather, for less noble motives, to add to an existing, personal collection of materials and resources. In a way, Spirit Hunters Inc can be compared to the above process of specialized inspection, in the sense that little ties hang over its innocent delivery. It goes about executing its vision with a sense of normalcy and end-goals of apportioned amusement, wary not to construct anything beyond its means or what would demonstrate, in their view, misplaced complexity. But much rests with your personal tastes as to whether or not such a decision was for the ultimate benefit of the project.

    As conveyed by the name, Spirit Hunters Inc recruits players to be part of a task force committed to ridding the world of an invisible threat that comes in the form of cartoony figures. Supposedly these beings have long been around as part of civilization; it's only now that they are starting to gain entrance into the physical realm to wreak greater levels of chaos. Most won't buy into the thin plot idea, which tries to apply a more serious tone to something that is really more governed by mischief than a devised plan of widespread action. But the presence of hints alluding to a larger mystery afoot helps set you on your way towards growing in your understanding of what the terms of this pack's intentions mean on a broad scope, even if your initial involvement leads you to believe that your duties and the purpose behind them aren't all that magnificent.

    Your primary tool is a multi-functional, AR-powered device that doubles both as your scanner for revealing their presence and as a means to engage with these menaces. In the first phase, the system will extract four colour samples from the real-world scene to establish the conditions of the area you're in, going so far as to specify the amount of available spirit types are present in the vicinity. What will appear on-screen after this preliminary step has been completed will vary depending on the extracted colours and the general time of day. Lighting conditions of an artificial sort can influence this outcome to an extent, with reds and other dark colours being picked up at night especially, while aiming the camera at a lit computer screen can produce tints and greys. The colour-coded system correlates to the alignment (or element) types of the available creatures, with purple representing Shadow, green for Fungal, and red for Fire. All of the six available alignments are represented once within each spirit family -- distinguishable trees that categorize all spirits by a set of characteristics. For instance, the Aristo family, one of my personal favourites, can be recognized for its members having mafia-like appearances, featuring formal outfits, top hats and cigars, with fitting names like Count and Duke. Admittedly, not all the families have as much thought or creativity behind them, either in the naming or the actual design of each figure, but the overall body of family trees is one key way in which Spirit Hunters Inc's futuristic personality is defined.

    
Just getting back to the hunting aspect, one thing I will say in connection with the AR is that the game does not make it mandatory to go gallivanting to a wide mixture of real-life locations just to seek out these critters, but instead suggests this be done in the interest of variety and for the sake of experimentation. Furthermore, the game doesn't demand that players go on a deep search even in your immediate area, nor should one expect to be pivoting around rooms on a regular basis. You can simply hold the system out in front of you while seated and still achieve results, which wraps the portability with a lure of comfort.

    Thus, older gamers who decide to enlist won't feel hampered if their gaming schedules only accommodate evening play, or if they have reservations about addressing their mission in public places. At the same time, those younger in years who may wish to take greater initiative and explore outdoor spaces can feel encouraged to do so. It should be noted, however, that the location of spirits doesn't perfectly correlate to your left and right pans, so in that sense, the tracking of the space around you could have been implemented better.

    Once you get a reading and have tracked down a spirit, they must be drawn out of hiding by tapping time-sensitive pits or portals, which serve as links between their invisible habitats and the real world. Upon doing so, the second gameplay phase will trigger into effect, whereby you'll continuously employ a series of attacks to wear them down. Understanding the interface isn't difficult in the slightest. The Ability Bar found on the lowest part of the Touch Screen is easy to use and customizable to your liking, with the actual variables (attacks) up for use depending on your level and what you've assigned to the different slots under the Inventory menu. Selecting an ability from this menu during gameplay will display another small icon directly above it, signifying the type of action that must be made with your stylus for the execution. This includes tapping, flicking, doing a quick slice, drawing circles, holding, and flicking -- although I found in the case of the last control type, the same effects were accomplished just by tapping on the screen. And as for the nature of the abilities themselves, there are forced barriers, projectiles, beams, and containment fields, just to give you a bit of an idea.

    Connected to that, counteracting agents can be employed to disrupt an enemy's unraveling attack pattern, and temporary status applications can also be inflicted. Everything is executed in real-time, with the limited usage of each ability being relegated, not to a point system with caps, but timed cooldowns. Most of the abilities triggered both by you and the creature you're facing will be accompanied by visualization effects that do a good job of endowing the system with a measure of excitement. On an overall level, the battle system and its connected display doesn't have an exhaustive set of algorithms but has a measure of subdued depth that puts it above a traditional turn-based model. The enemies you seek to defeat have different mannerisms as well, mixing between ranged attacks and frontal punches. Where you don't see as much variety is in the responses they exhibit when their health is low.

    
In one battle I had against Ting, a fire-based spirit, he was moving to the far right when his health was impaired, and I had to go in circles to get him back to center-point. This goes back to what I was saying earlier about the tracking of creatures that aren't in your immediate view. But I thought it was strange that this was the only one to do this. Everyone else I encountered as I continued growing in my experience level stayed relatively close to the center of the screen, and when they drifted off to the sides or to the bottom of the Touch Screen, it wasn't a hassle to move the system an inch for a better view or even to attack anyway from that angle. This made for some consistency, which some may perceive to be a good thing, given that more erratic movements would produce dizzying effects. Others, however, will see this as being a reflection of the game not being more willing to assign arguably more natural reactions as a means of progressively augmenting the difficulty.

    As far as progression is concerned, Ghoulders serve as the in-game currency and it is through these that new abilities and items can be purchased from the Store option. But a ton of these are unlocked on a gradual basis through your level and rank, both of which are tied to the accumulation of experience points. What is more, some abilities are exclusive to a particular alignment. When you first begin playing, you choose one as a basis, but upon reaching Level 25, you can purchase a second alignment to use these aforementioned abilities for a heavy price. Signs of development prior to this include being able to use traps with vortex properties to capture spirits, and these are first made available at Level 10, with subsequent level upgrades providing more effective traps and ones dedicated to specific alignments. Also, every ten level-ups will have you doing a Rank Challenge that pits you against a particular entity designed to test your aptitude. Hopefully you're not an impatient sort, because it does take time for the game to get going beyond any slight curve that might be attached to comprehending the system. At the very least, players can be thankful that the level-up system is properly-paced, with balanced increases and new story details being shared upon meeting certain level conditions.

    In examining the way the game is presented visually, while the character designs aren't wicked, many of them do exactly as I said earlier in driving personality above functionality. Most of the noises emitted by spirits as you give them their comeuppance aren't irritating to hear, though I thought one sounded an awful lot like he was saying "Annoy! Annoy!" every time he got hit. The menu layouts are clean and the organization is very much in the same vein as the applications Nnooo designed for this same service. The music isn't anything like Pop as far as it being something to remember long, but I'd say it's slightly more than acceptable.

    
Despite the Pokémon franchise having served as a big inspiration for this project (to which the spirits testify), Spirit Hunters Inc essentially strips away the adventure and training components and adversely outfits the concept almost exclusively with combat-driven delivery. And in screening how this has all surfaced and the climate that's been created, this has led to a somewhat loose calculation. Attempting to build on these grounds (or tread, depending on how you see it) is, again, the presence of an unfolding storyline and a system that introduces new items every major jump in level, but it's almost like they're tempting fate in the way they've done this.

    Rather than players being motivated by this flow, the interim when you're not being motivated by these new thoughts (i.e., after the initial drive wears off), makes you feel that the game is superficially drawn-out longer than it needs to be, or at least from the standpoint of it not having an additional component to supplement the core mechanics. The lens that's been applied to Spirit Hunters Inc isn't what I'd call a strong magnification, and in my eyes, the game's decision not to lock its fingers with a secondary or overhead gameplay perspective isn't totally apt. Ultimately, it's that lack of breadth that in some ways has resulted in its downfall over the long-term.

    Related to these points and yet still others, this game is far more enjoyable from the perspective of a youngster than it is from an older gamer who has experience with role-playing games. First of all, the incentives aren't deep enough or as far-reaching to genuinely keep those of the older crowd perpetually curious over the long-term, as was just mentioned. But more than that, kids will especially take to the premise due to its uncomplicated nature, and by that I mean its light-handed properties connected to its battle system. The regulation isn't strict, and there isn't much in the way of challenging strategy, which is partly by nature of the fact that it doesn't adhere to a turn-based system, but more importantly because at the base of it all, the support is open and not as structured. As a result, you can actually get by just through limiting your ability focus to one set group out of the near-30 slots you can assign moves to. And I happen to think the lack of extended structure and the little need for clarity (aside from remembering which abilities have healing properties) help purvey an attraction largely focused on younger audiences. Parents who consider getting the game for their kids should note that a big part of their willingness to sticking with it is if they can have access to different environments. Otherwise, seeing the same sprites again and again can make them feel that the game's character set isn't expansive, when it does, in fact, show signs of being such. 

    
A couple other things I should close off with pertain to the inclusion of extras. As per their continued commitment to rewarding supporters of their games, there are a series of badges specifically for individuals who own other Nnooo titles and have them active on their system's menu, awarding you with bonus XP. Other badges listed are strictly for acknowledging that you've reached key points in the game or done something (usually) worthy of note. Players also have the ability to create and input challenges to share with friends, but the fact that these are limited to the names chosen by other players in their own copy of the game, it chops off a good portion of the sharing potential.

    Depending on what you're looking for, Spirit Hunters Inc will arouse different reactions. Its solitary focus makes the delivery lean more on the repetitive side, even with the flashy texture use, the open battle system, and just the aspect of hunting for new prey. Though there are a few issues to be had with how depth has (and hasn't) been explored, these can be overlooked...until the appeal wears off. Although hours can definitely be sunk into the experience, not all of those will be filled with joy, and ultimately the game's design choices put the fun factor on a decline as you move forward. The extension of the concept resists the idea of motivated development, and instead resorts to somewhat shallow methods, which is a bit of a shame. But despite everything I said, because of its accessible portability, modest features, and the neat character designs, Spirit Hunters Inc will still be a good fit for kids especially.


21/30 - Good

Gameplay 6/10 - Good system at the base of it, somewhat shallow, imperfect tracking, variety of abilities, AI could be better, drawn-out progression
Presentation 7/10 - Much of the game's personality stems from the character designs, clean and approachable organization, music isn't memorable
Enjoyment 4/5 - Comfortable to play, takes time to develop, especially fun for kids, repetition and lack of overhead focus will cause some to give out
Extra Content 4/5 - Badges to mark off milestones, plenty of spirits to track down, can create challenges but sharing potential is needlessly limited

Equivalent to a score of 70% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System


Review by KnucklesSonic8



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