Great concept, nice use of DS's camera
Horribly repetitive, unbalanced gameplay, uninspired design, horribly repetitive
Spirit Hunters Inc. is a hodgepodge of ideas executed without effort. The game draws ideas from great titles like Pokémon, the rather excellent The Denpa Men: They Came By Wave and The World Ends with You, but proceeds to remove all the fun in those ideas, and the end result is repetitive, boring, and truly disappointing.
In Spirit Hunters Inc., you use your DSi/3DS’s in-built camera to find and eliminate spirits lingering in the environment around you. There are almost one hundred spirits across six different type or alignments: fire, water, ice, light, shadow, and fungal. Much like The Denpa Men, the different spirits appear depending on your level, the time of day, and the colors around you, and after finding a spirit, you can choose to defeat it in combat or capture it. In the beginning, you’re equipped with a couple of abilities with different alignments, and the ensuing combat plays a whole lot like that in The World Ends with You, as to execute your abilities, you flick, tap, tap and hold, or draw with the stylus. As you defeat and capture spirits, you can level up and unlock new abilities.
The concept sounds absolutely incredible. First, you have the deep rock-paper-scissor typing strategy similar to that in Pokémon; then, you get to level up and acquire new abilities much like you acquire new equipment in Monster Hunter. And the icing on the cake, you fight like you do in The World Ends with You. However, none of these expectations are fulfilled because of one critical flaw: unbalanced gameplay.
After more than a decade, why are Pokémon games still so addicting? It’s simple– it’s because the gameplay mechanics have been polished until GameFreak can see their face in them. For instance, consider how there are more than 600 Pokémon, yet any given monster can be stronger or weaker than another. It’s because each individual creature’s stats are balanced and incredibly finely-tuned, and it’s this balance that’s absolutely necessary for not only making each monster feel completely unique among all the others, but also giving the game its own sense of character.
Spirit Hunters Inc., on the other hand, is a perfect example of how unbalanced gameplay affects the character of the game. Although there are sixteen spirit families and six different alignments, every battle is exactly the same. You are allowed to carry fourteen abilities with you to battle. Most abilities take one second to execute, and most abilities can be executed again after several seconds of cool down time. The problem is that you can be unleashing all fourteen of your abilities without pause, one immediately after another. It doesn’t matter what alignment you are. It doesn’t matter what abilities you are using. It doesn’t even matter what spirit you’re facing. You simply tap one of your abilities, flick your stylus, then again and again and again.
The problem is that you don’t need to think. Suppose you are of the ice alignment and you are facing a fire spirit. It doesn’t matter that fire is strong against ice. It doesn’t matter that the spirit is higher level than you. You’re simply unleashing all your abilities as fast as possible because your abilities stun the spirit on impact. You can therefore mitigate any potential damage by attacking relentlessly, thereby making every single battle the same old slog as before.
But it’s not just battles the unbalanced gameplay brings down– it also affects otherwise great aspects of the game as well. In particular, you might think new abilities will breathe new life into the repetitive combat, and for a minute or two the new graphics and new sound effects of new abilities are very cool. But after you execute the same abilities dozens of times per minute, however, they get old very quickly. It doesn’t matter that they’re more powerful. It doesn’t matter that they have different effects. All you have to worry about is unleashing as many attacks as fast as possible.
By the same token, new spirits do nothing to brighten the day either, although they do look different and have different characteristics and abilities. In fact, the sixteen spirit families all look distinct and charming, but the repetitive gameplay removes any and all character from them. The novelty of augmented reality quickly disappears after you figure out where different alignments of spirits appear as well. For example, if you point your camera at something red, you will likely find a fire or light spirit, and this completely takes all the fun out of the AR experience.
Besides the spirits’ charming graphics design, the rest of Spirit Hunters Inc. is as uninspired as its wonky gameplay. The music and sound effects drone are bland. They’re there because they have to be, not because they want to be. The story is more minimalist than the repeated kidnapping of Princess Peach, too: you’re a spirit hunter in a world of spirits. That’s it. With a little more effort, Spirit Hunters Inc. can be much more polished, much more inspired, and much, much more fun.
After the solid WiiWare title escapeVektor, developer Nnooo’s second significant title falls short. I really hope Nnooo takes the time to polish its future titles because they have so much potential. Defeating a spirit emerging from my physics textbook is awesome the first time. Imagine if it’s just as awesome ten times later. Until then, stay away from Spirit Hunters Inc.. Your time will be better spent on the game’s inspirations– or better yet, The Denpa Men: They Came By Wave– instead of this one.
Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.