I’m walking around my house holding my PSP in front of me while it clicks like a Geiger counter. The PSP has a small camera — about the size of an AA battery — attached to the top of it, and the slow ratchet of clicks continues as I wander around, aiming the camera at books, pieces of furniture and articles of clothing. I’m scanning my house for invizimals, which are small Pokémon-like creatures that can only be seen through the PlayStation Portable.
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PSPSuddenly the clicks speed up. The PSP has detected something. I turn around and retrace my steps, watching my house glide by in the real world and on the PSP’s screen — a red blanket, a white book, a green tennis ball. Then the PSP goes nuts.
Unfortunately, playing Invizimals doesn’t involve walking around my house, seeing little lions, insects and reptiles sitting on my furniture and lounging in my laundry. Instead, I must place a “trap” onto objects where the PSP detects invizimals. The trap is a small piece of cardboard with a square hole in the middle — a magic space where the PSP conjures invizimals into existence.
So I set the trap on my dog’s tennis ball and press a few buttons, and before long on my PSP’s screen I see the target of my search: a small lizard. Once invizimals appear, I’m free to rotate around them and come in closer for a better look. The lizard skitters around the trap, floating in the air above my living room floor, magically suspended at tennis-ball height.
The invizimals look like unimaginative pokémon. And just like pokémon, invizimals exist to be collected and trained for battle against other little monsters. So I dutifully help the lizard navigate an obstacle course, and then he is mine to command — unless I lose him in battle. Unlike Pokémon, a lost battle in Invizimals could make me lose the battling creature forever. All my hours spent seeking and training the creatures are gone in an instant. They just disappear.
THE GOOD: “Enhanced-reality” games use features like cameras and GPS trackers to merge a gameworld with the real world. I admire the technology and look forward to watching it develop. However, the most successful aspect of Invizimals isn’t the integration of a camera into the gameplay — it’s the game’s use of that ancient technology, the live-action video. Fifteen years ago, videogames like Phantasmagoria and the wonderful Gabriel Knight 2 took talented performers and cast them in parts that are now usually played by digital puppets. Invizimals makes a return to live-action video, integrating it perfectly with the game’s camera-based gameplay.
If enhanced-reality games have one big advantage, it’s video. After all, even the jankiest YouTube clips are more believable than most videogames’ digital creations.
THE BAD: Invizimals: Shadow Zone is probably Sony’s last game for the old PSP. (The next generation of their portable system, the Play- Station Vita, arrives in a few weeks.) I played Invizimals hoping to see what Sony has learned to do with their technology. Now I’m worried.
THE BOTTOM LINE: There’s nothing worth seeing in Invizimals: Shadow Zone.