Hands-On: Spirit Hunters Inc. (Nintendo DSiWare)

Move over Pokemon - the Spirit Hunters are in town!

The awesome guys over at Nnooo studios were invaded by the Aussie-Gamer team recently where we stuck our nose into all their upcoming projects.

One of those was a fantastic Pokemon inspired Augmented Reality game for Nintendo DSiWare called Spirit Hunters Inc.. The developers were happy to give us some near-final code to play with, which you will also be able to check out at Nnooo booth at EB Expo in October.

We couldn’t wait that long, though, because Spirit Hunters Inc is looking epically sweet! So we’re thrilled to be able to give you a hands-on report!

Like Pokémon, but cooler!

Spirit Hunters Inc. is a very different type of Role Playing Game. Your goal is to find, battle and capture a bunch of Spirits that are roaming around the real world — the world you and I live in!

Spirit Hunters Concept Art

These cute characters are super-imposed over the real world using the Nintendo DSi/Nintendo 3DS camera. The critters fly in and attack you with a variety of powers based on their Element. These are Fire, Ice, Water, Shadow, Light and – my personal favorite – Fungal. Elements work pretty much as you’d expect – Fire beats Ice, Ice freezes Water and so on. You’ll need to understand these differences to progress through the game.

Elements are important because you will choose which element you get to play as. For example, you might choose to be a Water Element at the start of the game, that will affect how easy or difficult certain Spirits are to defeat and capture.

But how does the game handle?

I will say that I was immediately impressed by how polished Spirit Hunters Inc. was from the moment I picked it up – The game is smooth, the Spirits look great and the game works well in spite of the grainy Nintendo DSi camera on which it relies.

Spirit Hunters Concept Art

Fighting a Spirit involves following him as he flies around the room. I was struck by how fluid this system was considering the console it was developed for – Nintendo DSi – does not have any motion tracking sensors at all. This is a limitation Nnooo overcame by researching “motion vectors” – a compression technique used in DVD’s.

Spirit Hunters Inc. is shaping up to blur that line between what we think of as a “digital download game” and a “blockbuster retail game”…

“When we were researching how to do the Augmented Reality, we knew we had to take one frame of the image that was just there on your camera and take the image that is there now on your camera and do a comparison between the two to see what’s changed,” Nic Watt, Creative Director at Nnooo explained to Aussie-Gamer.

“By somehow working out that change, we can determine which direction the change is moving in. So we looked at a lot of compression techniques that were used for MPEG video and that’s basically what we’re doing – we’re analysing the image and then you do this clever comparison routine and it averages out and says “most the change is moving this way or that way” and then we apply that as a force in-game.”

This complex development and attention to detail, they assured us, is why the game has been almost three years in development!

Their efforts have payed off – Spirit Hunters feels like it’s a motion game as you spin around the room like an idiot, trying to keep track of where this spirit is flying. Because Nnooo wanted to make a game that could be used on the train, or at a desk, the Spirits will fly back to the game screen to attack you if you’re feeling lazy or too awkward to use the awesome motion effect.

The game action is played out on the Nintendo DS touchscreen. Players use the stylus to choose an Ability from a menu to attack the opposing Spirit with. Each Ability is unique and require different actions – like holding the stylus on the screen to pour water at the enemy, or tapping on the Spirit itself.

“Don’t let the past-generation nature of the game turn you off; this is an Australian-made video game that we should all be paying close attention to..”

At the end of the battle, you will gain experience points and/or money. Defeating the Spirit will gain you more Experience Points while catching the Spirit will gain you more money. Experience will raise your level, unlocking new abilities and items which you can then purchase with all that money.

The game is jam-packed with content – over 90 Spirits are available to find, catch and battle. The available spirits vary depending on which version of the game you buy. There’s also a trade code function that allows you generate a code to send a Spirit you’ve captured to a friend. Unlike in Pokemon, you get to keep your Spirit – the code merely makes a copy of the character to be loaded into your friends’ game.

Spirit Hunters combines serious RPG elements with simple controls and short-burst gameplay that is an absolute requirement for handheld titles. It’s also highly addictive – I left wanting a lot more and my gruelling train ride back to Aussie-Gamer HQ felt empty. Those spirits are around me – they need to be hunted!

Spirit Hunters Inc.

Spirit Hunters Inc. is a highly polished, content rich Nintendo DSiWare game. Don’t let the past-generation nature of the game turn you off; this is an Australian-made video game that we should all be paying close attention to. Spirit Hunters will be an absolute steal as a DSiWare title and from what I’ve seen of the near-final code, the game is a blast to play and belongs on store shelves in shiny packaging at a premium price. If you’re heading to EB Expo this year, pay Nnooo a visit and check this one out!

Spirit Hunters Inc. is shaping up to be the game that blurs the line between what we think of as a “digital download game” and a “AAA retail game”. I’ll save final judgement until I get my grubby mitts on a review copy, but wannabe spirit hunters should watch this space!

Though not yet confirmed, Nnooo are hoping for an October/November 2012 release date and will be available both on the Nintendo DSiWare Shop and Nintendo 3DS eShop.

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