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With Invizimals, Sony renews efforts for kid-friendly games in US

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Sony is bringing the Invizimals series back to North America later this year with Invizimals: The Alliance on PlayStation Vita and Invizimals: The Lost Kingdom on PlayStation 3. The kid-oriented franchise is very popular in Europe, particularly in Spain and Portugal. But it hasn't really taken off here in the states, and Sony is attempting to kickstart interest by launching two connected games at once.

The original Invizimals debuted on PlayStation Portable in Europe in November 2009, and arrived stateside in October 2010. It was followed by two PSP sequels, Invizimals: Shadow Zone and Invizimals: The Lost Tribes, but the latter title has yet to be released in North America; both The Alliance and The Lost Kingdom launched last October in Europe. All of the Invizimals games, except the PS3-exclusive Lost Kingdom, are augmented reality titles that make use of the camera on the PSP or PS Vita. That's because the series' titular creatures get their name from being invisible to humans without the aid of a special device — like a gaming handheld or smartphone.

Nick Accordino, a producer on The Alliance at Sony Computer Entertainment America, told Polygon during a demo yesterday that the appetite for this kind of game (and its associated licensing extensions) generally seems to be larger in Europe. Sony Computer Entertainment Europe partnered with BRB Internacional, a Spanish animation studio, for an Invizimals cartoon series that will begin airing this month. And the Italian company Panini publishes Invizimals sticker books and card games across Europe.

Many of Sony's previous attempts at launching video games directed toward children in the U.S. haven't panned out — consider titles such as Wonderbook. But the AR games within Invizimals: The Alliance are impressive in their creativity, and the action looks terrific on the PS Vita's screen.

We checked out Captures, which are AR minigames in which the player is tasked with defeating Invizimals in battle and then capturing them. In one, we had to dodge the beast's blasts of energy by moving the PS Vita, and then squish the creature when it jumped onto the screen by tapping the device's rear touchpad. Another evoked the climax of King Kong: The Invizimal was climbing up a wall and throwing chunks of it at us; we dodged them, and then fired back from helicopters. There's another where you have to follow a noise.

Part of the idea, said Accordino, is to get kids up and moving around. After all, many AR games take place with players sitting in front of cards laid out on a table. Once you've captured an Invizimal, you can use them in the game's four-player Battle Mode, which supports local play over an ad-hoc connection or online play over Wi-Fi. Players can fight in any combination of four people across The Alliance on PS Vita and The Lost Kingdom on PS3, and those who own both games can transfer Invizimals and items back and forth. (The Lost Kingdom isn't an AR game; it's a third-person action title. But the Invizimals in its campaign can be used in arena battles.)

Invizimals may or may not succeed here in North America. But launching with good games would be a great first step. And what we've seen of Invizimals: The Alliance makes it seem like something that could really resonate with children ages 8-12, which Accordino said is the intended audience. Both The Alliance and The Lost Kingdom are set for release in North America in 2014.