|System: DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: EA Bright Light||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Electronic Arts||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: March 10, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-2||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jonathan Marx
Zubo is an interesting amalgam of rhythm gameplay and turn-based RPG mechanics. Drawing from a number of high quality titles including Pokémon and Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga, Zubo makes for a compelling experience. Although, this game simply does not capture the same magic the aforementioned titles do because of its lack of depth.
As a result, the cutesy, Mighty Bean-like characters don't transcend demographics, making this game exclusively for children. That being said, there is enough challenge and length that it is a great title for young, aspiring gamers; this is certainly not some Dora or Ponyz title.
Players will be tasked with saving the world of Zubalon from the evil Zombos. How? By making friends with the multitude of friendly Zubos along the way. Much like Pokémon, battles are turn-based, and every Zubo has special skills that make them more than just citizens of Zubalon - they can protect, perform, and fight their way to glory. In fact, each Zubo (and every Zombo) is classified as a Protector, Performer, or Fighter. This sets up a rock-paper-scissors power-dichotomy, with Protectors trumping Fighters, Fighters laying the hurt down on Performers, and Performers having an advantage over Protectors. Luckily, players will be allowed to have three Zubos with them at all times, essentially giving you access to an ideal Zubo type no matter what kinds of Zombos are thrown at you.
After defeating a group of Zombos, Zubo characters are given XP boosts, with KO-inducing characters getting an extra bonus. XP is used to level up characters, which is done automatically. Every time characters level up, their vital statistics improve and new skills become available. Skills typically deal direct damage to your foes, but they can also shield, reflect, heal, or strengthen your Zubos. Activating these moves is done through a unique battle mechanic that takes advantage of tapping and holding your stylus on the DS's touch screen with the appropriate timing.
Depending on how powerful the move is, the more difficult it will be to pull off; timing and pattern recognition is of the utmost importance. If you get too anxious or aren't paying enough attention, you'll be plagued by ratings of Miss and Early. If you are able to time the attacks well, you will be given an OK or Sweet rating. The more quality ratings you get, the more your damage (heal) meter, known as The Score Bar, will fill and the more powerful the move will be. If you are able to link together all Sweet ratings within a round, you will achieve a Super Sweet, which will give you a bonus and may even translate into a Lucky Streak, giving your team a bonus attack. Additionally, filling The Score Bar past certain thresholds will have your Zubos accumulating a pool of Power Pills. These pills are combat currency, which allows you to gain access to more advanced moves. Standard moves can be pulled off at anytime, but advanced moves, which do more damage, require you to spend a certain quantity of pills. Thankfully, pulling off such advanced moves efficiently will help to replenish at least a portion of your Power Pill pool.
In review, combat is made up of a series of turn-based encounters between Zubos and Zombos. Players try to match up appropriate Zubo classes to gain an advantage over the Zombos, and then must use skills from their moves list to wear down their opponents by executing stylus-controlled prompts. This combat mechanic is fairly rewarding, but it is not nearly as deep as what is found in Pokémon or Superstar Saga. For starters, there are only three classes to choose from, making Zubo not particularly cerebral. Also, while the execution of attacks is a rich system, there is no way to counterattack; you'll just have to sit back and literally fast-forward enemy attacks and wait for the result. That gives a distinct nod to Superstar Saga. Finally, the game is supposed to be based on rhythm, but that's actually a misconception.
While attacks require precise timing, they are executed via visual cues rather than aural ones. That's because the attacks don't match up with the music at all. You'll simply have to pay attention to matching up the glowing rings and silhouettes of your characters. These three missteps make this game decidedly less compelling than the other two franchises mentioned. Still, there is enough fun here for youngsters to get a kick out of the title. Namely, the collection and leveling components are strong enough to keep kids entertained for awhile. There's even a multiplayer element that allows you to battle with a friend locally via DS Wireless Connection, and a handicapping feature that keeps these battles fair. The only downside is there is no Download Play functionality for at least limited single cartridge fun.