Review by GGAGAHC
"Quirky, Cute, and a nice change from your everyday RPGs"
Flying way under the radar (particularly strange given EA isn't exactly some unknown company), Zubo offers a fun experience that brings something new to the table. The game flourishes in the character department, but stumbles in regards to longevity and story. Let's begin the review.
Story: Given that Zubo is an RPG, one would definitely expect a strong, solid storyline (reasonably so, of course). Unfortunately, Zubo's storyline isn't all that great. Heck, it's pretty shallow. You play a human being who, for some reason, is in Zubalon and is suddenly thrown into saving the world of the Zubos. It's one of those "this guy [or gal] was fated to help us save our world!" kind of thing, so you probably get the gist of it. Along your adventure, the story doesn't necessarily develop, and you're more sent to each different area with the goal of recruiting more Zubos to help in your battle against the evil villain (who, surprise surprise, seeks to rule Zubalon). So after having finished the game, what can I say about the story? Honestly, not a whole lot. If you want a game that will give you a rich story that boggles your mind, Zubo is not that game (I wouldn't even say it TICKLES your mind, much less boggles). However, if you're willing to overlook the lackluster story...
Characters: Part of what makes a good story are its characters, I think most of us can agree on that. Now, the characters of Zubo pretty much add nothing to the story. But before going into that, let's explain the characters. In the game, the hero (you) never actually does any fighting. Instead, your Zubos do the fighting for you. Think of it like Pokemon, where you want to recruit different types of Zubos to add to your team so you can use them in battle. What is a Zubo? Well, take a look at the box cover! It's rather hard to describe them. They're kind of like little Lego-men, except rounder? In any case, each Zubo falls into a category that represents its theme. There are horror themed Zubos, where you have a vampire, Frankenstein, and mummy Zubo, for example. And there are fairy tale themed Zubos, where you have a Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella Zubo.
These themes make recruiting Zubos much fun and is almost the only driving force for continuing the game (after all, if there's no good story driving you, then what have you left?). Each Zubo has their own unique look and their own unique special attacks, but I'll go into that later. Just keep in mind that if there's anything that I will undoubtedly praise Zubo for, it's the Zubos themselves. I mean, c'mon, they're adorable!
Controls: This game is entirely controlled through the touch screen, which, unfortunately, means there will be flaws. Running around is a pain in this game. While for the most part moving around works fine, there are times when the camera is moving while you move, which means your character then responds oddly because the road has changed. Also, because this isn't viewed from a top down perspective all the time (which I personally think is the only view you should be using if you want touch screen controls), it can be difficult to navigate. How do you move forward when your character's back is facing you? If you push on your character's back, most of the time, he/she will turn around instead of moving forward like you want him/her to. Issues like this make the controls quite annoying. I guess you could say it's a combination of the camera and the controls (I mean, the controls WORK fine, it's just finding a situation where you can use them effectively that can be annoying).
Another annoying detail is when your character stops abruptly because he/she bumped into an obstacle. While certainly reasonable to stop when you hit a wall, it can get annoying when navigating tight areas that have wall-like objects (fences, doors, large rocks). It's nothing that will bother everyone, and it's certainly not game-breaking, but for me, it was a nuisance that made me roll my eyes everytime it happened. In any case, the controls can be annoying, but they're certainly not something you should stress yourself about. After all, this isn't a game that requires tight controls (unlike, say, a fighting game) so if you can deal with some of the minor annoyances of navigating the world, then you shouldn't have much issues here.
Graphics: The Zubos look cute, and adorable, and each one has a unique look. The backgrounds are kind of generic and really nothing too special. Things you can interact never stand out amongst just regular background items. This may or may not be a bad thing, depending on your own preferences, but I know I found it slightly annoying. I can't say much about the graphics, honestly. It didn't stand out as amazing, but also didn't stand out as terrible. Finding screenshots of the game isn't difficult, so look at those and gauge for yourself whether or not you think they're terrible.
Gameplay: Now to the meat and bones of any game, Zubo is an RPG, and any RPG is basically the following: fight monsters, run around dungeons, assist local townsfolk, rinse and repeat. I mean, what is an RPG but basically random battles with filler in between each battle? Taking this into consideration, Zubo's biggest innovation is its battle system.
You can bring into battle three Zubos who will fight, at most, three other zombified Zubos. You and your opponent take turns choosing one of your three Zubos and attacking each other. Typical stuff, of course. But here's where it's slightly different: much like Legend of Dragoon, or the Mario & Luigi RPGs, you don't simply choose and attack and watch as your character does it. Rather, you must also time button presses (or, in this case, tapping your screen) in order to do more damage. This keeps you constantly involved in the battles and makes things more interesting. You're not just randomly tapping, of course, you have to tap to the rhythm of the music playing in the background. It doesn't necessarily always make sense. If you read Gamespot's review of this game, they say the taps don't even go with the rhythm. This has a little truth to it. It doesn't always go with the rhythm, for sure, but it DOES have a rhythm. To make sure that you're not bored always tapping to the same rhythm, each attack gets stronger as you use it more, and this in turn makes the attack do more damage.
Your opponents also follow this same battle strategy, having to "tap" to the rhythm to maximize their damage. In the beginning, they don't always reach that maximum potential damage but towards the end, they, not surprisingly, will pretty much always hit you the hardest they can. Nothing you can do but to dish out more damage quickly.
Continuing with the good, each Zubo has their own special attack. Now, each Zubo has four attack slots and you can choose whichever attack that you've unlocked (which happens as you obtain more Zubos) to fill into those slots. This is a good idea in that you can customize each Zubo to fulfill certain roles (for example, giving your healer Zubo an attack that heals your teammates) but this is also a bad idea in that it takes away from the uniqueness of each Zubo. Fortunately, you can only customize three of their four slots, as each Zubo HAS to have their own unique special attack. This makes them all unique, which helps a lot. Your vampire Zubo will suck the opponents blood (and gain health back!) whereas the Sleeping Beauty Zubo will make her opponent fall asleep. The special attacks all relate to the character and are all very fun to watch. Of course, one of the problems is that you're so focused on tapping to the rhythm that you don't necessarily have the time to be watching your character perform his/her attack.
Now for the downsides to the game. For one, it's repetitive. One reason this is so is because each fight is the same. You fight different Zubos and it will be different and challenging the first couple of times, but once you've settled on three Zubos that you're going to use for the rest of the game, each battle is just the same thing over and over again, using the same attacks over and over again. Even worse is that "boss" battles aren't that different. In RPGs, the boss battles should be unique and much different than the standard fare, but in this one, when you encounter bosses, you still fight Zubos, but you basically just fight a couple of battles in a row. So you don't even necessarily fight the bosses themselves, just their zombie Zubo minions in succession. By the time you get to the end of the game, you're so over fighting that you want to just avoid most battles (which fortunately you can, since battles aren't random and you can see your opponent on the field before you fight them).
Another downside to the game is that you pretty much HAVE to stick with three main Zubos and play with them to the end. Now, which three those are is up to you, but it becomes tough to give up your perfectly leveled Zubos to try out a new Zubo who is way underleveled. Grinding is pretty much impossible in this game since there are no random battles, and once you've fought off certain enemies, they don't show up on that map again. There are occasional, respawning enemies, but they are so low-leveled when you need them that it's pointless to try grinding. Now, some of you probably don't have an issue with the fact that you don't need to grind in this game. However, it's an issue when you want to use a new Zubo and realize that you basically have no way of leveling him/her up until you move on to the next area. And, since the meat of the experience is gained when your Zubo actually KILLS an opponent (as opposed to just being in the battle and providing support), it can be a pain to level up those who are underleveled. Not surprisingly, my last three Zubo who I used in the final fight were the ones I obtained near the beginning of the game. It just was too much of a hassle to level up the new ones. You CAN buy items that grant your Zubos experience, but grinding for money (or notes, the currency of Zubalon) is as much of a pain as grinding for levels.
Replayability: None whatsoever. You can go back to Zubalon after finishing the game to recruit any Zubo you might've missed, and there are secret Zubos to unlock by playing the arena mode, but that takes so long that it's really not worth it (given that you can beat the game with your non-secret Zubos just fine). You can also take your Zubos and fight a friend and his three strongest Zubos. I've never tried it so I can't say much about it. Just, you know, know that it's there.
Final Words: In the end, this game brings something very nice and fresh to the table. It's got a collection aspect that makes Pokefanatics (or just collectionists) giddy with "Gotta catch em all!" And the game is so family friendly that it's actually really quite adorable. I mean, how is healing your teammates by dancing to "Thriller" or strutting and posing NOT adorable? However, with a battle system that gets old too soon and a pretty bad story, this game goes from potentially great to just relatively good.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 07/23/09
Game Release: Zubo (US, 03/10/09)
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