Zubo doesn't have any of the hallmarks of modern video game success; it's not a sequel, it's not a movie tie-in and it probably won't spawn its own cartoon series, but don't let this deter you from considering Zubo as a way of wiling away those long school holiday hours. While its ensemble cast of characters may not have familiar faces like Mario, Sonic or Pikachu, it is littered with some very cool pop culture references that help the game feel familiar.
Also familiar is the gameplay, a combination of Pokemon role playing mixed with the mechanics of a rhythm game like Rhythm Heaven or Elite Beat Agents. You play Alex, a regular kid who inexplicably lands in the world of Zubalon where you must battle alongside the Zubos to defeat Big Head and his hordes of Zombos. We know, we know, it all sounds like gibberish when you say it out loud, but once the game gets rolling we quickly forgot the silly names and concentrated instead on the fun gameplay.
As Alex you traipse about Zubalon befriending the Zubos you meet and forming a growing catalogue of fighters, similar to finding and winning new Pokemon. The Zubos come in three flavours, fighters, performers and defenders (yellow, pink and green) each of which has its strengths and weaknesses. As with rock, paper, scissors, yellow has an advantage over pink, pink over green and green over yellow. When you encounter a Zombo, or two or three, you first have to decide which order to use your Zubos to attack depending on the fighting style of your enemy. If you encounter a pink Zombo you should attack with your yellow Zubo, and so on.
Also like Pokemon, battles occur in turn-based order, you attack first, then the enemy attacks. To perform a move you select the power move of your Zubo then play an attacking mini-game where you tap the DS touchscreen in time with the visual cues on screen. If you perform the move correctly you'll inflict maximum damage, if you miss a beat or two your attacks will only score a portion of the full amount.
Befriend Frankenstein by charging his batteries (Credit: EA Games)
There are 55 Zubo characters to find during Alex's journey, most of which you'll recognise as comic-Zubo versions of pop culture icons, there's a Frankenstein-like monster called Boltz, a Mummy creature called Ragz and no points for guessing who the Zubo Drakool is based on. There's also a James Bond-like Zubo, who fights alongside Bruce Lee and Robocop inspired Zubo fighters.
We love these subtle references, and overall the look and feel of Zubo is quite good, with colourful graphics and fittingly upbeat music. The game play does get a little repetitive after the 10th, 20th and 30th rhythm game battle, and this is drummed home by the fact that there is very little difference between Zubo characters in the same fighting style. Luckily, the rhythm game element gets harder the further into the game you play, so you'll have to concentrate to keep on top of the new moves.
If you love Pokemon but you want a change of scene, Zubo is an excellent alternative.