If Michael Jackson's music videos of the late '80s have taught us anything, it's that the world would be a much better place if conflicts were sorted out by dance-offs rather than, y'know, knives and bombs and stuff. Watching a couple of mean gangsters pirouetting around each other is far more civilised (and amusing) than seeing them knee one another in the knackers.
Sadly we haven't seen enough rhythmic scrapping incorporated into the one entertainment medium that could really do it justice. Considering how integral a good scrap is to the vast majority of video games, and the proliferation of rhythm-based titles on the market, there are surprisingly few tries at combining the two.
Zubo marks a bold attempt to base an entire battle system in an otherwise fairly traditionally structured game on rhythmic inputs. In fact, it ties this fresh approach to that most staid of genres: the RPG.
Before we discuss that, we should perhaps explain that Zubos are little cartoony creatures which you, as the archetypal human kid sucked in to help, encounter while traversing a typical fantasy world. Think of them as a cross between LEGO men and those little 'C'MON!' creatures from the Vauxhall ads. In addition, these Zubos reflect the zones they inhabit, so the initial music-themed hub houses a punky character called Pinky, while the subsequent horror zone plays host to an assortment of hunchbacks and mummys.
Our earlier mention of RPGs needn't scare off those of you who are averse to number crunching, level grinding and elven warriors. Zubo is an absolute breeze to play through and, with its colourful presentation and cartoony art style, it's clearly aimed at the blighter (and younger) end of the market. What it brings from the RPG stable is character levelling, a sizeable adventure and turn-based battles.
As mentioned, though, these turn-based battles are played out using rhythm-based inputs. As your gang of three Zubos line up against the enemy Zombos, you select your fighter and the move you wish to execute (all using the stylus – no need for buttons in this game) before attempting to tap along with a series of shrinking circles surrounding your character. These circles in turn correspond loosely to the music playing in the background.
As you successfully execute each rhythmic tap you lay into your opponent in a variety of over the top slapstick ways. One move sees you blasting your adversary with a giant speaker amp, while another charmingly has you passing wind in time to the music, with devastating results. Reminds me of a chap I knew in sixth form.
Execute the moves correctly to earn Power Pills, which fuel the more elaborate and more destructive moves in your armoury. A clean round will also earn you an extra turn to really inflict some damage on your opponents.
That's the basic premise of the combat system, but there's a deceptive layer of depth to it that only becomes evident as you progress. What's important to note is that it works beautifully, and it transforms what is often the weak point of many RPGs into this game's defining element. This is fortunate, as the rest of the game is rather less exceptional.
The aim of the game is to assemble a rag tag band of 55 Zubos as you make your way through the ten themed worlds. Sadly, these worlds are a little bland and rough around the edges. You'll find yourself funnelled through the various generic settings on an assortment of mildly amusing fetch quests, all tied together with a pretty inconsequential story.
The dialogue, too, while perfectly adequate, lacks the attention to detail and humour found in the visuals. The biggest chuckle we had (which got us thinking along the lines of the intro) was when a character cropped up in the horror zone with an ability called 'Thriller'. Sure enough, the move involves a send-up of the monster-mashing Wacko Jacko pop video of the same name. By contrast, the text-based interchanges between the characters suffer from a lack of wit.
The mechanics of negotiating the world are also a little clunky, with the simple stylus controls humstrung somewhat by plenty of corners to get snagged on. There are also numerous occasions where what looks like a gap in the fence for you to pass through is actually a resolutely solid invisible barrier.
What else? The inventory screen is frustratingly sluggish, and dragging a piece of health-restoring fruit from here onto one of your Zubos can be horribly unwieldy, requiring a shift to another location with a more sympathetic camera angle.
For all these faults, the structure of the game is by no means bad or lacking in fun – there are a number of neat tasks to perform which involve the use of the microphone, for example. But when set against the outstandingly fresh and well executed battle system, the adventuring can't help but seem ever so slightly half-baked.
Ultimately the focus of Zubo is really pushed home with the local multiplayer mode, which is geared entirely towards the battle system. You and a friend can pit your wits against each other, although you should be aware that you'll both require a copy of the game.Zubo proves to be one of the fresher new IPs on DS in recent times, which bodes extremely well for the inevitable sequel(s). In producing a compelling rhythm/fighting hybrid EA has got the tricky part right at the first attempt, so improving on the merely adequate adventure sections should be a breeze.