Zubo is a weird game. The box art, white with a few sparse Lego rip-offs and the game title in a font that is only used by primary school kids, portrays the game to be for a younger age group. The screen shots on the back of the packaging: bright, cheery, pixelated and with the same art design as many a Nickelodeon's cartoon once again hint at a less mature audience and much to this game's discredit it also expands into the game itself with twee dialogue and plot, overly cute characters and settings straight out of a Hannah Barbara animation that give the gamer born and bred on GTA's violence, foul mouthery and adult content that distorts the image of maturity the impression that this game isn't for them.
This is a crying shame because Zubo is a game full of hidden and subtle depth and twitch finger action. You control the character Alex (you can change it but I stuck with the default) who is our unknowing hero thrust into Zubalon, the land of the Zubos who are besieged by an army of Zubo clones called Zombos who are led by the evil Sleepy Head...I did say the plot was a bit twee. This is done through the DS touch screen - in fact everything bar the start button which brings up the save/exit menu is done through the touch screen - and it's quite intuitive, just press on the screen and Alex will run there until you stop pressing, quite simple. The only issue with this is that its a little imprecise which is fine for the most part as you play in expansive areas but during some of the games maze sections it is possible to get snagged on a corner just because Alex was a couple of millimetres away from where you were pointing, which can force you to re-do the section if it's a time trial. The game makes good use of the touch screen and other components of the DS; the mic can be used for shouting at Zubos to wake them or blowing away cobwebs, the stylus can be used to play whack-a-Zombo, move flames around, shoot cans, scrub floors, play drum sets and many other tasks which help break up the otherwise linearity of the action.
Now the main, great thing about Zubo is the rhythmic fighting. It's all very simple, as your Zubo is performing a move you'll get rough outlines of the Zubo which start out large and far away from the character and decrease until the outline touches the character and disappears. You have to tap your Zubo when the line is closest to it. Depending on how successful you are with each outline (some moves have a ridiculous number of outlines) you fill a bar up on the bottom of the screen. The volume of that bar dictates how much damage is done with that attack and how many power pills you have earned, these power pills then allow you to use more powerful attacks; get all perfect scores and you may even earn yourself a bonus turn. Now if you get too good at this with a character and start hitting perfect scores all the time the game will upgrade your moves for that character, the move becomes more potent but there are more outlines and they come a lot quicker. These sequences are also wonderfully animated, quirky and just plain fun to watch. Sadly these can be obscured by your hand for the most part as you concentrate too much on getting those perfect moves.
Where is the hidden and subtle depth that I mentioned early you may ask - if you aren't, pay closer attention. Well, during the game you pick a team of three Zubos who you will command in the fight sequences, during these sequences the Zubo you use to make the last action becomes your active character and all actions are aimed against them. There are three main classes of Zubo, attacks, defenders and performers. Now in your typical combat triangle attackers are stronger than performers who are stronger than defenders who are stronger than attackers but the game also expands upon that idea. Attackers have stronger attacks and special moves that allow them to raise their strength, attack any opponent and make fearsome attacks against the Zombo's active character. Defenders will have abilities that increase defence, stun the opponent or make attacks against the entire Zombo team. Performers are the weakest but have the more interesting options with heal moves, being able to give you more power pills, drain attacks (every point you cause to you opponent heals you) and sonic attacks which ignore enemy defence moves. Each Zubo has four main moves, these can be swapped at a later point but all that does is change the attack rhythm but the move and its abilities remain the same. Now some of your 55 Zubos will have moves outside of their class, Drakool the fighter has a heavy hitting vampiric attack for example. As you progress and increase you collection of Zubos you will have a far greater choice and a larger pool from which to customise your team to your liking.
It's this subtle intelligence to the action that brings Zubo out of the mire of kiddie games, the rest of the game though is very hit and miss. As mentioned earlier the graphics are colourful, full of character and enjoyable to watch but sadly this is marred by the graphics being overly pixelated. I've seen this in quite a few other 3D games so am not sure if its the DS or the games engine which is at fault but it does put the dampener on what is otherwise good presentation. The sound is good and crisp but as each soundtrack is based on the area you are in actual quality of the music is based on preference, I didn't mind the horror zone but turned the volume off for the pop zone.
All in all this is a great game that sadly was aimed at a younger demographic so is adversely affected. Give the game a go and you'll soon fall in love with its charm and good battle system.