Review: Zatch Bell! Mamodo Battles (PS2)

Genre: Fighting
Platform: PS2/GC
Rating: T (Teen)
Publisher: Bandai
Developer: Eighting (8ing)
Release Date: 10/11/2005

Bandai’s popular Zatch Bell! series came stateside this past spring (in Japan, it’s known as Konjiki no Gashbell!!), and as its North American fanbase grew, English versions of the video games were sure to follow. The first of these to hit is Zatch Bell! Mamodo Battles for the PS2 and Gamecube. Street Fighter it ain’t, but is Mamodo Battles still worth it?


STORY

Every thousand years, one hundred mamodo come to Earth and battle it out to see who will become the king of the mamodo world. A “mamodo” is essentially a demon, but bear in mind that this isn’t the Western bastardization of the word; we’re using the Japanese term here, which does not necessarily mean evil. There’s good and bad mamodo here. Anyway, you’d think that the powers-that-be on Earth wouldn’t be pleased with a bunch of monstrous beings smashing things and fighting to the death, and you’d be right. However, mamodo often look like children or small animals, and furthermore…they can’t fight on their own! Without a human partner, they’re powerless. See, when the mamodo show up on Earth, they’ve got a spellbook with them, and when a human finds them, the mamodo gives it to their newfound friend. The spellbook is what their partner uses to activate spells that the mamodo can use for offense and defense.

One of these mamodo is a kid named Zatch Bell. Found in a forest in England by the archaeologist Seitaro Takamine, Zatch has no memory of who he is or where he’s from. (And he wears a dress.) Seitaro sends him back to Japan to befriend his foolish son Kiyo, a fourteen-year-old genius who is repeatedly mocked and picked on at school. Half the time, he doesn’t even go to school! The unexpected arrival of Zatch throws his life into a whirlwind, and before he knows it, he’s caught up in the legendary battle to find the next mamodo king. Through it all, Kiyo and Zatch form a strong friendship as they defend themselves from other mamodo, seek the answers behind Zatch’s amnesia, and eventually have Zatch become a “kind king” to end the fighting once and for all.

Well, there’s your background information. Zatch Bell! Mamodo Battles, obviously focuses on the actual mamodo fights, and unless you’re familiar with the backstory to the Zatch Bell! anime, a lot of the game’s story may not make sense. While the tale of Zatch and Kiyo is slowly played out in the game’s story mode, it still feels as though you’re missing something.

(Rating: 6/10)


GRAPHICS

As is the norm with anime fighting games, ZB!MB is cel-shaded. There’s “jaggies” here and there, but overall, the character models get the job done and look just like their anime counterparts.

That said, ZB!MB is certainly not the best looking game on the PS2. Thankfully, it’s also not the worst. The graphics are right about in the middle of the road. The backgrounds have a decent amount of detail, but you’ll be paying close attention to the mamodo and their partners, anyway. Character portraits (shown during dialog sequences and character selection screens) look great, as if they were stills lifted straight from the anime. The animation during dialog sequences is very weak, but c’mon…it’s a dubbed anime fighter. Are you really that worried about their mouths’ movement? (God, that sounded dirty.)

(Rating: 5/10)


SOUND

The original US cast is here in full force to provide voices for the mamodo and their partners. Some of the dialog is admittedly quite cheesy, but come on, ZB!MB is a dubbed cartoon. What did you want, a literary classic? The background music has been lifted from the anime as well, though there’s plenty of new music to spice things up; sadly, none of the music here is all that noteworthy.

(Rating: 6/10)


CONTROL & GAMEPLAY

ZB!MB is a button-masher, plain and simple. The PS2’s four face buttons equate to the following: strike, spell, block, and counterattack. Using the D-pad (or analog stick) in tandem with these buttons lets your perform the expected special moves and combos. For example, when using Zatch, tapping back and then the spell button will unleash his “Jikerdor” attack, which can paralyze an opponent.

While the mamodo are the actual ones doing most of the fighting, their human partners will be right beside them the whole time. As you use spell attacks, the partner will call out the spell, and the spell will be cast a split-second later. As such, you need to be aware of timing when using spells. More importantly is that you have a power gauge for your spells; when that runs out, you’re stuck using regular strikes until it builds back up again. The more strikes you land, the faster the gauge will recharge. Plus, some strikes will actually cause your human partner to charge in and attack your opponent! It’s unintentionally funny to see a fullsize human kicking around a midget. Of course, your enemies can do the same thing to you, so make sure you use that counterattack button to your advantage.

After landing a good amount of combos and attacks, you can unleash a super move. While these look great, they’re easily the cheapest part of the game. Even if your opponent blocks, it’s likely that the super move will still knock them out, unless they’ve got a full lifebar. This completely upsets the balance of the game, unfortunately. One cool side effect is that if both players use a super move at the same time, you need to rapidly tap the square button to force the other super move back. Fail, and your opponent’s super move will take you out!

Now that we’ve gotten the fighting basics out of the way, let’s talk about the various modes that ZB!MB offers. You’ve got your basic story mode, where you’ll travel the world to fight other mamodo, and learn more about whichever mamodo you choose. Sometimes, you’ll fight a mamodo more than once, but it does serve to expound upon the storyline. 1P mode is your “free battle” mode; 2P mode is self-explanatory; training mode lets you practice your skills; time attack mode has you trying to complete specific challenges within a certain time limit; develop mode lets you spend points earned in other modes to beef up your mamodo’s strength and such; and bonus mode lets you buy and view trading cards (more on that below). For such a simple game, there is a decent amount of options available to the player.

ZB!MB‘s real gameplay faults lie not only in its simplicity, but in the aforementioned cheap supermoves and one other glaring problem: just like white men, mamodo can’t jump. Sure, some of them have aerial moves, but there’s no jump button, nor any way to control an aerial move once it’s executed. You can move forward, backward, and up and down on the 3D battlefield…but no jumping. That’s a huge step backwards are far as fighters are concerned, and one that’s likely to drive even casual fighting game fans up the wall.

(Rating: 5/10)


REPLAYABILITY

Like any fighter worth its salt should, ZB!MB has plenty of unlockable characters. Completing story mode and other objectives will allow you to do this, and once unlocked, characters can be used in other modes and developed accordingly.

As you fight your way through story mode and such, you’ll earn points. These can be spent on developing your character’s attributes in develop mode, or used to buy trading cards. These are the exact same cards seen in Bandai’s Zatch Bell! The Card Battle collectible card game; you can zoom in to check their stats and everything. Sadly, that’s as far as the connection goes; the real cards have no effect on the video game, or vice versa. They’re just there as a marketing ploy.

(Rating: 6/10)


BALANCE

ZB!MB seems balanced enough, and it’s not a difficult game at all. However, those blasted super moves can really turn the balance on its head. It would be one thing if strategy was involved, but it’s really not; you beat on your opponent, unleash a super move, and it’s game over.

(Rating: 5/10)


ORIGINALITY

There’s loads of other anime fighters out there. Not only that, Zatch Bell! falls into a rather common category of manga and anime these days: young kid acquires powerful monster/magic/item/etc, and goes on to prove himself. This is the same vein as other super-popular properties like yYu-Gi-Oh! and PokÃÆ’©mon; while Zatch Bell! is obviously not exactly the same, the basic theme is still there. The beat-’em-up/build combo meter/unleash super move schtick is nothing new, either. The characters and partner/mamodo pairing is a nice diversion, but it’s nothing that’ll win Most Original Game of the Year.

(Rating: 5/10)


ADDICTIVENESS

If you’re a Zatch Bell! fan, you’re likely to play ZB!MB just to unlock all of your favorite characters and cards. If not…well, the game may just get boring after a while. Being such a simple fighter, there’s not much strategy needed, and even though two-player battling is great, the casual player will just as quickly move on to something else.

(Rating: 4/10)


APPEAL

Obviously, ZB!MB is targeted at Zatch Bell! fans. While the US release of the show has been “sanitized” (i.e., some nudity, violence, and suggestive song lyrics were removed), the game isn’t targeted at the preteen fans. The game does indeed carry a “Teen” rating from the ESRB; this is likely due to the images of grown-up partners beating on childlike mamodo (especially Kiyo beating on little Tia). It’s highly unlikely that the casual gamer will even give ZB!MB a second look, and immediately dismiss it as “kiddie.”

(Rating: 3/10)


MISCELLANEOUS

Developer Eighting is no stranger to anime fighting games, as they’re responsible for the Naruto: Gekitou Ninja Taisen series on the GC as well as Bleach: Heat the Soul 2 on the PSP. Both of those games, however, were considerably more complicated and offered a lot more to the player than ZB!MB does. It’s a shame that ZB!MB didn’t have more to offer; sometimes, it even feels as though the game was rushed.

(Rating: 5/10)


Final Scores:

Story: 6/10
Graphics: 5/10
Sound: 6/10
Control & Gameplay: 5/10
Replayability: 6/10
Balance: 5/10
Originality: 5/10
Addictiveness: 4/10
Appeal: 3/10
Miscellaneous: 5/10

Overall Score: 50/100
FINAL SCORE: 5.0 (Average)