Currently scheduled for release in North America toward the end of this month, Zatch Bell! Mamodo Fury is a combat-based action game based on the popular Zatch Bell! anime series. The game, like the show, revolves around a schoolboy named Kiyo and his mamodo friend Zatch. What's a mamodo? Mamodo are demons from another world that, every thousand years, descend upon Earth to battle for the title of king. Each mamodo has access to a spell book, but using the powers contained within it requires assistance from a human partner. Zatch isn't nearly as power-hungry as the majority of his demonic peers, but he and Kiyo have no choice but to defend themselves when other mamodo attack.
Zatch Bell! Mamodo Fury is a fighting game in which up to four players can do battle simultaneously, controlling both human and mamodo characters. For the purpose of this preview, however, we've focused on playing through the early story mode missions--unlocking additional playable characters and environments for the versus mode in the process. The first time you play through the story mode it will be as Kiyo and Zatch, though options that we've yet to unlock on the story mode menu look as though they might let you play through the game as at least two other character pairings later on.
After opting to play the game on easy, normal, or hard mode and being thrust into your first battle, you'll find that the default controls see you assuming direct control of Kiyo while Zatch follows you around. You can switch between the two characters at any time, though it's worth noting that the human characters will be motionless and vulnerable to attacks when you take control of a mamodo. The decent-size arenas in which the battles take place invariably have objects that you can safely stash characters behind for a time, but since many of those objects are destructible, it's rarely a good idea to leave your human character out of sight for too long. With that said, you'll know if your human character gets into trouble because they'll drop the spell book that they're carrying, which prevents you using any of your demon's magic attacks.
Regardless of which character you're using, your range of moves at the start of your story-driven adventure will be quite limited. You'll have a melee attack, a jump, a dash/evade mode, a targeting lock for ranged attacks, and just a couple of different spells that are activated by holding down the spell button for different amounts of time. As you progress through the game you'll unlock new and more powerful offensive spells that are used by pressing the button for increasingly long amounts of time--as indicated on screen by a counter with numbers one through five and a letter "S." The additional spells that we've unlocked for Kiyo and Zatch thus far include erecting a temporary shield and a "Jikerdor" move that welds enemies to the floor for a short time. We should mention, though, that the abilities appear to vary quite significantly according to which demon you're using, as we found out when experimenting with other playable demons, such as Reycom, Sugino, Tia, Kanchome, and Wonrei.
Each time you win a battle, you'll be graded on your performance according to a number of different factors, such as how much health you had left at the end, how many times you dropped your spell book, and how much time was remaining on the clock. Your grade will determine how many mamodo points you get to spend on improving your demons' attributes, which include spell strength, strongest spell, body strength, speed, defense spirit, fighting spirit, and luck.
Zatch Bell! Mamodo Fury appears to be faithful to the anime on which it is based, particularly in the visuals department, although we did find that the camera--which attempts to keep your opponent in view at all times--had some problems keeping up with the action in our work-in-progress version of the game. We look forward to bringing you a full review of the PlayStation 2 game when it's released in North America later this month. A GameCube version is also development, but it currently has only the somewhat vague release date of "winter."