Zubo Hands-On

Rhythm-based battles, impressive production values, and whole bunch of quirky creatures make our first look at Zubo a pleasant surprise.


Earlier this year, EA announced a new DS title by the name of Zubo that had been in development at EA Bright Light in Guildford, England. While the title offered little insight into the game's content, the press release told of the world of Zubalon, populated by Zubos and beset by the sinister Zombos. Amid all the Z-words was the phrase "music-based rhythm-action game featuring a unique set of characters." This classification finally made sense to us when we got a hands-on look at Zubo at a recent EA press event. Read on as we explain not only the above PR-speak, but the technical prowess that could make Zubo one of the most robust DS games yet.

A Zubo is a small humanoid creature that blends a Powerpuff Girls artistic style with the detail and personality of Homies into a cylindrical, Lego-sized character. EA Bright Light has managed to create a unique look for their Zubos that seems to draw on all these sources without overt imitation, and this focus on design pervades the entire game. Eleven different areas of Zubalon give rise to five Zubos each for a complete roster of 55 unique Zubos that you can meet and recruit to join your team. We saw a Haunted House level that was home to Drakool, a vampire Zubo, and the Wild Wild West zone, where a hulking sheriff named Sheriff Star lived. We were told that you recruit Zubos by helping them with problems or saving them from Zombos, though we didn't get to see this in action.

You and your Zubo pals adventure through a wide variety of worlds.
You and your Zubo pals adventure through a wide variety of worlds.

What we did see was plenty of adventuring and battling, and it looked and sounded impressive. You control your human character with the stylus and run around vivid, fully three-dimensional levels. The intelligent camera leads your character so you can better see where you are going, and dynamic lighting illuminates the path in believable ways. These visual bells and whistles are complemented by positional 3D audio, which the developers were very enthusiastic about but we didn't get a great feel for due to the noisy environment. Still, the visuals were impressively rendered and ran at a great speed, making Zubo one of the most technically ambitious DS titles we've seen this year.

Adventuring in these environments was a pleasure, and we got to do amusing things like clear cobwebs in the haunted house by blowing into the mic, and destroy an obstacle in the Wild West by drawing a line of gunpowder from the detonator to the barricade. Enemies are clearly displayed onscreen and will react to your presence, either by fleeing if they fear you and your Zubo team, or by attacking.

Battle is a turn-based affair that pits your team of up to three Zubos against up to three foes. Each Zubo has a set of four moves they can pull off in combat, including attacks, buffs, and debuffs. Each Zubo comes with a set of moves, but these moves can be learned by all Zubos, so you can train your Zubos to hone your battle strategy. Additionally, they each have a powerful super move that is unique to them and cannot be taught to anyone else. Moves are stylish and come tailored to suit each Zubo, so, for example, the rocker-chick Zubo has an attack called "Rock Out" in which she throws down a big speaker and does aural damage to her enemies.

Make friends with some pirate Zubos and maybe they'll give you an honorary eye patch.
Make friends with some pirate Zubos and maybe they'll give you an honorary eye patch.

Actually executing a move is where the rhythm and music elements of Zubo really come to the fore. Once a move begins, a colored outline of your character appears around its body. Another, larger colored outline appears encompassing the first outline and begins to shrink, and you have to tap the stylus when the two outlines match up. This challenge repeats along with the rhythm of the song that is playing, and more powerful moves require more complicated stylus maneuvers. Additionally, each Zubo has a rock-paper-scissors attribute that determines its strength or weakness versus other Zubos. Battle can also be played via wireless connection with two players battling for experience points that carry over to the single-player campaign. These points increase the power of your Zubos' attacks and the frequency with which they can attack, and it's a nice incentive to play multiplayer.

Creating an entirely new world, new characters, and a new game is a daunting task, and EA Bright Light has spent years bringing Zubo to fruition. So far it's looking strong and the Zubos themselves are amusing and irreverent, a good omen that they might catch on. With a purported 15 to 20 hours of adventuring on offer and an engaging battle system, Zubo is going to be a title to watch for the DS. Keep an eye here as we bring you the latest information and gameplay analysis as Zubo's fall release approaches.

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