Game Diary – April 1, 2009: Surprise DS Game You Shouldn’t Ignore

Who knew that EA’s first turn-based role-playing game in years — one made for kids — could be…. good?


Last night, on the subway ride home, I took a break from “Rhythm Heaven” (out next week on the DS) and tried “Zubo.”

I don’t know what “Zubo” means. But I can explain what it is: a turn-based role-playing game for the Nintendo DS, made by EA for kids. In battles, it utilizes an “Elite Beat Agents“-style timed tapping control scheme. In its overworld, it uses an all-stylus control for moving your character and his/her allies through the game’s world.

The music-combat is funny, because, instead of using sword strikes and magic attacks, characters hit with a painful game of pattycake and counter by break-dancing on their opponent’s body. The player times their taps to a rhythm to make the moves the most effective.

The “Zubo” characters are mostly cute cylindrical people and robots. The battles are easy. The game may prove to be so kid-simple that I’ll lose interest. But with less than an hour of playing time logged, I’ve already found two commendable features that other RPG designers will hopefully copy:

1) The turn-based battles can be fast-forwarded. RPGs with turn-based combat can get boring. Players see the same attacks and animations again and again. Some games alleviate this by allowing you to skip combat animations. “Zubo,” though, is the only RPG that I’ve seen that allows you to watch the combat animations in fast-forward. You still see everything that’s happening. You just don’t have as much of your time wasted. Plus, the animations are funnier when sped up.

2) You drag items from your inventory onto the characters in the playing field. That’s a nice cure for menu-heavy item management. Just drag that healing apple to the hurt character and drop it on them.

Plus, I like a game with pattycake and breakdancing combat.

I’m going to keep playing “Zubo:  and see how far I can get in it before it feels too childish. I hope some RPG designers out there are playing it too.

Next: Tonight, in addition to watching another “Lost,” I think I’ll be back to “Far Cry 2.” Fewer than 20 missions to go, I think!