Zatch Bell: Mamodo Battles - PS2 - Review
There are two kinds of fighting games in this world. Those that fail, and those that are made by Namco, Capcom, Midway or Tecmo. Exceptions occur every once in a blue moon, but for over 10 years those developers have been the kings of the genre.
It's a hard road ahead for anyone who dares enter the genre, including Bandai's Zatch Bell! Mamodo Battles. The cutesy characters aren't going to sway the average gamer. Having an anime license attached doesn't help. If you don't watch the show it's unlikely that the brand name and anime characters will mean anything.
Just one thing: I said there's an exception to the rule every once in a blue moon. Check the sky gamers – it's happened again.
Zatch Bell! Mamodo Battles is a one- and two-player fighting game with four battling characters. Fighters are paired up based on their place in the story. Mamodo are the main playable characters. The others are helpful aids that love to join in on the fun of beating an adversary. By entering a specific two-button sequence (usually as easy as pressing up and the X button), the secondary character will pick up and throw your Mamodo into the air.
No one has the ability to jump in the game. The stages have more of a round shape to them, and without a Soul Calibur-style eight-way run in place, there aren't many options for adding dimension to the gameplay. Dimension proved to be more important to them than jumping, and when you start dodging projectiles you'll see why. Evading attacks is a cinch when all you have to do is step to the left or to the right. To the player it looks like the fighter is moving closer to or further away from the camera. (The view doesn't change while fighting on the ground. Launch a fighter into the air and the camera quickly pans out for an awesome view.)
It takes time to adjust to not having a jump, but the good is news is that the best part of any fighting game is learning its mechanics. The bad news is that this game is very limited in its mechanics and does not have the massive learning curve of its competitors.
Mamodo Battles has more in common with Super Smash Bros. than Tekken or Soul Calibur, or even Mortal Kombat. Standard projectile attacks are automatically executed by pressing the square button. Simple yet effective. The X button is your get-in-your-opponent's-face-and-let-him-have-it attack that kicks, punches, and/or uppercuts for a series of three to five hits. Opponents may block mid-combo, bringing about the possibility for countless manual reversals. Turn the tables just before your last ounce of health is gone, then rock 'em sock 'em with multiple blasts.
The basic moves are the same for all the characters. To separate each one from the rest they were given additional projectiles or extra close combat moves. Zatch Bell is infused with electricity and he's not afraid to use it. He can perform three projectile attacks: lighting blast (standard), lightning bolt (stronger, but has a narrow hit area), and a lightning ball that entraps anyone it touches. The lightning ball moves pretty slow and is avoided most of the time. A good strategy is to fire a ball or two, then shoot consecutive lightning bolts. Inexperienced friends and computer-controlled opponents with little intelligence fall for that strategy every time. Friends will catch on eventually, while the AI stays the same.
That's one of the areas where Mamodo Battles runs into some problems. Despite not having more 10 or 12 moves per character (which is way below the average for current generation fighting games), I became engrossed in the projectile-heavy gameplay. There's something special about it, and I think that primarily has to do with the fact that up until now PlayStation 2 didn't have anything that played like Super Smash Bros. No console does. It's a fighting style that's almost like an action/adventure game, except that there are no worlds to get lost in and no platforms to turn you into a leaping frog.
The downside is that the story mode, which involves exploring less than a dozen still images, is very, very short. With the exception of Zatch Bell the game doesn't make much of an attempt to develop the characters' storylines. Fighting games should focus on the fighting, but this is based on a show, and if I were a fan I would want more than silly bickering between Tina and Megumi. I'd want to hear more than arguments, and more than minutes of self-touting.
Since I'm not a fan of the show I wasn't annoyed by how much time the characters waste talking about how they're going to be the best king ever. I wasn't bothered by the repetitive dialogue recited every time I looked at a still (the game calls these "locations") that was not occupied by an eager fighter.
When the story mode is complete you can play through it again to continue earning points. They can be spent on character upgrades or additional still images (collector's cards, not new story mode locations).
That leaves two-player versus battles to carry the weight of replay value. There's a time attack mode, but the fun of beating your best time doesn't last. It's a good mode for racing games to have, not this genre.
Does it last? Are the two-player battles enough? Mamodo Battles is shallow, so if time is limited you won't be pushing aside your favorite fighting game to play this one. However, there is enough charm, and with the right opponents (anyone who likes Smash Bros.) enough replay value, to keep it from falling into fighting game obscurity.
Review Scoring Details for Zatch Bell! Mamodo Battles
Among every simple fighting game on the planet, Mamodo Battles is the most fun. That might not sound like much, but there have been a lot of games that tried to take the easy way out. Mamodo Battles is easy. They wanted a game that would appeal to the show’s core audience, which is mostly made up of gamers that didn’t grow up on Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat.
So they made the game simple with attacks that practically execute themselves. They also managed to hold the interest of a hardcore fighting fan (that would be me) who has spent the last two years playing Soul Calibur II. If that isn’t an accomplishment than I don’t know what is.
Excellent cel-shading that blasts the screen with the coolest anime effects.
The music isn’t bad but comes in too quietly during battles. I’m happy to say that the voice acting did not make me cringe as so many anime games do, but the character discussions are a bore.
Master the story mode in under 90 minutes. That isn’t a dare it’s a fact. Mamodo Battles is one of the easiest fighting games released in years.
It feels like there should’ve been more to the story mode. Slight developments, more arguments, and cut! Roll the credits.
Mamodo Battles’ saving grace. Find a friend who likes Smash Bros. and you’ll have a lot of fun with this one.
Street Fighter meets Super Smash Bros. Zatch Bell! Mamodo Battles is a game of one-button combos and projectile attacks. It’s a turn on and a turn off. I like to see developers exploring other options for fighting games, but if a sequel is made I hope they include a stronger combo system.