[floatleft]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/zatchbellmb/cover.jpg[/floatleft][i]Zatch Bell!: Mamodo Battles[/i] is not the worst anime-inspired game ever to hit consoles. The Super Nintendo is home to a slew of these. However, recently, the fighting-game genre has seen some high-profile titles based on anime that both perform well as a video game and offer a lot to fans of the anime. The [i]Budokai[/i] series comes to mind. Unfortunately, [i]Zatch Bell[/i] is simply not one of these games.
I am not a [i]Zatch Bell[/i] fan. I have never seen the anime, and frankly, after playing this game I am not sure I ever want to. I gather from the cutscenes that there are puppet thingies involved. Zatch would like to become king of these ‘Mamodo,’ and he needs a human counterpart to help out. There is even some sort of major battle going on to see who gains this Mamodo throne. This plot is thrown around in a story mode that lacks any sort of depth or charm. The cutscenes feel like they were ripped straight out of [i]Fire Emblem[/i] but subtract any interesting plot or genuine feeling. The story mode is extremely confusing. It has you wandering around menus and heading into areas with absolutely no indication of where you are supposed to go or why you are supposed to go there. You will spend a large amount of time selecting a place to go, reading a lame cutscene, and then trying another one until you find a place to fight. Extremely poor.
Speaking of fighting, this is a fighting game. [i]Street Fighter[/i] didn’t have a good story mode either, so why can’t [i]Zatch Bell[/i] still hold up? Unfortunately, the fighting in this game is not the bee’s knees. You control, basically, two characters: a Mamodo and his/her human helper. The puppet people beat the crap out of each other while your human person can cast spells to cause a lot of destruction. That is it. You can punch and you can zap things. There are very few moves to speak of, but [i]Super Smash Brothers[/i] this is not. You will spend half of your time in fights trying to get your character to face the right way, so you might not even notice the lack of a depth in the fighting system. Throw in some blocking and it is back to the old-school fighting days before crazy things like ‘balance’ and ‘combos.’
[floatright]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/zatchbellmb/ss02_thumb.jpg[/floatright]So this game has to have something good going for it, right? It does. The game looks spectacular. The character models all look like the anime drawings. The attacks are well animated and interesting to look at. There is even a neat soundtrack you can jam to while you hit the attack button for the 1151st time. What the characters may lack in development (it is hard to tell from this game), they make up in personality. Knees shake, expressions are made. The game comes to life. It controls pretty well, too, except when you happen to move the wrong way and start attacking the air. They are responsive at the least.
I think anime fighting games are a great concept. Who doesn’t want to see their favorite characters beat the tar out of each other? If you are a fan of [i]Zatch Bell[/i], wait until this is in the bargain bin. Everyone else should steer clear for good. There are much better fighting games you could be playing.