Picked up any strange books lately? Encountered fighting marionettes from another dimension? Watched Cartoon Network recently? You may have missed Zatch Bell, but fear not. They have brought the furious magical fights to your Playstation 2, in the form of Zatch Bell: Momodo Battles. The story revolves around a series of magical books that humans can use to cast spells from. The catch? The book comes with it’s own child-like doll from the demon world. Their goal is to defeat the other dolls, or Mamodos, from the demon world and become it’s ruler. And of course this would never be an easy task, or they wouldn’t have made an anime series and a fighting game from it.

Zatch Bell is a fast, furious game, and the Playstation 2’s graphics keep up with it. There is very little sign of slowdown during gameplay that isn’t intentional by the developers (such as when some special moves are triggered or a Mamodo is knocked out). The graphics for the battles are not overly complex in any form. The designers used cel shaded models to try and bring the anime characters into 3D. It works well, and makes the characters very recognizable.

The background for each level is very detailed, but does not distract from the game. They vary, from haunted castles to shopping centers in Shinjuku, Japan. There is a level of depth to them, and they are rendered in the same engine as the battle occuring in the foreground. These are not just simple textures placed behind the level, but fully realized 3D renderings of buildings in the same anime style.

All in all, the graphics are the best part of this game, which is the point when putting out product to push a series. The characters and the setting are clearly put in place here, and they can be matched up with the series airing on television.

The voice actors from the series have been put to work here on the PS2 game. The voices were clear and sounded okay, but they also sounded forced. The experience kept reminding me of a group of people forced to shout into a microphone. The amount of energy being put into the voices actually made them sound horrible, rather than enthusiastic.

The music was pretty standard fare, being themes from the series. It stayed in the background for the most part, and the volume level was not in balance with the rest of the game’s sound. It really made for a hard listening expeience.

The controls in a fighting game can make or break it, and in this case, the game does well. The commands are simple, usually consisting of a direction and a button for the majority of the moves. Zatch Bell responds well to all the moves that each of the Mamodos and their caretakers have. The move list is very simple, with each Mamodo having about eight moves. This does include blocking and defensive moves. This really hurt the long term gameplay for me as the move lists were so simple and standardized, and there was little reason to do more than keep laying the special attacks on your opponent.

As I reported in the control section of this review, the small move list really made this game feel like it was a button masher rather than an indepth fighting game. The game plays out with a pair of Mamodo and their book-keeping partners facing off in an attempt to destroy the other Mamodo’s books and sending them home. The last Mamodo standing becomes the ruler of their dimension. If the game was so critical to the magic books being destroyed, why could I not find a single way to do this?

The gameplay was the same as your typical fighitng game. You fight two out of three matches against an opponent and then move on. During the match, you have a life meter that indicates how long until you are knocked out. You also have a devotion meter, which is your link to your human partner. Max this out and a special attack opens up. This meter limits how many magical attacks you can use currently, and only recharges by defending or using physical attacks. The more non-magical attacks you use, the larger your devotion bar grows, until it unlocks your ultimate attack.

The overall system just lacked depth. Story mode had the most amount of gameplay, with you choosing to play any one of the unlocked Mamodo characters and moving through scenes until there are no more available. This was a very annoying part of the game. I discovered that once you completed a characters story mode, you then needed to go back and lose a specific fight. It will then transition to their story mode.

This is what made the game ultimately frustrating. The manual did a poor job of explaining certain topics, and completely left out others, such as story mode features and the password function. I eventually stumbled across the information in game, as I did most of what I found lacking in the manual.

There are various characters to unlock through gameplay, passwords, and the purchase of cards. None of the characters provided any extreme changes in gameplay though. Other cards will unlock stages that you can play on as well. You can also use points earned in story mode to make your characters stronger over time.

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