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Zeebo (included games) (Zeebo)

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100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  chirinea (33484)
Written on  :  Jan 03, 2011
Rating  :  3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars

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The rise and fall of a concept.

The Good

Let me start by saying that this won't be a regular review because this isn't a regular entry. This entry is a compilation one, and the review should be about the compilation, not about the games in it. This compilation happens also to be a console, and MobyGames doesn't support hardware reviews (yet), but in this case, I guess we'll end up bending the rules. So this will be a review of the console, made by the review of the games included. I should also point out that the version reviewed here is the first release, from May 25, 2009, which includes as embedded games FIFA 09, Need for Speed: Carbon - Domine a Cidade (NFS: C - DAC from now on) and Treino Cerebral. I'll try to show how these three games (and the other three free downloadable ones) represent the rise and fall of Zeebo (in its first release) as a concept.

Before we start talking about the games, let me talk a little about the Zeebo itself. Zeebo is a video game console which main characteristic is its gaming media distribution: all games are downloaded "over-the-air" via a 3G network called ZeeboNet3G directly to Zeebo's internal memory. Its hardware is based on mobile devices (cellphones to be more precise). It also has a motion sensitive controller, the Boomerang. It is aimed toward "emergent markets" such as Brazil, Mexico and China. When it was first released, Zeebo Inc.'s website said that "Zeebo is considered by many publishers as the world's 4th gaming console", besides the Wii, the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3. With graphics said to be (by Zeebo Inc. itself) somewhere between the PlayStation and the PlayStation 2, with serious limitations on game size (50 MB top) and storage capacity (1 GB), one could only conclude that "many publishers" were probably delusional. But having EA putting two titles embedded on the console, one should at least give Zeebo the benefit of doubt.

It is important to mention that besides the three embedded games, Zeebo also offered as free downloads Quake, Quake II and Prey Evil. There were promises of having SEGA titles on it, such as Sonic Adventure and Crazy Taxi. So you can imagine what one could think about it: "hey, this thing has Need For Speed, FIFA Soccer, Quake and Prey, it sounds promising"! And yeah, it really sounded promising, even for hardcore gamers. But did it live up to the promise? Let's take a look at its games.

I'm only allowed to speak about FIFA 09, NFS: C - DAC and Treino Cerebral, so I'll talk about their good and bad aspects here in the proper sections, then to conclude talking once again about Zeebo as a whole in the bottom line section.

  • FIFA 09: You probably can imagine how big football (soccer) is down in Brazil, so having FIFA 09 embedded was something that should go without saying in a (initially) Brazilian console. It is a quite complete football game, with several gameplay modes such as quick play, friendly games, challenges (where the player must perform a given task such as score two goals within a time limit), seasons and full tournaments, local or international. It bears FIFA licenses so the names of the real players are included, as well as the several teams included. The gameplay is acceptable; fans of this kind of game can find it a bit superficial (it doesn't have a specific button to steal the ball from the opponent, for instance, other than one for the sliding tackle). The sound has its highlights: the games are commented by Nivaldo Prieto, one of the most well known commentators in Brazil. There's also a song by the Brazilian musician Curumin, played in the main menu.

  • NFS: C – DAC: a Brazilian TV commercial aired a couple of years ago said that Brazilians love cars, probably as much as they love football. Having a Need for Speed title in Zeebo is also spot on for a console released primarily in Brazil. NFS: C - DAC is a port from the PSP version, with downgrades specially on its graphics. The story puts the player in the role of a gang racer who lost his brother in a race and now is off to discover who was the mysterious racer who killed him. The player starts off with a simple car and progresses racing to "own the city" as the title says. Each race has the player racing along a gang wingman; each member of the gang has a special ability, being a assassin, brawler or drafter. It is a quite interesting feature: the wingmen can take opponents out of the race or speed the player's car up by providing a windshadow. The player can roam freely about the city, although the territories must be conquered in an orderly fashion. The cars can be customized (both in appearance and performance), and new cars are unlocked by winning races. Crates spread about the city hide money and game concept art. The game features several (if not all) songs from the PSP version. One could say that there is nothing all that new in this iteration of the series, but being the one and only NFS game on Zeebo surely adds value to this title. I myself had a great time playing it.

  • Treino Cerebral: this is a quasi-educational game, with Logic, Math, Memory, Visual, and Focus puzzles which promise to "maximize your brain activity". The player creates a profile and selects a coach, woman or man (in an interesting coincidence, the male coach looks just like André Penha, studio director at Tectoy Digital by the time of the release). The player can then take a daily test or go to a training room. The test measures your abilities in each area and gives back a score. The training room allows for training in specific areas of "brain activity". Depending on your score, you can unlock new training exercises. The game has some nice touches. Your, coach, for instance, knows at which time of the day you logged in and greets you accordingly (for instance, logging at noon prompts a comment about your lunch). The graphics are nice, but this kind of game doesn't need much. The sound is appropriate (again, nothing special is expected) and the game can be very entertaining.
Overall this seems a good selection to start with, with two somewhat "hardcore" titles and a casual one.

The Bad

So much for the rise part. Now, let's talk about Zeebo's embedded games fall.

  • FIFA 09: just today I installed FIFA 99 in my PC to check some info and contribute here at MobyGames. What if I said that the graphics on FIFA 99 are better than those in this version of FIFA 09? Maybe you could say "hey, you're comparing a PC game with a cell phone one here" (as this version of FIFA 09 was based on the N-Gage one), but just take a look at some mobile titles here at Moby. Compare them with PC games from 1998 and you'll see that it wouldn't be asking too much to have graphics at least as good as those seen 10 years ago. And yet, FIFA 09 on Zeebo fails to deliver even that. As you watch the players enter the field, all of them look exactly the same (and the "exactly" is not an hyperbole), with the exact same animation. They are blocky and clumsy. The joke about it is that the disclaimer screen says the names and appearances of players are used under license of FIFA; the names, OK, but the appearances? Really? I never knew all football players look exactly the same, blocky and all. The whole game misses brightness (maybe something related to the fact that it was calibrated for a cellphone screen) and has a greenish look on it. In one word, the game is ugly. As for the gameplay, I said before it is simple, and maybe it shouldn't count as a defect. The problem is that many players regard it as way too simple, and that can be attested by the fact I can play it quite well! That may sound strange, but the fact is I never liked playing football games that much, and one of the reasons is that I'm not good at them. Just yesterday I was playing Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 on the PS2 and it was really hard to score a goal, 'cause the precision demanded to shoot is above my current abilities. Besides, you have to vary your plays in order to get close to the goal. In FIFA 09 on Zeebo I just have memorized a path to go, a certain sequence of movements (involving going back and forth to fool the goalie) and there, a goal is scored. Of course I like scoring goals, but more demanding players may find it shallow and repetitive. Also, although the commentaries are done by a good commentator, it only uses a bunch of sentences which get repetitive within a single game. You'll listen the same sentence about 4 or 5 times in a single game.

  • NFS: C – DAC: again, I'm sorry if I insist on graphics, but this is another ugly game. Don't think I'm one of those graphic-whores, I just like my game visually enjoyable. For starters, this game is pretty dark, darker than FIFA 09. I don't know if the PSP screen is brighter than a normal TV, but I wonder on what EA (and Tectoy Digital) tested this game. I had to turn my TV brightness almost to the maximum to be able to see the game well. They also didn't care to correct the aspect ratio of the game. The PSP has a wide screen display, with an unusual aspect ratio (30:17). The Zeebo has an output of 640x480, that is, a 4:3 aspect ratio. This is so because Zeebo is aimed toward people who still have CRT TVs with 4:3 screens, despite of many Brazilians (even poorer ones) already having LCD TVs with 16:9 screens. From 30:17 to 16:9 the distortion isn't that big, but to 4:3 it is. You can see it on the speedometer, which should look round and instead looks oval. One should really expect graphical downgrades from the PSP, but this is just too much. The draw distance is terrible, with the scenery popping up in front of you. But the worst of all is the gameplay speed. One thing you expect from a racing game is that it delivers a sense of real speed when running a car over 200 Km/h; this game, fails on that, it is slow, really slow. Some say that this is true just for the first cars, that the faster ones doesn't feel that slow, but even so, the starting speed doesn't make justice to what the speedometer shows. When you're driving a sports car feeling as if you're driving a tractor, something is really wrong.

  • Treino Cerebral: there is not many bad things to say about this one, other than it doesn't have many good aspects also to be praised. If this game fails at anything, it is on being more interesting or attractive. One thing that got corrected on later versions is that the game didn't support the analog sticks on the Z-pad. Newer versions support them, but that's something more missed on other Zeebo games. It is often seen as better than the other two games, but just because of what it doesn't do wrong, not because of what it does right.
With that said about the games, we should once again look on what they represent as a whole. Like I said before, when the Zeebo was first announced (and even when it was released), it was said that it was to compete with major platforms such as the PlayStation 2 (actually, it was to be considered part of the current generation, but let's take the PS2 as a competitor against which the Zeebo could have more chances). In this regard, the Zeebo was a complete failure. Games like FIFA 09 and NFS: C - DAC made it clear that Zeebo couldn't compete with current generation consoles. It couldn't even compete with current generation handhelds, even if it had a similar hardware. Interview after interview Zeebo developers said that they were not aiming on hardcore gamers, but two of the titles brought embedded on Zeebo were there to deny it. Maybe they thought that inexperienced players would praise those games as great due to lack of comparison models, but that would be really naïve of theirs. Actually, Reinaldo Normand said in an interview that probable Zeebo players have never had access to mainstream games such as Quake, so they would welcome it as something really new, as if they were doing a service for those people. He couldn't be more wrong. Making an image that low of their target public, Zeebo Inc. missed the fact that they should have polished more their product to please any kind of audience, not the less demanding one.

The Bottom Line

And that's how Zeebo died. At least, its first incarnation. In its hopes of becoming the 4th gaming console in the current market, Zeebo completely missed the point with ill ported games aimed toward an audience which wasn't the one buying the console. The first buyers were old school gamers relying on Tectoy's past, waiting for a product that, even not being much powerful, could provide fun and polished games. Zeebo Inc. seems to have aimed the console toward new gamers, who never had any contact with video games, thus delivering games below the market expectations. This mismatch led Zeebo Inc. to rethink its product. When it was released on Mexico, six months after the first Brazilian release, the focus was changed from gaming to "edutainment", with the slogan "Play, Learn, Connect". The console was released with a keyboard and a more ergonomic controller, with access to the internet and free of "violent games". The main set of embedded games was almost completely different, with only Treino Cerebral remaining from the first set. It was just a question of time for these changes to also take place in Brazil. Almost one year and a half after its first release, the Zeebo was already a new product, with a new target public and a new portfolio, marking the final fall of a concept and the rise of a new one. But that's a story for another review.