So what do you do when hardcore fighting game fans trash your Budokai series for being too simplistic to whet their appetite? According to Namco/Bandai, you enlist the help of Street Fighter Alpha co-producer Noritaka Funamizu, get Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama to create an all-new version of a classic Z character and re-configure the fighting system to be more in-tune with those of the likes of Street Fighter and Tekken.
So, does the 180 in schematics make Super Dragon Ball Z a worthy contender in the fighting game ring? Well, the answer comes as a mix of yes and no.
Super Dragon Ball Z comes to the Playstation 2 as a port of the arcade title published by Banpresto of the same name. The brawler assembles 18 fighters who do battle in a variety of destructible environments. The cast is an odd mix, pitting most of the key players in the Cell Saga against a few scraps from other points in the story such as Chi-Chi, King Piccolo and Majjin Buu (my favorite character Gotenks is nowhere to be seen. Sob.)
While 18 is a huge cut in the roster compared to games such as Budokai 3 and Tenkaichi, the goal for this one-on-one fighter was to up the depth placed into each character. However, Super Dragon Ball Z ultimately fails to deliver in that aspect.
In an attempt to stray from the punch, punch, punch, blast inputs of the Budokai series, more traditional quarter-circle, half-circle and double motions have been added for all of the characters’ special and ultimate moves.
Although super moves have received a makeover treatment, the rest of the game remains ultimately simplistic and fights still amount to nothing more than throwing ki blasts and building toward ultimate attacks. Attack strings still remain intact but remain a simple three or four buttons you have to press in order.
While this can be fun in small doses of competition, fights still lack the timing and finesse of games like Street Fighter and makes for a redundant and tiresome single-player trial.
Aside from the obligatory two-player versus mode, Super Dragon Ball Z throws in an arcade mode and Z-Survivor mode for players without a friend to smash. The single player executes on the premise of selecting a character to raise by building experience over a multitude of fights.
Unlocking all of the features in the game and making your character stronger is the result of playing arcade mode or Z-Survivor mode over and over and over and over and… you get the idea.
Building your character to maximum status will allow you to inherit traits and attacks from other characters in the game, which comes as a welcome addition. Still, the additions add on only three to five more maneuvers for your character, severely limiting the feel of a growing, progressing character.
While overall, the game ends up being shallow; it is still good for a pick-up-and-play smash fest. While it fails to be complicated, that aspect also adds to Super Dragon Ball Z’s appeal — you don’t have to be a fighting game guru to pick it up, play a couple of games and enjoy it.
Players will also enjoy some nice visuals which flesh out characters nicely to the degree found in Budokai 3. The environments are fairly expansive and feature a number of destructive elements and a few of the stages feature multi-tiering that allow fights to break into different sections of the stage.
Super Dragon Ball Z also strays from the animation aspects found in the other Z games and feels more like the manga with the text additions of sound effects when you attack your opponent and super and ultimate finishes fill the screen with flashes of pizzazz.
However, the ultimate moves themselves lack the cinematic feel and punch of the Budokai series, and merely look like bigger versions of special moves looped over and over.
The game controls extremely well and all of the special and ultimate moves are easy to pull off along with the one-touch controls and strings that make up your character’s moves – a good thing since the action in this title is fast and furious.
While the game handles the speed well for the most part, a flurry of projectiles from an ultimate move caused slowdown numerous times. I also encountered a number of collision problems with projectiles and dashing, most notably with the World Tournament stage’s ring and walls.
The most glaring weakness I found in the game was the abysmal audio, most particularly in the music and voiceovers. While the original voice actors of the Dragon Ball Z anime reprise their roles for their characters in the game, the samples are in poor quality and not only do the bytes not match the synching of the mouth animations, but half the time they are completely incoherent.
Even during matches, some of the one-liners get insanely repetitive and sometimes do not even sound like the same voice actor. The music is an odd mix (funk music in-between stages?) and just doesn’t seem to fit the mood of the high-speed brawls – it's mostly generic loops and doesn’t fuel the intensity it should.
While Super Dragon Ball Z punches its way into a sub par performance, it could serve as a starting block for a decent side-series to the Tenkaichi franchise. All of the mechanics are in place, but nothing is executed exceptionally well.
While the game looks and moves great, terrible sound and watered-down game play bring Super Dragon Ball Z down to its knees. However, fighting fans and fans of the series won’t be disappointed with a rental or perhaps laying down the money for a fairly satisfying (although repetitive) five hours of game play in the single-player mode.
Super Dragon Ball Z is rated "T" for Teen by the ESRB for Cartoon Violence.