If you’re worried about your child’s reading comprehension skills, you could try to give them Shakespeare as a test. You might as well pick up something like Shin Budokai. For as baffling as classic literature can be for some people, the storyline in Dragon Ball Z is worse, especially when it’s all told through text. Thankfully, the PSP offers a start button to skip all of that after you’ve gone past the point of being lost, and then you’ll end up inside a decent, albeit lacking, fighting game.
Oddly enough, for being based on an anime, Shin Budokai contains no footage from the films or shows. The intro cinematic is comprised of grainy game footage, while the conversations use still pictures. Past that, the in-game graphics engine does a fine job of representing the characters with a sharp, clean cel-shaded look.
Backgrounds to the fight don’t fare as well, but the actual battles occur at such a rapid pace that you won’t have time to notice. This is an odd one; a melee fighter without a lot of the usual melee fighter trappings. These battles are confined to one-on-one bouts on a 2-D plane, taking away most of the melee appeal.
What’s left is a basic combo system involving two buttons. Pulling off spectacular combos is only a matter of mashing two of the buttons in an alternating form. Even jabbing away at one button is enough to get off a full sized combo. It feels more like a beat-em-up than a fighting game, and all the strategy fighting games usually bring with them is lost. However, it’s got a great feel and it’s immensely accessible to someone of any age.
The other issue is projectiles. While you can perform different types, Budokai makes it as easy as pressing the circle button. As long as you have some power charged up, you can fire them off. It’s a way to keep the feel of the series, which usually ends up in ranged battles. While these fireballs are necessary for the franchise, it’s not an appropriate gameplay mechanic. They’re easy enough to dodge or deflect, but spending most of a brawl trapped by homing fireballs isn’t fun.
Character selection doesn’t seem up to par, but each fighter has a variety of forms. You’ll use them all at some point during the game if you play through it all. Still, moves are repetitive from character to character, and aside from some speed differences, it’s impossible to tell them apart when using them in the game aside from visual cues.
Fighting occurs in a meager number of modes, the core being the illogical and incomprehensible story. This offers different paths to take, and using the menu to step onto a different path is only a matter of replaying a previous fight that caused the branch. Difficulty is all over the place and never consistent. Survival and time attack are standard fare, though the survival is blatantly easy. Multi-player requires two UMDs and is only Ad Hoc.
Obviously, obsessive fans of the franchise will overlook the missing and now standard fighting game features. Dragon Ball Z has enough of a following so that the majority of people playing it will fall into that group. The rest would be better off with Darkstalkers or Street Fighter Alpha 3 for their fighting game fix.
Dragon Ball Z: Shin Budokai is a rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Violence.