Once every year or two, something quite remarkable happens. Amongst the reams of new releases that seem ever present in the current gaming climate, a subtle awakening occurs. Many will never even notice as they wait for the next triple A or highly anticipated indie to come, blissfully unaware of the building, underground hype that surrounds them. But to many (myself included) this event is one that holds the potential to consume many an hour of free time. The return of Dragon Ball.
Dragon Ball is a franchise that is impossible to ignore in so called ‘geek culture’, but more than the franchise itself, it is the seemingly eternal optimism of the hard core fan base that endures, regardless of its missteps. But when mistakes in the franchise appear, no greater examples can be sighted than those laced within the history of Dragon Ball games.
The awakening of the blurry eyed, world weary (and ever aging) Dragon Ball fan to the existence of another attempt at gaming greatness is something that for many compares to the next GTA or Call of Duty release. However it has to be said that the mixed results over the years regarding the franchise has made us a somewhat cynical bunch. For every Budokai series, there was a Super Dragon Ball Z, and our memories are long and clear. The latest entry into this plethora of mixed attempts is Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z, which comes to us on Xbox 360, PS3 and PSVita. But will this be the game that we have waited for? Will it be the one to bring us back to the franchise that many of us have held dear since such a young age? Unfortunately it doesn’t take long for Battle of Z to answer this question with a resounding, nope.
So let’s start with the few positives on show here. As with so many Dragon Ball games, one thing that the series seems to be getting right in recent times is the roster of characters that are available to use. Although not on the level of entries like Budokai Tenkaichi 3, Battle of Z does a fine job of providing many of the series favourites for players to utilise. Sure, series staples like Frieza and adult Trunks are here as they almost always are, but the inclusion of newcomers like Beerus is refreshing and stands as great fan service. Another of the few things that Battle of Z gets right is its visuals. Even on the less powerful Vita version, animations are smooth and the cell-shaded characters are almost more defined than the Blu-ray versions of the anime itself.
The structure of the game and its campaign are relatively standard fare. In an attempted new take on the Tenkaichi formula, players replay their favourite fights from the many sagas of the series with a variety of characters. In this respect, Battle of Z has at least tries to change things up by making the player take control of battles from both sides of the fight. Despite not being the most original take on proceedings, it shows some attempt at trying to make things a little more interesting, even if it ultimately falls flat. A new co-op mode has also been introduced here in which players can team up for the iconic battles that litter the series. It’s clear that it is another attempt to brush away some of the staleness that has begun to appear around the franchise as well as adding another dimension to multiplayer. Unfortunately however, it is here that cracks in much of what comprises Battle of Z begin to appear.
For a start, the control system is atrocious. The mostly two-button, poorly-explained methodology involved is not only baffling but also completely counter intuitive. In the hours that I played Battle of Z, I was mainly in a state of boredom or confusion and this was in no small part due to how poorly it handled.
Unfortunately the problems don’t stop there either. Both the enemy and friendly AI is some of the worst I have even encountered. In some encounters it would get in the way or stop moving altogether for the majority of the fight. On top of this is Dragon Ball’s often unnecessary focus on overtly cinematic special move and scripted sequences. True, this is not a problem confined only to Battle of Z, however it is one of the worst offenders in this department since 2008’s Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit. While it is true that many of us love the nostalgia involved in revisiting these sagas, watching a cut-scene sometimes as many as five times a fight is more than a little frustrating and serves to make you wish you had simply just watched the anime or read the manga again instead.
All-in-all, Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z is another swing and miss for fans of the franchise. Despite delivering aesthetically and giving us many favourite characters to choose from, it all amounts to very little when the basics aren’t well realised. The controls are sloppy, the AI is laughable at times and the cut-scene-heavy fights soon become a chore for even the most devout fan. It’s true that some small steps were taken here towards a more interesting way of telling the now legendary tale of Goku and his friends, but unfortunately there’s just not enough innovation to save this latest outing. Still, there’s always next time.