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Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 2 (PlayStation 2) artwork

Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 2 (PlayStation 2) review

"Being a Dragon Ball fan and also an avid gamer, you tend to get used to disappointment. Many Dragon Ball games have been released in the west since the anime series finally made it to US and UK screens (albeit in cut down and censored versions) and in every single case they have barely average in quality, in fact most were barely playable, so riddled were they with sloppy and lazy programming. So I honestly wasn't expecting much when I got my copy of Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 2 to play, especially ..."

Being a Dragon Ball fan and also an avid gamer, you tend to get used to disappointment. Many Dragon Ball games have been released in the west since the anime series finally made it to US and UK screens (albeit in cut down and censored versions) and in every single case they have barely average in quality, in fact most were barely playable, so riddled were they with sloppy and lazy programming. So I honestly wasn't expecting much when I got my copy of Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 2 to play, especially as Budokai 1 was one of those barely average games mentioned above.

Well, I was wrong to be so cynical. This is a superb game. It manages to effectively capture the spirit of the series and be a competent and enjoyable fighter even when stripped of the DBZ elements. It contains pretty much every fighter of note from the Dragon Ball Z series and this is what makes it so utterly compelling to play. For a DBZ fan it's the range of sinister and whacky characters that make the series so enjoyable, and we all have our favourite characters from the series that we love to play with in the games. The game encompasses the ENTIRE Dragon Ball Z series, from the Saiyen/Frieza saga where the hero Goku discovered he was really an alien being of unimaginable power, through the Android/Cell sagas and ending bang up to date with the Buu saga.

This results in an impressive roster of playable characters, twenty-nine in total, with extra ones available as ''fusions'' during battle. The main characters are Goku, adult Gohan, Teen Gohan, Goten, Kid Trunks, Piccolo, Krillin, Yamcha, Tien, Future Trunks and Vegeta. From the Saiyen saga comes Raditz, Nappa, Recoombe, Captain Ginyu and Freiza. From the Android saga, Androids 16, 17, 18, and 20 and Cell. From the Buu saga, Hercule, Videl, Great Saiyaman, Supreme Kai, Dabura, Majin Buu, Super Buu and Kid Buu. Gotenks, Majin Vegeta and Vegetto are available as fusions activated during battle and there are a few other surprise fusions, which I won't spoil for you… Basically if your favourite DBZ character isn't included then, well you have very obscure tastes!

All these characters are not available from the start of course. A story mode has been included which sees you playing your way through the various storylines of the series. By beating specific enemies with certain characters you'll unlock new characters as playable in the other modes. The interesting thing about the game is that each character has a set number of moves available to them if you choose Normal Mode, but when playing the story mode you must use Custom made characters. Each character has seven skill ''slots'' assigned to them. As you play through Story Mode you will win new skills for each character to equip. These begin as basic moves and build up to powerful special attacks, defence and offence enhancing skills and the ability to fuse with other characters. The better the skill, the more slots it takes up, so after a while you have to choose between a character with plenty of power moves but little defence, or a character that is powered up but can only use fairly basic moves, or one that can only fuse. This adds a very welcome layer of strategy to the game and means that even in two-player mode, no two people will set their character up in the same way.

The fighting itself is fairly simple, one button for punch, one for kick, one to block and one to activate energy attacks. Special moves and combos are activated by tapping a series of commands rather than manically twirling the analogue sticks. One welcome inclusion is a dodge command. This makes firing off energy blasts a much less ''cheap'' way of winning a fight as many of them can be anticipated and dodged. Once again there are no rounds, each character has three layers to their energy bar, which must be worn down, and each character has a ''Ki meter'' which supplies the power for energy attacks. Abuse these too much and your Ki runs out, leaving you reliant on basic punches and kicks until you build it up again. The one thing that may disappoint is the lack of free flight. You can't hit a button and take off; instead you can only fly if launched into the air by a special attack. Once up there you can fly and dodge freely until knocked back to the ground.

There are several play modes available, Versus mode allows you to fight one-on-one against a friend or the CPU. World Tournament Mode allows up to eight players to take part in a knockout competition, or you can play on your won to win money to spend in Bulma's skill shop to purchase new skills. A set of mini-games becomes available after you complete Dragon World mode (story mode) for the first time. This takes place in Babadi's spaceship where you fight under certain conditions to acquire the various Buu's and skils for them to equip. The Dragon World mode basically takes you through the DBZ storyline from the arrival of Raditz to the final defeat of Kid Buu. You move across a map set out like a board game. You can collect skills, collect Dragonballs to summon Shenron at the end and most importantly fight the bad guys. A lot of care and attention has been paid to making this authentic. For example in the series, when Frieza kills Krillin, Goku goes Super Saiyen for the first time. So if in story mode you allow Krillin to be killed by Freiza, lo and behold, Goku will acquire his Super Saiyen skill automatically! It's touches like that which show how much care has been put into making this a game true fans will appreciate.

Visually as well it's very impressive. Cel-shading has been used to great effect and the characters look just like the cartoon come to life. Smooth, detailed and fast they all have their signature moves from the show and the effects and transformations are impressive and spectacular. If you equip Vegeta with the ability to become Majin Vegeta, he will clutch his head and roar and you'll see Babadi taking him over in a short cut scene. If you want to activate the Gotenk's fusion you must quickly enter a series of button commands. Do it too slowly and you'll get one of the botched fusions seen in the show! On certain stages, if you are hit with a powerful move you will go crashing through mountains or skimming across the sea taking out several hills as you go. It really makes the fighting feel authentic to the series as you fire off ever more ludicrous and powerful attacks.

The makers should also be congratulated for getting most of the voice artists from the US version to recreate the character voices in the game. Some purists prefer the original Japanese voices, I don't. The only thing that disappointed me was that my favourite character Vegeta has his ''crap'' voice that he got about halfway through the Buu saga. His cynical voice is way better, but hey, you can't have everything!

This really is an impressive game. Of course as a fighter compared to the likes of Virtua Fighter or Soul Calibur 2 it comes off second best as the fighting mechanics at its heart are fairly simple. However its very unlikely you'd be playing this game without being a fan of the series to a greater or lesser degree and as a Dragon Ball game it's definitely the best I have ever played by a long chalk. The range of characters available and the huge possibilities you have in customising them give it depth and the superbly realised graphics and enjoyable Story Mode really immerse you and send you running back to your DVD collection to relive the awesomeness of the epic battles and storylines that made you a fan in the first place. Banish all memories of the substandard Final Bout on the Psone and the average Budokai 1 on the PS2. This is one DBZ game you won't be ashamed to have in your collection.

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Community review by falsehead (March 08, 2004)

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