"In the end, Dragonball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi comes out as an average brawler with the shift still in neutral. "
As I sit here late into the night, my brain formulates an interesting thought. Who hasnít heard of Dragonball Z by now? Whether you are at home channel surfing or walking by a group of hyperactive children on the streets, the topic is bound to have come up. What is it about this phenomenon that has made it so popular? Could it be the engaging characters, deep storyline, or emotionally driven concept? Nope. Primarily because all three of these subjects are virtually nonexistent within it. No, it is the incredibly drawn out but fun action sequences between stupidly powerful beings. Punches that can crush boulders, speed that surpasses sound, and powers that can send an adversary to hell and back. On paper it all sounds so good and it had the potential to be a combat series anyone could affectionately care for.
It's a shame that Atari doesn't care nearly as much.
Time after time, these poor fanatics are always left more and more disappointed by each released title. From numerous glitches to sloppy execution, each game that has ever carried this name has been a letdown in some manner. That is until last year when something miraculous happened; that miracle came in the form of Dragonball Z Budokai 3. A faster paced combat style, deeper move-set system, and impressive visuals brought the whole experience together. As somewhat of a fan to the series, I couldn't help but crack a smile.
After such promise, who couldnít look forward to the next outing? Dragonball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi promised to be as close to the show as it gets, with a variety of fresh options and a long list of character choices. The perception became quite the understatement when I finally got a hold of the game. Flying around multiple environments in a real time setting, utilizing a multitude of combo chains, and getting my rear handed to me in succession; all brought back an indifferent feeling of nostalgia. From the sleek introductory movie all the way through the first couple of hours, I could not get enough. Even the returning World Tournament battles were welcomed, as it had always been my favorite mode in these games. I suppose it is easy to turn a blind eye to some problems, when it just so happens to be a fan-favorite.
Taking on a different approach from before, the mechanics play out in expansive land-based arenas, granting a great deal of freedom. Priority has been placed on adding a dimension to the series that had yet to be implemented. Rather than side by side, the camera is positioned behind your character, with plenty of movement options now accessible. Flying to that nearby rock for cover, forcing your opponent underwater, and even being able to destroy everything around you, are ways to enhance the presentation brought forth by the show. Mastering these new abilities isnít easy and the learning curve will definitely force you to make use of the tutorial mode. Once the control scheme becomes second nature, bouts become a lot more interesting, and the pace of the fighting is the quickest its ever been.
However, it wasnít until that new car feeling wore off that I began to see a multitude of blunders. Eschewing constant problems became a frustration and it was apparent that Atari was up to their old tricks. The source of these detriments are found in the Z Battle Gate and the promising ideas are all strewn sloppily about, compliments to the poor execution. Each mission objective this story mode takes you through will have you completing a primary objective. Whether it be defeating the enemy using a certain technique or fighting on a time limit, the game will try to get you to win without resorting to just beating the crap out of your opponent. Speaking of which, combat is balanced well enough that you will have plenty of opportune moments in which to launch a round winning assault. No, where it all falls apart is when the odds are stacked against you and a duel becomes a struggle to survive.
Picture the following scenario if you will. The scene is set in a perpetually barren wasteland. It is an expansive region filled with stone pillars, dramatic lightning, and storms of sand. The two warriors dramatically stare at each other with intensity. The stage is set. The narrator says FIGHT and the participants engage in a manly struggle to survive. Seconds later though you find your life bar empty and your hero with his face in the dirt. What happened? Well, itís simple -- you were up against a 50 foot tall ape wearing a full suit of armor. These are the type of confrontations you will encounter throughout the story mode and they are a living hell. To survive 60 seconds sounds easier than it actually is, and the only way to win these fights half the time, is to abuse the system.
*PUNCH* *PUNCH* *PUNCH* *WHACK*
Listen as your stunned adversary lets out a series of grunts and moans.
*PUNCH* *PUNCH* *PUNCH* *WHACK*
Rinse, repeat, ad nauseam.
Using these combo sequences over and over again to get past the aggravating time objectives is monotonous, with nearly half the throw-downs in Z Battle Gate mode consisting of them. The game does a good job in masking the repetitive and incredibly cheap situations with clever dialogue and memorable show moments, but players unfamiliar with the anime will remain unimpressed. What also took a hit was the number of available abilities. Those looking for a wide array of special moves to pull out during every fight will definitely feel shortchanged, as the number has been decreased to about five per person. The camera has its share of annoying moments as well, especially with the inconsistent lock on feature. The bothersome fact of it all is that the computer knows exactly where you are as soon as the round begins. I canít count the times I was continually blasted in the back, utterly clueless as to where it was coming from. Donít be surprised if you end up with a chunk of your HP missing before you even notice where the sneaky little creep has been hiding.
Yet despite all the shortcomings the title possesses, itís okay to sometimes just sit back and leisurely enjoy the fast-paced action. Especially if you can grab a friend and/or hostage for a throw-down or two. Twirling control sticks to heighten the intensity of your beam over his, playing hide and seek behind a variety of obstructions, or just seeing who can get off the best combo percentage, are all among some of Tenkaichiís most engaging moments. The lack of original techniques among combatants was kind of a disappointment though, with several characters sharing identical attack sets. On a related note, the capsule system has made its return in a sense, taking on the form of fusion earrings. Combining them in the correct way can yield new items and upgrades, including higher Super Saiyan forms. All here to help bring out that fan inside you. Itís okay, I hear they donít bite.
In the end, Dragonball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi comes out as an average brawler with the shift still in neutral. There are plenty of exciting moments, but for every positive there is a negative right beside it. Whether it be the rushed game-play mechanics or the occasional lock-up during dialogue scenes, there are just too many distractions that keep it from besting last year's surprise hit. Even so, with numerous features to unlock and the list of character choices available, several fans are sure to immediately rush out and get it, ignoring any and all reviews. It certainly is entertaining to see Brolly beating up on poor Krillin or finally seeing the sword wielding Janemba in action. Nevertheless, despite the charm that encompasses it, the game is honestly nothing more than a rental. And though it is recommendable to fans of the series, as a fighting game it can be summed up in one word.
Staff review by Branden Barrett (November 03, 2005)
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