"Burst Limit has come a long way from the early days of the series and is definitely one of the better installments to date."
Are you familiar with the quotes, "It's over 9000!" or "The balls are inert?" If so, you probably know that they are derived from the Dragon Ball Z anime series. You might also know that there is a long history of video games adapted from that same show and you may even have played many of them throughout the years. Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit, though, is the first in the series to arrive on current-gen systems. Like many of its predecessors, this newest installment focuses on key events from the show and features characters such as Piccolo, Vegeta, Goku, Gohan and Gonads. As usual, they'll fight one another or sometimes join forces to protect Earth from intergalactic evildoers. If you're not a fan, you'll probably have no clue what the game is about.
In the story mode (known here as the "Z Chronicles"), you'll navigate through the Saiyan saga, Frieza saga and Cell saga. The omission of the Majin Buu saga may disappoint some fans, but it leaves something for the inevitable sequel. It also means that the game can provide a more condensed plot line than you might expect from a game based on a series known for drawn-out plots spanning several dozen episodes each. In game cutscenes are included with dialogue taken straight from the anime, among them is the infamous "It's over 9000!" sequence (which definitely merits some bonus points from me).
As for action segments, they come in the form of battles. In those, gamers will assume the role of both heroes and villains. People unfamiliar with the series will mostly be in the dark, since the truncated plot glosses over some details. That might diminish your interest in the proceedings, but playing through the Z Chronicles is the only way to unlock the game's characters and stages. Complete all of the sagas and youíll get to enjoy the stories of Bardock and Broly, two fighters who have come to Earth hellbent on fighting Goku.
Battles in Burst Limit play out in the manner you'd expect from a typical fighting game and are executed well enough to hold their own against other games within the genre. Combatants have multiple health bars, as determined by either the situation in the story mode or the settings you create in versus mode. The highest health bar starts at purple and works its way down the color spectrum until you hit red. Fights can become monotonous over time so it's best to leave settings at the yellow-green default.
Controls are fluid and intuitive for newcomers and veterans alike, particularly the improved movement mechanics. Battles are typically two-dimensional but dodging actions cause the camera to shift around the battlefield and creates the illusion that you're fighting in three dimensions. Timing is key; an effective dodge allows you to teleport behind your opponent and take a free shot or two. Elsewhere, a miss can leave you caught in a barrage of ownage.
Move sets vary little between characters, except for the unique ultimate attacks that each possesses. When your yellow Ki gauge fills, you'll be able to release a huge blast of energy that deals massive damage upon impact. One ultimate attacks is a much larger version of Goku's Kamehameha Wave, a large horizontal blast. Krillin's ultimate attack is the Destructo Disc, where he throws multiple discs of energy that cut through a foe's defenses. Frieza uses the Death Ball, a fairly close ranged ball of dark energy that obliterates any one caught within it. The other fighters' ultimate attacks typically are variants on one of the afore-mentioned three.
When applicable, characters can use their Ki gauges to transform into their stronger forms. For example, Goku, Gohan, Vegeta, and Trunks can all morph into their golden Super Saiyan forms, while Frieza and Cell can evolve. Pressing the 'R1' button when the gauge is full causes characters to transform, whereas pressing the 'L1' button will cause characters to power up with an aura spark. The latter effect yields a temporary increase to all attributes, but only lasts for the duration of the depleting Ki gauge. Transformations, on the other hand, increase some attributes such as strength, but reduce others like speed and last for the remainder of the battle.
Ultimately, you might not worry much about transformations and any potential intricacies, since much of the game can be played by mindlessly mashing 'square' and 'triangle' with the occasional 'circle' attack thrown into the mix. This can make things repetitive, yet there are frustrating moments when a cheap barrage of attacks can still defeat you. Some characters employ annoying tactics, as well. For example, playing as Goku while fighting Captain Ginyu (who sucks, in my opinion) can lead to a situation where you deplete his life meter almost completely, then watch as he uses his ultimate attack: Body Swap. Now you are the one that's battered and bruised and he can finish you off as your original fighter.
Other new features also act as double-edged swords. Drama pieces can be triggered in battle to increase your abilities, but you have to watch a (brief) unskippable cutscene in the process. All of the action stops in the meantime, too. It's annoying and pointless, like playing some other game with a buddy who pauses things every five seconds to rub his eye.
Despite such gripes (and others), the game is still pretty good. Trial mode offers unique new challenges, like when it asks you to endure 100 non-stop fights. It tests your real-life endurance as well as your gaming skill, since the battles are fairly easy and you'll probably get bored after the 11th match. Versus mode is basically a button-mashing fest, with the occasional cheapass uber uber attack. That's true of the laggy online modes, as well.
You can usually count on Dragon Ball Z games to excel when it comes to presentation, though, and that's true here. Thanks to effective cel-shading, the characters and environments look exactly like their cartoon counterparts, only in 3D! Animations are pure bliss. Likewise, audio nicely mimics the anime; music is taken directly from the show and many of the voice actors responsible for the US dub lend their talents to this project. There are some differences such as Recoome (who sounds less intelligent than he did on the show), but the presentation is still quite solid.
Overall, the same can be said about Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit as a fighting game. It's simple enough for newcomers to play and has enough content to serve the needs of rabid Dragon Ball Z fans. Even though there's not much left to do after you complete the story mode except play multi-player (which can get old pretty quickly), Burst Limit has come a long way from the early days of the series and is definitely one of the better installments to date.
Freelance review by Matt Olsen (July 09, 2008)
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