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Dragonball Z: Budokai

Review By:  Siou Choy

Developer:  Dimps
Publisher:  Atari
# of Players:  1-2
Genre:  Fighting
ESRB:  Teen
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card
Date Posted:  12-30-03

With legions of pimply-faced teenage Dragon Ball Z fans out there, you have to wonder why it’s taken quite this long for DBZ games to begin hitting these shores.  Gamers on the other side of the Pacific, needless to say, didn’t have this problem, nor were they forced to spend exorbitant reserves of cash to buy untranslated imports, converters, and console modifications.  Of course, they did get to go into epileptic fits watching Pokemon, and do have a tendency to spend said monies on vending machine-dispensed used underwear, so I guess it’s an even trade, all told.

That aside, all you little Dragonball obsessives (need I mention that said fan base is comprised of an almost exclusively male population?  How long did you think the rest of us could put up with episode after episode of constipated grunting, sweating and straining?  The entire cast appears to be in dire need of a high colonic…) can finally relax: Dragon Ball Z: Budokai has come to the Nintendo GameCube at last.  Of course, it did appear on the PS2 almost a year ago, but I’ll credit you with more taste than owning such a poorly designed console.

On that note, let’s hang our hats for a few.  For those who need it spelled it out and spoon-fed, while Dragon Ball Z: Budokai is a port of it’s PS2 counterpart, the GameCube version has a few improvements graphically (like you needed to be told that – hello, GC and Xbox actually have rendering engines…) and otherwise.  There are still 23 characters to choose from in the game, almost all of who need to be unlocked by playing through either the Story or World Championship modes.  You can also win “capsules” (i.e. abilities), either by playing through Story mode or by purchasing them from Mr. Popo’s shop.  This way, you don’t have to settle for a given set of fighting moves and abilities, but rather can build up your character of choice to be the most powerful of Super Saiyans (or what have you – personally, I’ll stick with Android 18 to win, or Mr. Satan (“Hercule” for the philistines), for laughs).

Fans of the DBZ series will be glad to know that Atari and Dimps were very faithful to the series, doing a creditable job of re-creating several key scenes from the show.  Hell, they even dug up just about the entire cast of the English dub to provide voices for the characters.   The downside to this is that they’re a bit too faithful to the series: you get no less than 3 fights in a row with Raditz (snore), and have to fight your way up through several of the ilk of his Saiyan pals, the Ginyu Force, and one Android after another in your battles.  It would have been a nicer touch to condense all this nonsense, and hit on several series highlights (Goku’s death and training in the afterlife, the high school hijinks of “Super Saiyaman” and Videl, Majin Buu, etc. etc.) rather than a painstakingly literal recreation of some of the series’ dramatic low points (or if you’re so inclined, “action highpoints”).  Nonetheless, hardcore fans should be ecstatic at their shot at playing through some fairly direct lifts from the show.  Some scenes even appear, to my imperfect memory, to be following the original script line for line!

As fanboys should have figured out from the above, Story mode drags you, playing as clueless series “hero” Goku, kicking and screaming through the Saiyan “Saga”, the Namekian “Saga”, and the Android “Saga”, at what amounts to a painfully slow pace.  Upon completion of this mode, several new “side quests” are opened up, allowing the steadfast gamer to unlock even more characters, and occasionally offering the opportunity to fight portions of the mode as the “bad guy”!

World Tournament mode should be rather self-explanatory for even casual viewers of the series.   Essentially, you take on one randomly selected computer opponent after another in your fight for the crown.  Unfortunately, the computer likes to play cheap.  Rather than a battle of skill or strategy, World Tournament mode consists almost exclusively of which of you is more skilled in knocking the other out of the ring.  Maybe this is some weird sumo thing, I don’t know; but it pretty much adds up to dirty pool in my book.  Needless to say, the computer is extremely good at this exclusive “victory by ring out” maneuver; amounting to some serious frustration on the gamer’s part.  This is particularly annoying, as World Tournament mode must be won in order to unlock Mr. Satan (once again, “Hercule” to the uninitiated) and the very amusing Legend of Hercule mode.  Your best bet is to let the computer knock you to the edge of the ring, then quickly maneuver behind your opponent for the ring out it intended for you.

Once again, one of the biggest disappointments of the game revolves not so much around what is present as what was left out.   To wit, the choice of characters in the game.  While I was perfectly happy to play as Trunks and Android 18, it would have been a much better experience if given the option to play as Master Roshi or Videl.  Instead, we get treated to dozens of loser characters that I’m sure every DBZ fan will be just panting to play as.  I mean, come on, does anyone really have some deep, dark inner longing to play as each and every member of the Ginyu Force?

In a slightly misguided attempt at keeping that cash cow anime feel, Dimps made the unfortunate decision to go with some fairly nasty cel shading graphics. Although the game looks fairly nice visually for what it is, the lack of borderlines around characters makes it look extraordinarily fake, cheesy, and ephemeral, as if the characters are about to fade into the background.  While this becomes less noticeable during action sequences (you really aren’t paying attention to such things during the fights), such an approach fails miserably at its intended goal of seamlessly aping the anime it is derived from.  This becomes horribly apparent during screenshots and sequences taken directly from the anime – the poorly animated opening credits alone should be enough to turn away the casual gamer from parting with his/her hard earned money.  Trust me, you never realized the guys behind the DBZ TV series were that good.

Controls come across as a bit awkward, due to the odd button placement on the GameCube controller.  There are four basic moves in Budokai, punch, kick, block, and “ki attack”.  By building up your ki gauge you can perform those ridiculous and overblown attacks the series is infamous for, such as the criminally overused “kamehameha wave”.  Budokai also throws several “Burst Zone Battles” at you at random points.  These sequences, where the characters seem to be moving at a furious pace, require the unfortunate gamer to spin the control stick in a circle as fast as possible, likely leading to an unforeseen investment in a new controller in the near future (scam alert!).

Dragon Ball Z: Budokai may not break any new ground in its genre, but all told, it’s still a decent fighting game, and despite all the misgivings noted above, is really not too shabby for a licensed product.  It’s been a long time coming, but a decent, non-import Dragonball Z game has finally hit North American shores.  The Dragonball Z anime series is known for its outrageous, several episode long fights, and if that’s what you’re looking for, Budokai delivers.  But the rest of us, who watched both Dragonball series for their lowbrow humor and character interaction, should expect to be sorely disappointed.

Highs:

  • Plenty of characters to choose from…though maybe not the ones you’d expect.
  • Despite some cheesy, borderless cel shading, approximates the look and feel of the show fairly well
  • The presence of Mr. Satan, much less a whole mode dedicated to him, just makes the game that much better  

Lows:

  • No Master Roshi, Videl, or Bulma
  • Scenes from the show, particularly the opening credits, come across laughably cheesy by comparison, both stiff and poorly animated.
  • The computer plays things cheap in World Tournament

Final Verdict:

The bottom line is, there aren’t a lot fighting games out there for the GameCube.  If you’re a series fan, or just desperate for a decent fighter for the system, Dragon Ball Z: Budokai would make a nice addition to your collection.  Although hardly as well done as some other fighters in current release (we won’t even get into DOA), the easy-to-pick-up controls make the game enjoyable.   DBZ fans should find themselves reasonably satisfied, if not better: Atari and Dimps remain steadfastly faithful to the show, doing a creditable job at making the gamer feel like they’re actually taking part in the show.  DBZ fans and GameCube owners looking for a good fighting game shouldn’t pass this one up for the holidays.

Overall Score: 7.0

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