Review: Dragonball Z Budokai
Posted 08 Nov 2003 at 02:15 by Bas Oosterveld
It's probably the most successful franchise in the history of cartoons, backed up by a tremendous amount of websites still available on the internet and the action figures on top on most kids birthday wish lists. I'm talking of course about Dragonball Z. The creation of manga artist Akira Toriyama was first aired on Japanese TV in 1989 and gradually became a phenomenon all over the world. The craze started in Japan and flew over to the USA, Europe and South America, basically in every country one time or another.
Naturally with this type of popularity comes the merchandise so several games were developed, with most of them being rather bad and uninspired cash inns that entirely leaned on the DBZ license. Dragonball Z: Budokai is definitely a more subtitle title, as the PS2 version has proven, but has it been worth the trouble to release the game on our precious cube?
Dragonball Z is a plain, bold and bright cartoon, meaning that the characters as well as backgrounds in the series aren't overwhelmed with details. This makes things a lot easier for designers. The criticism that immediately follows is of course that Budokai also has simplistic visuals if you want to remain faithful to the source material, which Atari did without scruples. And in this perspective Budokai has flawless visuals, with the same look and feel as the cartoon. The menus, the battles, the 23 characters and the nine stage areas, everything breathes Dragonball Z.
Atari went all the way with relation to the audio department; the original Japanese voice actors, the music and sound effects all come right out of the series. One small disappointment may be that the Pal version didn't get the dubbed English voice actors like the US version did. Disappointment because most European fans are more familiar with the English language, I for one was looking forward to hear that charming boyish voice of Goku or the ultra-cool trenchant yet wise grumbles of Piccolo. Atari most likely did this for diplomatic reasons, to avoid stepping on any French or German toes should the game be only available in English.
Budokai has the normal elemental gameplay such as practise mode, where you can learn the trade and master your signature moves. In Duel you have your classic versus mode in various combinations. In the Tournament mode you'll go through the elimination system in order to become a champion. If you win fights you earn some zennies, with these zennies you can purchase items in the skill edit mode. This way, you can create your own customised fighter; your very own Z-warrior.
The Story mode is what it's all about. This is what sold so many copies on the PS2 and without a doubt will attract the DBZ-maniacs on the cube. The story mode begins with the arrival of Goku's brother Radditz, and it ends with the Cell games. Your goal is of course to stop the evil forces that threaten our world and become a Super Saijyan legend. Just sit back and enjoy the bright animations, which are all carefully picked authentic scenes, vital for the story.
There are a couple of restrictions regarding the movement of your characters. One, you can't jump or duck, common elements for a game of this type. Secondly, you don't have control over the elevation feature, which is a major part of the series. Sometimes you get knocked by an opponent and then get airborne. This seems to be occurring randomly and even when you float you can't do anything special. This kind of makes you feel handicapped in a matter that surely influences the gameplay.
Also a sign of the weak fighting engine is the fact that while each of the 23 characters have different animations, they all share the same move list. It does make it easy to swap between different chars, but it does not contribute to its lasting appeal.
The good news is that overall the control system feels pretty smooth and solid, combos are well done and there are a couple of 3D dodging moves to compensate the jumping issue.
The game is unquestionably designed for the fanatics with its many little touches that only they would recognise and appreciate. Budokai will no doubt be a good time consumer for them which should last quite a while. People outside of the DBZ fan base will think Budokai is fun to the point where they discover that there are better alternatives.
Its too bad that Atari spent more time on the presentation than to the gameplay, but the immense amount of movies results in a must have title for the many fans still out there. Budokai is easily the best game of their franchise, though mechanical engine flaws prevents this game to compete against the top brawlers such as the mighty Soul Calibur.
N-Europe Final Verdict
Fans will be pleased the Z-warriors could make it on the cube.