Dragonball Z as a series is nearly as popular as Pokemon, neither of which I’ve come to understand, but personal preferences aside, it’s undeniable that Japanese anime has a history of crossing over into gaming territory. Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 2 is the latest entry in the tradition, and Atari has followed the DBZ model to full effect.
In Budokai 2, Dragon Ball Z’s legendary hero, Goku, is given the aid of fellow Dragon Ball Warriors as he fights to save Earth from invading aliens. Yes, it’s a story mode only anime loyalists can love. Even more unfortunate, though, is that the game itself is equally uninspiring.
I must admit that there’s more to the game that I would have guessed, being that I’m not a loyalist to the Dragon Ball Z franchise. The story mode combines elements of strategy and a traditional fighter along the lines of the Street Fighter series. The game’s strategic elements come into play as you maneuver your characters into strategic positions on a Candyland-esque playing board, all the while trying to make your way to the lead alien.
The object in these maneuvers is to only engage in combat as it’s absolutely necessary, because the characters’ energy is cumulative, which means that participating in a lot of fights could unnecessarily wear down the characters before they reach the Big Fight. And wear you down these fights will, because the enemy AI is quite impressive. Just like real players, the evil aliens act logically and dynamically based upon the situation at hand, with no indication of pre-determined paths or scripts.
The story mode is supported by a practice mode, but to be perfectly honest, there’s no real need to learn the controls, let alone practice them. I passed though the levels beating bad guy after bad guy with a “mash buttons or die” strategy that even Stevie Wonder could master. And unfortunately for those looking for a bit more depth, this gameplay “strategy” is very successful in Dragon Ball Z Budokai 2. It’s truly a shame, too, because the strategic maneuvering and AI both end up completely overlooked due to the game’s button-mashing simplicity.
Budokai 2’s versus mode provides a bit more challenge, since the Street Fighter-like fighting system allows for some nice head-to-head battles where at least you can both button-mash to your heart’s content. Still, in spite of the good head-to-head option, the true entertainment value lies in the game’s Tournament mode, which is pretty cool once you get past the unavoidable character introductions.
In Tournament mode, players compete for cash prizes that can be spent on skills at a shop owned by none other than Mr. Popo himself. Skills can be purchased that address a variety of new attacks, improved defenses and even a few instant-kill moves. Trading is also emphasized in the game, meaning you can trade skills in order to customize the ultimate fighter.
As you’d expect from an anime-inspired game, the graphics are cel-shaded, which really lets the fighting scenes resemble the cartoon very well. It’s not just tangential similarities, either; I actually watched two episodes immediately before playing the game, and the graphics are on par with what fans are used to seeing. The animations are also pretty sleek, most noticeably when players perform special moves, and the cutscenes couple great lighting and textures with the appropriate cel-shaded backdrops and characters.
As pleased as they might be with the graphics, Dragon Ball Z fans will be equally excited to hear the original voice actors engaged in the dialog. There are also a multitude of familiar songs and sound effects. The only disappointment will come for the fans accustomed to watching Dragon Ball DVDs on their home theater system, because Dragon Ball Z Budokai 2 does not support Dolby Digital.
But in the end, good audio and video don’t compensate for an overly simplistic fighting mechanic, and that button-mashing even undermines the strategic elements of the game. Dragon Ball Z Budokai 2 offers an enriched cel-shaded experience for DBZ fans, but even die-hard arcade-style fighting fans will likely steer clear of this title.
- Gameplay: 7
- Graphics: 8
- Sound: 7
- Replay: 7.6
- Overall: 7.1
- Good for fans, but not enough oomph for DBZ newbies.
— Sylvia Gallardo