Ah, Dragon Ball Z. Practically everyone has at least heard of the anime at one point or another. It was a huge franchise in the late 90’s and early 2000’s full of action figures, manga, movies, anime and of course, video games. As of late, not many games have came out donning the DBZ title, but developer Artdink has taken the reigns this time around to create a rather different feeling DBZ title in the form of Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z.
Battle of Z is more of an arena brawler than a fighting game like the Budokai series. Players take on the role of a smorgasbord of heroes and villains from the DBZ universe and fight in large arenas set in the DBZ backdrop. It all feels like the anime, and they try to stay close to the overall storyline that everyone has come to know.
The game play boils down to combo attacks initiated through a single button and Ki blast attacks through another. Combos can be performed simply by hitting the melee button numerous times. Aside from those, players can utilize special attacks using one of the triggers on the controller as well as a special launcher attack that can send the opponent flying. Flight is controlled with two face buttons for ascend and descend. Finally, after the Ki meter is full, the character can perform their signature super move hitting both the melee and Ki blast buttons together. It’s a rather simplistic set of moves that never deviates from this concept.
Certain characters fall under special categories: Melee, support, interference, and Ki blast. Each plays a specific role and players wanting to survive the battle will need to utilize their characters to the best of their abilities. For instance, Kid Gohan has a healing ability that is very valuable, especially when taking on powerful enemies, while Goku is more of a melee “up in your face” attacker.
In single player mode, I was able to give orders to my AI controlled partners to go all out, hold back and attack the same enemy at once. Combo attacks with my co-op partners were where some of the better strategy came into play. When attacking the same enemy with partners, we would perform a special gang up attack that would severely damage the enemy. These were flashy combos that would send the opponent crashing to the ground. There were also special “chase attacks.” With these I could initiate a launcher attack and send the enemy flying away from me, and then my partners could chase them down and knock them back flying in another direction. This could be chained up to four times for some serious damage. These co-op attacks really gave off that DBZ feel from the show.
Damaging enemies will fill up a special meter called The Genki Meter. When full, certain characters can use the energy to perform their ultimate attack, which is basically a tactical nuke in Call of Duty. If the meter is not used players are given the chance to give the energy to a large pool that is stored throughout every player’s game. Doing this will give the player PP that can be used to buy rare cards in the store.
Players take on the main storyline of the original show starting with the Saiyan Saga and slowly moving past Frezia, Cell and Majin Buu. Players choose the mission they want to play and then select the characters they want to bring into battle with them. An interesting feature – aside from the original storyline, players can play through alternate stories as well as playing through the villain’s side of the story. It’s a small touch, but it adds more to the overall package.
Characters and the player’s profile will gain experience as well as unlock new trading cards that boost stats. Players can equip these cards to individual characters to make them even more powerful. Single use items can be bought with points earned through completing battles that can boost stats as well. The customization options are vast for what is essentially a beat ‘em up game.
After a while, the combat can get very repetitive and monotonous, since there’s not much depth in the combos. Where the game can break this up is through online play. The entire story can be played online with three other players. This is where Battle of Z really shines. Teaming up with three other players using their favorite DBZ characters while beating up on a massive boss is extremely fun. Since the AI is half dumb, playing online is the best way to experience Battle of Z. The team combos work more effectively and the meteor chains were performed much better when I had someone who knew what they were doing as my partner.
Apart from the online co-op, there is also online versus. Here, players duke it out with each other in both team battles and free-for-all matches. I found it fun, but very hectic after a while. Since players are left open for attacks when performing a combo on someone, it seemed like it was a slug-fest where anything goes. It was just a little too chaotic for me.
While the online co-op is great with relatively no lag, the omission of local co-op is rather confusing. Sure, it may be a little disorienting trying to play split-screen, but couch co-op would have been a great addition considering the simplistic “pick up and play” nature of it.
The art style stays true to the source material, but the colors felt a little off to me. It’s hard for me to explain. Akira Toriyama is known for his colorful art style but Battle of Z feels rather dark, especially for a Dragon Ball Z title.
While everything looks flashy, some of the animations and look of the special moves can be lackluster. Coming from reviewing another anime-based brawling game like Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm, it just doesn’t have the kind of polish I would have hoped for considering how epic many battles in DBZ are.
If there was one glaring problem with the game, it would be the camera. It’s predominately a slightly over-the-shoulder camera, but when getting close to any type of environment or closing in on a locked on enemy, the camera will go nuts ending with me either hitting or getting hit by someone off screen. This is one of the reasons why the online versus is so hectic. Many times, I’m getting hit and have no idea where it’s coming from.
Another annoyance is the overly complicated menus. Trying to navigate the battle menu took a while to figure out due to the way everything is set up. Not only could I set up my character, but I could look at other player’s characters as well as the mission on top of setting cards and items. It’s all there in one screen, but felt unwieldy for the first few hours of playing.
The presentation is pure Dragon Ball Z. The characters, original voice actors, and music all feel very familiar. It’s nice to see Artdink try to put in as much fan service as possible, and they do a very good job at it.
It’s a simple game, with simple mechanics, but I still had a fun time with it. I highly suggest playing it online over playing it single player due to the dull AI, but even single player has it’s moments of fun. Battle of Z may not be revolutionary, but it does offer something a little different and rather fun for the DBZ fans out there.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on PlayStation 3.