Review: Three ways to play... three ways to get bored really fast.
When I heard that Atari was coming out with a Game Boy game based off of the original Dragon Ball series (the one that shows the origins of Goku, Krillin, and the others), I was psyched. After all, I used to be a big DBZ hater until I ran across this little gem of a series. This would also be the first time since the 80's that someone had made a game based off of the original series, which is really something for the American market considering the last original Dragon Ball games all appeared on the Japanese Famicom. Unfortunately, while the Budokai series does wonders for the Z series, Dragon Ball Advanced Adventure just comes off as an unimaginative side scrolling brawl fest, lacking the innovation of most side-scrollers from the 90's on up.
As mentioned before, Dragon Ball Advanced Adventure is the prequel to the Dragon Ball Z series. In this game we get to see Goku as a young boy training side by side with Krillin and Yamcha under Master Roshi's tutelage. Throughout the game players can expect to fight their way through memorable scenarios from the show such as Pilaf's castle, Muscle Tower, and the Red Ribbon Army base. They even threw in a stage based off the episode where Goku and Krillin had to race each other to find a rock that Master Roshi had written on and tossed into the forest. Dimps at least did their homework when it came to creating the scenarios for the game. Sadly, unless you've seen the show, the game will make no since. While the game features cutscenes between stages, they often only pull little bits and pieces of the story from the show to feed the player. Trouble is, they never give quite enough plot to flesh out the story. For instance, everyone that has seen the show knows Emperor Pilaf was a big player from early on in the first story arc. In Advanced Adventure, you don't even find out there is an Emperor Pilaf until you randomly storm his castle and fight him. It gets worse in the first tournament arc where Jackie Chun only shows himself at the very end, and we never get the revelation that he is really Master Roshi in disguise. As far as the player is concerned, Chun is just another random enemy on their way to the championship. Also oddly missing is any reference to Goku's tendency to turn into a giant monkey during a full moon- a major plot point in the first two arcs. Little problems like this abound in the game, and it will definitely leave newcomers scratching their heads.
The game prides itself in featuring three modes of play, these being adventure, flight, and one-on-one battles. As one would sadly expect, these don't really differ from one another. Adventure mode is what most of the game consists of. It features Goku running through a platforming segment based off of some excerpt from the show while fighting a handful of enemies. Goku is supposed to be able to perform combos, but in reality, these are very limited. All ground attacks wind up being the same canned animations over and over. Players can perform a throw, two types of jump kicks and deflect enemy shots to spice things up a little, but it doesn't help much in the long run. In essence all you will be doing through these stages is mashing on the B button over and over until everything on screen is dead. Goku also has a special meter that allows him to perform a super attack with his ?Power Pole?. When a special move is used, the meter drains to a point, and Goku will have to attack enemies in order to refill the meter. Players do gain a few new attacks as they play through the adventure. For instance, after the third stage, if the player holds the R button while the special meter is full, they can charge up a ki blast. The ki shots are a little underwhelming at first, but as you progress through the game, Goku will find upgrades to the power meter and eventually start shooting off full-blown Kamehameha waves. Once these are gotten, there's really no point in even using melee attacks anymore. Also, it should be mentioned that ki blasts won't drain the special meter, but if the special meter is empty, the ki blasts won't work. The stages themselves are built decently. The first few adventure stages are fairly straightforward, but as you advance, stages become more and more complex with doorways leading to dead ends and multiple paths to reach the end of the stage. Unfortunately due to the fact that the fighting system gets so old so fast, these stages become something you will want to avoid.
The flight segments aren't much different than the adventure segments. Instead of finding multiple paths through a dungeon, Goku will be standing on the Flying Nimbus doing the same canned combo against airborne enemies. All of the moves are still the same, you can still perform throws and jump kicks as well as ki blasts, but instead of running on the ground, you move the Nimbus around the air. The only real difference is that in the air combat, the enemies come at you. Sounds almost like a bad Yakov Smirnov joke.
One-on-one fighting is probably the best mode in the game, which still isn't saying much. Odds are most players will probably give up playing before they even unlock this mode seeing as everything unfolds so slowly in this game. It works sort of like a 2D fighter, only much easier, and with much less imagination. Depending on how far they are in the game, players can choose one of a handful of fighters and duke it out in the World Tournament. The fighting system works like a severely dumbed down Street Fighter. The only attack button is still the B button. Depending on Goku's position, the D-Pad will either perform an air combo, a ground combo, or a powerful sweeping kick. The ground and air combos are still canned unfortunately. Also, the ki blasts are still usable, though ki blasts will now drain the smaller special meter. Holding back while an enemy attacks causes Goku to block, which would be a useful move if blocking wasn't totally useless. Each fighter has a blocking gauge under his or her health bar that depletes a little after every blow. Once the gauge is empty, characters get stunned and are open to a devastating combo. Trouble is if an enemy so much as begins hitting you while you block, the odds are high that your block meter will run dry before their combo is done, causing you to daze and be hit by another combo. Of course, this works both ways, so as long as the player plays the offensive, the opponent will get stunned more often than not. It is a little fun beating opponents in one-on-one fights, just to watch them get kicked high in the air, then shot back down to earth in typical Dragon Ball style, but don't expect any real DBZ-like air battles. Characters only seem to stay airborne long enough to finish their combo, and then return to earth. There is a parrying move to knock attackers off guard during a pummeling session. This involves hitting up and B at just the right moment. To be honest I didn't even have to use that maneuver until the last few one on one battles. And while it is obnoxious when the computer does it, it doesn't seem to help much anyway, because I always came back in with another combo before the computer could fight back.
So to sum up the gameplay of Dragon Ball Advanced Adventure- grab your Game Boy, hammer on the B button until you get tired, then come to the realization that you spent money to do that, and you're only halfway through stage 1. It's fun in short bursts, but in the long haul it gets annoying, and that's something for me considering I'm a big fan of the king of all button-mashing games- Dynasty Warriors. But the button masher formula hurts this because there was so much potential to build a great fighting system into the mix. The game really needed to add more combos and ways to fight off enemies. Dimps would have done very well to look into ways that other games have handled fighting and learned from those. Instead they chose a fairly plain and simple button masher interface with few nuances, which, while it might have worked for games in the early and mid 90's, just doesn't cut it here in the new millennium. Dragon Ball Advanced Adventure does at least feature some replay. Players who manage to see the game through to the end will find a handful of unlockable characters for the one-on-one battles, and a slightly different take on the main scenario when the game is finished. It's great if you can tolerate all of the boring B button stomping.
Visually, Dragon Ball Advanced Adventure works. It certainly isn't the best-looking Game Boy Advance game out there. It does look a good deal better than many of the other Game Boy Advance Dragon Ball titles before it, featuring nicely detailed boss characters, and good character portraits during cutscenes. You can definitely tell what is going on at all times, And Akira Toriyama's artistry is in full swing in the game. However, while the character models look good, it's sad that there are really only four or five types of enemies in the entire game. Goku will be forced more often than not to fight the same armor-wearing dog in each stage. Sure, last time we beat him down, he had blue armor, and now it's green, but really, if you're going to populate a game with enemies, at least give us some variety. Not since the SNES adaptation of The Tick have I seen so many of the same character model on screen, and for those of you who haven't played The Tick, let me tell you, it's about six levels of non-stop ninjas pouring on screen in waves. At least things are broken up a little with the bosses. The bosses are all characters from the show that Goku had to fight. I was surprised how many familiar characters were accounted for in the game. For instance, the tournament is a good nostalgia trip featuring smaller, less-known characters like Nam and Giran. Other familiar faces include General Blue, Mercenary Tao, and King Piccolo- some of whom are unlockable as playable characters in the one-on-one mode.
The game does do a decent job with audio. A handful of voice samples are sprinkled through the game- mostly grunts. They did use the American voice actors' voices. The game also features some music from the show. At least the music never gets annoying. Basically the audio isn't great, but it certainly isn't bad, and it won't detract from the game at all.