Review: ?and now for something completely different!
Dragon Ball Z. It's been immortalized in comics, TV shows, movies, and games. The story has been written and rewritten a thousand times. So with all these multiple iterations, is it really necessary that we get another fighting game based off of Dragon Ball Z? Atari and Crafts and Meister would have you believe so. In comes Super Dragon Ball Z, an arcade port of a Japanese game by the same name. Being backed by one of the producers of the classic Street Fighter 2, Super Dragon Ball Z attempts to take the old DBZ franchise and rebuild it for those of us who desire something more from our fighting games than just big fireballs and flashy effects.
Super Dragon Ball Z is definitely a more technical fighter than Dragon Ball Z Budokai, Tenkaichi, Shin Budokai, heck, pick any Dragon Ball Z game. The game is much more in the vein of, say, Rival Schools or King of the Fighters Maximum Impact. Super Dragon Ball Z plays something like a 2D fighter in 3D space. Of course, players can perform sidesteps and whatnot. Overall the controls are fairly intuitive for anyone who has played a 2D fighter before. The Square button maps to regular melee attacks and the Triangle button maps to stronger attacks. The only real difference is jumping and blocking.
Instead of pressing up to jump, players must press the Circle button. If they hold the button, their fighter will hover off of the ground. Moves like hovering and dashing cost points in an ?action meter?, so air combat isn't quite as much of a focus as it is in DBZ Budokai Tenkaichi. Luckily the action meter refills fairly fast. Blocking is handled by pressing the X button, much like in Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore.
Special moves are performed in much the same way as Street Fighter 2. As one would expect common fireball moves like the Kamehameha Wave are performed using a quarter circle down-to-forward motion followed by either Square or Triangle. Basically if you can perform Ryu's movesets, you'll have no problems with Super Dragon Ball Z's specials. Certain characters such as Goku, Trunks and Gohan can transform into their Super Saiyan forms, though it's a little tricky performing the maneuver. This obviously ups these character's stats a bit, but the effect does wear off over time. All characters have a super special move that does reasonable damage, but costs some lengths of the special gauge. Players can also shoot weak ki shots by pressing forward and an attack button. One interesting aspect of using special moves is that most of them can be powered up if the attack button is held. This greatly powers up the attacks, but this also gives the computer plenty of time to sidestep the attack.
The special gauge itself works like the special gauge in some of the later Street Fighter games. Dealing and receiving hits builds the meter. When a super special move is performed part of the meter drains. That's about as tough as it gets.
During fights, the AI can get a little cheap. I found a few battles where the enemy would play a distance game and shoot fireballs constantly. It got a little annoying, but many times you too can play the distance game and get away with it. I wouldn't advise fighting from a distance though. It seems projectiles aren't that terribly strong in this game. Your best bet would be melee attacks.
One small problem I had was that combos in Super Dragon Ball Z were very canned. Each character has maybe a total of four different canned punches and kicks and that's about it. There are no cancels, or anything technical like that. Movesets are pretty sparse. This game definitely isn't on the same level as 2D classics like Guilty Gear or 3D technical fighters like Virtua Fighter. Still, if you're looking for a decent 3D brawler that doesn't have the word Budokai in its title this may be what you're looking for. It's definitely simplistic, but it at least it isn't broken.
The game is sparse on modes. The first thing anyone should do before fighting is create a character. This basically reserves space on the memory card and stores all of the stat building and special effects that a player will gain for a given character. Of course, players don't actually ?create? their fighter. Instead they pick from one of 18 fighters and can choose what skills to give them and determine their costume color. If you have multiple characters, you can even trade moves between them. After creating a fighter, players can choose between one of three modes to play- Original, Z-Survivor, or practice.
Original mode (Arcade mode) runs characters through a series of seven fights. After each fight players gain experience, something called B.P. which shows just how ?hardcore? they are and of course one of the seven Dragon Balls. If a player quits arcade mode half way through, he or she will keep their collected dragon balls, exp, and B.P., so theoretically a player could just keep playing the first fight over and over and still unlock nearly everything.
Z-Survivor is basically a survival mode set in the tournament stage. Of course, for some reason in Super Dragon Ball Z there is no such thing as a ring out, so it really doesn't matter where fighters end up during these fights. Battles generally start out easy in Z Survivor, but build up in difficulty as you go. At the end of each battle, a roulette wheel will show up giving options to up the player's attack or defense, heal a certain percentage of health, receive exp or B.P. bonuses, or get a certain number of the dragon balls. Each time something is picked on the roulette wheel it tends to give less of an effect the next time the roulette wheel shows up. So while the wheel may heal 50% of health one round, it may only heal 20% the next round.
Practice mode is pretty self-explanatory. If you don't know what that is by now, I feel very sorry for you. It works the same way as any practice mode works. The only real difference is that players can use their specially made character to practice with. Players can also set up destructible objects in the stage, but there isn't much of a reason to do this.
When players get all 7 of the dragon balls, they are able to enter a special mode from the main menu that lets them summon Shenron. Players can ask the dragon to give them new special skills, enhance certain parameters such as walking speed, unlock new characters and colors, or just open up a few miscellaneous things like the battle record. The game was basically designed to summon Shenron a lot. There are a ton of options every time Shenron is called upon, so luckily it is pretty easy to get all of the Dragon Balls.
One nice thing players will notice is that the environments feature plenty of destructible elements as well as some multi-tiered effects. Knock an enemy against one of the tournament stage walls, and it will crumble. Shoot a stone pillar enough times and it will collapse. Really at this point we all come to expect this, but when you consider that most Dragon Ball games have featured very sparse environments, it's nice to see such population in every stage. This game definitely features the best stage design of any Dragon Ball Z fighter yet.
When it comes to Visuals, I felt that Super Dragon Ball Z was breathtaking. Instead of using the anime's simplistic design as so many other DBZ games have done in the past, Super Dragon Ball Z uses the manga as inspiration. Every character and environment features a great deal of hand drawn details. Simple things like rocks have many weather worn lines going up and down them, and characters have a staggering amount of detail. Even during attacks you'll see the onomatopoeias of the sound effects pop up. It all really does look like a living manga. The only downside is that the colors are washed out compared to the Budokai series, but to be honest, I actually prefer it this way. The visuals are just that much more appealing to the eye. I did have some problems running the game on HD. It supports neither Progressive Scan nor Widescreen. Even using an S video cable, I still found jaggies and beat bars aplenty, which is very uncharacteristic of the medium. It still confounds me to this day.
Sound is very unique in this game when compared to the other Dragon Ball Z games. While the game does feature the same level of vocal talent in all of the other Dragon Ball fighting games, the music is very different. The game doesn't feature the usual blaring guitar riffs, but rather goes for a sort of electronic soundtrack found in many of the Japanese fighting games from the 90's. I can only assume this is more like the Japanese TV show, but I really don't know. Either way, I liked the change. Unfortunately voice samples did sound a little muffled and again, I was completely baffled by this problem.
I can only assume these audio and video problems have something do with the nature of the port. It doesn't feel like the highest budget product, which is strange in comparison to all of the other Dragon Ball games.