"Dragon Ball Z" is something you either get or you don't. Fervent fans could spend hours discussing the finer points of the story lines. Non-fans see a bunch of guys with bad haircuts wearing funny pajamas yelling at each other for minutes at a time. To each his own. Now that "Dragon Ball Z: Budokai" has been released for the GameCube, it's time "X-Play" took another look at the franchise.
Creating a fighting game based on anime that appears to be nothing but an ongoing fight would seem like a slam-dunk, right? After all, you've got a cast of characters all well versed in the martial arts. You already have rivalries, motivations, and story lines to work from. So what's missing from "Budokai?" A good fighting game, that's what.
| Dragon Ball Z: Budokai|
ESRB rating: Teen
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Pros: Faithful to the source material; solid port
Cons: Shallow fighting engine; moves lack variety
Whatever you Saiyan
At first glance there appears to be a lot of depth to this game. There are numerous gameplay modes, starting with the appropriately named story mode. Here you get to relive some of the defining moments from the "Dragon Ball Z" universe. Each saga unfolds as if you were watching the TV show. These episodes come complete with theme music, competently created cutscenes, and voice work done by the actors from the show. Interspersed between the cutscenes are a series of battles, with the occasional minigame thrown in for good measure.
The story mode is a solid introduction to the series and the basic game mechanics. Other modes include the two-player duel mode, tournament, practice, and a couple of secret modes that you must discover for yourself. On top of that, you're able to customize the fighting style of any character in the game with special skills that you either win during matches or buy at Mr. Popo's racially insensitive item shop.
Chillin' with Krillin
Once you've become accustomed to the game, it becomes clear that there's not much there. In other words, "Budokai" ain't all that deep. The controls are slightly sluggish, making it initially difficult to time out your special moves. Once you figure out the timing (which has more to do with the rhythm of your button presses and not what your character is doing onscreen) it becomes simple enough to pull them off.
The problem is the method in which these moves are executed. You perform each special move by launching a string of standard punches and kicks, then following with a press of the "Ki" button. It kind of feels like you're entering in a bunch of cheat codes instead of playing a game. This initiates a cutscene depicting the attack. Most are fairly brief, but some are painfully long. This pacing completely breaks up the momentum of the fight.
Refried Senzu beans
There is also a distinct lack of variety in the move set. Although there are 23 different characters, the basic punches and kicks all feel the same. Most of the special moves share common button combos and onscreen effects. This makes the slight deviation in move commands between one character and another all the more baffling. It's almost like the developers realized that all the special attacks behave in roughly the same way, so they altered the button combos slightly to give the illusion of depth. The ability to modify your characters with different skills and abilities is a nice little side project, but because of the sameness of all the fighting moves, it doesn't really offer much more.
Any port in a storm
As ports go, "Budokai" made it to the GameCube unscathed. In fact, the visuals are slightly better, although you'd be hard pressed to notice the differences. Controlling the fighters is just as easy on the Cube controller as it is on the PS2 controller. There is no extra material or gameplay modes. This is a straight-up, no-frills port from one system to another.
Only for the hard core
"Budokai" is a mostly brainless fighter that manages to capture the magic and appeal of the source material. For "Dragon Ball Z" fans that's probably enough to garner a recommendation. No doubt they'll chuckle at every one-liner and gasp in awe at the multicolored beams of light that shoot around during the battles. Players looking for a solid and deep fighting experience, take your money elsewhere.
"Dragon Ball Z: Budokai" (GCN)
Also available on the PlayStation 2.
Originally aired January 26, 2004