Review: Dragon Ball Z Budokai HD Collection bundles one mediocre and one fantastic fighting game in a single package
Dragon Ball Z, the anime phenomenon that has by now somewhat outstayed its welcome, is re-releasing the first and third Budokai game in HD. What this means is that you'll get to relive those glorious battles from the beginning, the way you remember playing them on the PlayStation 2 or Gamecube.
Whether you consider this a curse or a blessing, the fact remains that these were some of the first games that the Western audience was able to get their hands on that starred the colorful cast of Dragon Ball Z characters (aside from that horrible PS1 game, Dragon Ball GT Final Bout). With full Achievement/Trophy support, higher resolution graphics, and that classic Budokai gameplay, you can't go wrong, right?
Dragon Ball Z: Budokai
I honestly can't say I have fond memories of playing this game back in the day, which is actually good because I won't let nostalgia get in the way. Before the massive levels with tons of destructible environment, tag team battles, giant cinematic Kamehameha blasts and tons of characters, Budokai started out small and humble.
For what it was, Budokai actually wasn't a terrible game. It didn't rely on input commands a la Street Fighter for super moves. Instead, it had you pulling off moves through punch and kick combos. It was definitely new at the time, and a much more challenging way to pull off moves. Nowadays, Dragon Ball Z games rely on a simple press of the left thumbstick to pull off something awesome, and you don't get that here. I appreciate that because it allowed the game to be challenging without feeling overly cheap.
What's more, each fighter could then be further customized with Capsules won through beating various fights in the Story Mode. It was an interesting set up that allowed players to customize their favorite characters with either powerful moves or some helpful items, giving them the upper hand in battle.
The game covered all the major sagas up to the Cell saga, with cutscenes very reminiscent of the TV show — from the opening title sequence, down to the title cards and animated intros before each fight. There were also instances of mini-games where you had to keep Raditz in the line of Piccolo's fire, or train against a virtual Vegeta on your way to Namek. These instances, especially the former, were absolutely terrible, and I'm happy to say that there is a minimal amount of them.
The character count was modest, ranging from all key characters from the main sagas, such as the Z crew with Goku, Gohan and Piccolo. Then there's the bad guys, including the Ginyu Force, Frieza, Androids 17 & 18 and Cell. It's a low number for sure, especially considering that the newer DBZ games have well over 100 characters, but it does away with throwaway characters and sticks to the ones that matter (well, maybe except for Hercule).
Budokai doesn't look amazing by today's standards, and the cutscenes have retained the 4:3 format. It also doesn't feature the now standard cel-shaded look. That said, it's not terrible, and you'll grow to appreciate where the fighting games have started out in the West here.
Unfortunately, online play is still not available in Budokai, staying true to the original game. This isn't a huge dealbreaker for me personally, but I can see DBZ fans getting angry over the idea that they can't Kamehameha their friends online.
It definitely wasn't the best in the series, but looking back, I think it may have been better than Budokai 2 and that terrible board game component. Honestly though, it's all about Budokai 3, which luckily is the other game to get the HD treatment. So without further ado...
Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3
Budokai 3 was a high point in the DBZ series. Not only did it have that amazing, polished, cel-shaded look that made it look damn near anime quality, but it added a ton more characters, story arcs and movesets. These made it a shining example of what a Dragon Ball Z game should both look and play like.
The game spans the storylines of the entire Dragon Ball Z Saga, but also includes the Dragon Ball as well as Dragon Ball GT Saga, meaning you'll see characters like Young Goku and Super Saiyan 4 Goku. It doesn't include the animated sequences that were found in the first game, and rather focuses on voiced stills to tell the story. It isn't that big of a deal, since the core game is so excellent, but I did love seeing all the action prior to the battles actually play out, instead of just reading about it.
The fighting is faster, more fluid, and exponentially better looking. I'm almost willing to say the game looks just as good, if not better, when stacked up to current gen Dragon Ball Z games. The backgrounds no doubt give away that this is an HD remake and not a fully fledged next gen title, but the characters and animations are all beautiful.
New pursuit attacks, teleports, and giant, flashy finishers are now part of each fight, which not only make them more intense, but look absolutely bad ass. Environments are much more prominent in Budokai 3, as you can fling your opponents toward a mountain, see it crumble to pieces and have your opponent emerge from under the rubble. Despite what's going on screen, you'll be pleased to know that the game runs smooth the entire time, which should come as no surprise being a late PS2 game, but it's still worth noting.
Like before, the bulk of your character building will come in the form of capsules that once again have to be acquired through playing the main story line. Aside from capsules, you'll also raise your characters' stats as they level up after every battle, adding even more personalization to each character.
You now have an overworld you can fly across as your chosen character before each battle. It isn't really integral to the game, and only serves as some fan service, but you are able to look for Dragon Balls which will grant you some bonus unlockables.
Sadly, like Budokai, you still can't take your custom character online and duke it out with others to see who's best. Instead, there are your standard local multiplayer modes, as well as a tournament mode.
The bottom line
Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3 is undoubtedly the showstopper in this collection. The first game serves as a reminder of our DBZ roots, to see where the fighting games have started, but Budokai 3 then blasts a Kamehameha in our face with its awesome fighting, amazing visuals and deep customization.
Now if only we can get a Budokai Tenkaichi 3 HD remake!
[Reviewed on Xbox 360]