You would think that by this time, after so many games, the secret to a successful Dragon Ball Z video game formula would have already been discovered and milked to death. I mean, let's take a look at the various mechanics in DBZ games over the years. Starting with one on one Street Fighter style bouts with the Budokai franchise, and eventually giving players free movement with Budokai Tenkaichi, the series reverted back again into a 2D fighter with Burst Limit, and then once again back to 3D with Raging Blast, finally devolving into a game of Rock/Paper/Scissors with Ultimate Tenkaichi.
So where does Battle of Z stand? It certainly leans toward the Budokai Tenkaichi and Burst Limit mechanics, giving players a fairly big area to run/fly around, and of course pummel enemies in. Where Battle of Z differentiates itself is in its de-evolution of its controls, and heavy emphasis on multiple characters. Let's explore the former first though.
I honestly can't be that surprised that a game hasn't truly captured the feel of a Dragon Ball Z fight (although Budokai Tenkaichi 3 came damn close) because the fights are often nonsensical, and usually outside of the bounds of logic. Characters flying and teleporting around the battle field while throwing insanely fast punches and shooting laser beams from their hands is definitely tough to emulate. Battle of Z wanted to simplify things in order to ensure that the action is at an all time high, while the controls feel easy. Coming from Burst Limit and its sequel that had a ton of tutorials to master, this was enticing. The problem was that it felt too limiting and in the end, made each battle seem way too repetitive.
It all boils down to using mainly two buttons, a melee button and a longer range blast button. Mashing on the melee button will unleash your character's combos, which you can extend by sending them flying through the air and then teleporting behind them, only to kick them in another direction. This is somewhat satisfying, but it's literally the same type of combo for each character. The other two face buttons will make your character fly, and either decrease or increase the altitude.
Each character comes equipped with two special attacks. Goku, for example, can execute a kamehameha blast or a kaio-ken pursuit move that unleashes a sweet looking combo. Every character's is different, and it's fun to mess around with and see who's works best in what situations. Characters are also separated into different groups such as melee-focused or ki-focused.
These groupings actually make much more sense within the game's new multiplayer focused approach. Even when playing the Single Player campaign, you'll still bring alone three AI partners along with you. It's pretty cool to focus on a single enemy along with other fighters to deal a great amount of damage, but the AI certainly lacks in the thinking department 90% of the time. One of the cooler aspects is that if you fall in battle, other characters can heal you. This would be great, if they actually remembered to do that. Some of the more difficult boss fights, like the one against Oozaru Vegeta, had me dying a lot, and the worst part is that the AI often refused to help me.
However I can't deny that kicking butt as Vegeta alongside Goku, Gohan and Piccolo was fun as hell. Even its simplistic controls can't take away the satisfaction of teleporting behind a player and then unleashing a powerful blast and seeing them burn to a crisp.
It's a double edged sword when going online and teaming up with actual players. You obviously lose the bad AI and get actual thinking players (mostly) but also thanks to some bad matchmaking, you might end up with players who just started, or extremely overpowered enemies. What's more, there are cases of some pretty bad lag, and I'm on a terrific internet connection too. Regardless, there is certainly more fun to be had with actual people than AI. With that said, the game's PvE fights are far more fun and balanced than PvP.
The game also offers some character progression in the form of cards, much like Capsules worked in earlier games. These cards will buff up your character's stats ranging from strength to ki blast power and more. It's somewhat annoying to have to keep switching out cards everytime you pick a new character, but thankfully the game's automatic feature can just equip the best cards without you having to do it all manually.
It's important to note that the Vita version is the exact same game you're getting on consoles, which is pretty damn impressive. The graphics hold up just as well on the Vita and I didn't have any noticeable slowdown. The only slight downside is that you're losing out on the L2 and R2 buttons, which are essentially shortcuts to each character's unique special move.
Battle of Z is an interesting evolution of the 3D anime-based brawler, not one without faults and limitations. However the addition of a multiplayer component in a single match adds yet another layer that was previously absent from past entries (save for the PSP title). It's a story you've heard probably way too many times, but let's face it, you're not here for the drama, you're here for a good kamehameha to the face, and Battle of Z can provide that.
[Primarily Reviewed on PlayStation 3]