You would think that a property like Dragon Ball Z would lend itself well to the fighting game genre. Here is an anime that features dozens of characters, plenty of rivalries, all kinds of drama and a whole lot of fighting, if this isn't the perfect recipe for a fighting game then I don't know what is.
From the beginning of time (or at least the birth of the 2D fighting games) company after company has attempted to turn this popular series into the next great video game franchise, unfortunately for fans most of these companies have failed. Atari is one of the few companies to get the Dragon Ball Z license right; they are just coming off of several well-received games in their Dragon Ball Z: Budokai series and looking for another winner.
Super Dragon Ball Z is a Dragon Ball Z game for those of us who grew up playing games like Street Fighter II, Tekken and Soul Calibur. Of all the Dragon Ball Z games released worldwide, Super Dragon Ball Z is definitely the easiest to classify; it's a good old fashioned fighting game the way they used to be made in the 1990s. You will still find all of the over-the-top action you've come to know and love from the Dragon Ball Z series, only this time it's fit into the confines of a serious fighting game.
Super Dragon Ball Z is an arcade fighting game straight from Japan. It's developed by Craft & Meister, a new company headed by none other than Street Fighter II producer Noritaka Funamizu. It takes everybody's love for traditional 3D fighting games and combines that with just enough Dragon Ball Z characters. The final results add up to a fun fighting game that is easy to get into but probably won't take you away from your copy of Soul Calibur III or Dead or Alive 4.
Super Dragon Ball Z features a roster of 18 different characters, including twelve from the original Japanese arcade game and six brand new combatants added just for this home version. You'll get a nice mix of popular characters, including Goku, Trunks, Frieza, Vegeta, Gohan and Piccolo. From the get-go you can select from twelve different characters, the other six are locked away just waiting for you to earn them.
Fighting game fans won't have any trouble figuring out what to do, Super Dragon Ball Z feels like a cross between the best elements of Street Fighter II, Tekken and several other fighters I couldn't place. Most of the fireballs and special moves are pulled off just like they would if you were playing Ryu and Ken instead of Goku and Trunks. But just because this plays like Street Fighter II doesn't mean you should expect six separate buttons for kicks and punches, in fact, Super Dragon Ball Z only features two attack buttons. Along with the weak and strong attacks is a block button and a button you can use for jumping or hovering (depending on which character you select).
Each character features a number of special moves, throws, combos and powerful attacks. This just wouldn't be a Dragon Ball Z game without a character throwing a fireball that takes up the entire size of your television. The moves found in this game are really fun to watch and are the highlight of the experience. At its core this may feel like Tekken or Street Fighter, but you'll know it's a Dragon Ball Z game when you start seeing all the stuff being thrown at the players.
Take away all of the flashy energy beams and explosions and you have a painfully average fighting game. The hand-to-hand combat feels a little sloppy and the overall flow of the game just can't hold its own against the bigger (and dare I say it, better) fighting games on the market. Each character has a lot of moves to master, but what is missing here is the depth you get in a lot of the other brawlers. That's not to say that Super Dragon Ball Z isn't fun, it's just not in the same caliber as, well, Soul Calibur.
Super Dragon Ball Z is split into only a few different modes, including the original Arcade mode, a Survival mode and Versus mode. The arcade mode works much like it has in every other fighting game you've ever played, you pick a character and then take them through various fights until you beat the boss and get your ending. As you play through the arcade mode you will collect things called "dragon balls" which can be combined to form Shenron, a giant dragon that will grant you a wish.
The other mode in Super Dragon Ball Z is called Z Survival; it's just like any other survival mode in a fighting game that has you fighting as many guys as you can before you run out of health. The big difference in this mode is that you are forced to have your own character card to enter. This means that you will need to go out and pick a character, choose a color and then find a name. Once you've gone through the work of customizing your character it's time to get him (or her, or it) out there and winning some battles. The more you play the more experience points you get, ultimately leveling your character up and gaining new attacks and abilities.
You can use this character card in every different mode in Super Dragon Ball Z, it's the way you keep track of things like the dragon balls and experience points. If you get into the idea of leveling up your characters then this game could conceivably last you for quite a long time. Unfortunately this just seems to mask some of the other short comings in the game, like the fact that there are really only three things to do in Super Dragon Ball Z.
The graphics in this game are actually pretty good, they seem to be inspired more by the Manga series than the TV show (which is a good thing as far as I'm concerned). There's something very simple about the way these characters look and where they choose to do battle, it's a lot more subdued than what you would find in a 30 minute Dragon Ball Z cartoon. The animation also looks pretty good, although I kept trying to compare it to all of those other 3D fighters I play on a regular basis.
While the graphics do a good job of capturing the characters I was a little disappointed by the environments we were in. Super Dragon Ball Z does a good job of taking you to a different looking locale in every stage -- from the city to an alien planet to the middle of nowhere -- but when you get there there's rarely anything worth looking at. Some levels have walls you can bust through, others have trees you can fall just by shooting them, but most of the battle spots in Super Dragon Ball Z are painfully boring with nothing to see. I did enjoy the breakable environments, but a little more detail would have gone a long way.
Fans of the TV show won't be left out, though. Each of the 18 different fighters is voiced by the actor that plays them in the English version of Dragon Ball Z. That means that you will recognize each of the yells, the taunts and even the narrations. Heck, you can even change who narrates this game if you want to. This is the type of thing that fans of the show will no doubt go crazy over, but for people like me (who avoid the TV show) it did nothing more than annoy me. But the obnoxious voice acting (much like the music and sound effects) is easy to ignore.
Despite its problems, Super Dragon Ball Z proves to be a rather likable fighting game that tries real hard to offer something for all of the major fighting game fans around the world. I can't say that it succeeds at its task, but what is offered here is a fun little game that had me coming back time and time again. There's enough content here to recommend this game, it's easy to pick up and both fans and non-fans alike should enjoy all of the over-the-top action found in Super Dragon Ball Z.