I am not what you would call a typical Dragon Ball Z fan. The truth is, I hate the cartoon and only have a passing interest in the gigantic cast of annoying characters. Yet as much as I loathe this cartoon juggernaut, I find myself having to review each and every one of these games ... and half the time I find that I actually like them. There's just something about Atari's line of Dragon Ball Z fighting games that works on me, even though I know that I should hate them.
Burst Limit is Atari's first "next-gen" Dragon Ball Z game, and yet again I find myself having a great time with it. At its core it may be a shallow fighting game, but there's just something about this series that gets my blood pumping and keeps me captivated. I suspect that a big part of this game's charm is that it's aware that not all of us are huge Dragon Ball Z fans (heck, some of us detest it), so they've gone out of their way to give us likable stories that introduce us to a wide assortment of characters. You may still not care for Dragon Ball Z after you've beaten the game, but at least you'll have played a fun fighting game and not felt like you needed to watch a decade's worth of cartoons to know what's going on.
Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit tells three different stories ... er, sagas. This game features the Saiyan Saga, Frieza Saga and Cell Saga, three unique stories that do a good job of explaining what this Dragon Ball Z universe is all about. There's plenty of magic, betrayal, dastardly acts, fighting, supernatural occurrences and bad dialog to keep you going through the 50-plus battles these three sagas entail. Fans of the series will find that this is all familiar terrain, but the rest of us will discover that some of these stories are a lot deeper than we had originally given them credit for.
But let's not get too wrapped up in the storytelling, because it's the fighting engine that keeps this game interesting. Dragon Ball Z has always been a combination of close hand-to-hand combat and long-distance projectiles. It has also always been about hovering in the air and using your opponent to destroy everyday objects. Thankfully all of that is apparent in this game, even if the emphasis is more on the close combat this time around.
Fans of the previous Dragon Ball Z games will feel right at home with this fighting game. The game gives you everything you expect, such as a couple of buttons for attack (rush and smash), a pursuit button and a ki blast button (which allows you to throw objects and perform special attacks). The action will take place on the ground, high up in the sky and everywhere in between. Big special moves will even allow you to throw your character high up in the air, give you a few free attacks and then have him fall to the ground for some additional damage. The average Dragon Ball Z fight has you flying up and down more than Tom Cruise in Top Gun.
Beyond the basic attacks, Burst Limit features a brand new gimmick that they call "drama pieces." These are short cinemas that feature more bad dialog and machismo. These are triggered by doing specific things in a battle, and most of the time these drama pieces will help that player. Sometimes it's as simple as getting your life back or upping your strength, but sometimes it will help you avoid what would be a game ending special attack or countering a huge combo.
In a lot of ways these drama pieces make the game feel even more like the anime TV show, but at the same time it has a funny way of stopping the action dead in its tracks. Worse yet, you can't skip these cinemas. Things go from bad to worse towards the end of the game, where you'll find that a new drama piece is being dropped every thirty seconds, making it feel like there's more bad dialog than actual gameplay. I definitely like what Dimps is doing here, let's hope if they have another stab at this franchise that they make it feel a little more natural (and offer a way to skip the lame cinemas).While we're already complaining, it might be worth mentioning that the game is awfully short. With only three different sagas available it feels like there's a lot of unused material they could have worked with. Sure there are more than fifty battles to contend with over the three different stories, but you can easily get through those in an afternoon. It's also worth noting that there are only a few difficult battles on the normal difficulty setting (which is the highest difficulty setting when you first start playing the game). I found myself rather bored with the first half of the game because I felt it was just one push-over after another. Thankfully the difficulty does increase, but it's only in the final few missions.
On the other hand, Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit does look incredible. That's been the one thing that Atari has managed to get right over the last few years, so it shouldn't surprise anybody that this Xbox 360 fighter retains the cartoon's look and even manages to polish things up a bit. There's a noticeable visual upgrade when looking at the in-game visuals, especially when you're locked in mortal combat with some snot-nosed, spikey-haired kid. The cinemas look fine, but the in-game graphics are outstanding ... looking almost exactly like what you would expect from the television show (if not a little better).
Like all fighting games, Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit is at its best when played against another real person. Thankfully this game gives you a number of ways to do that, including local one-on-one battles, as well as online grudge matches. With only 21 different fighters to choose from the roster feels a lot thinner than what we've played in the past, but the game does feature most of the best known fighters in the Dragon Ball Z roster. It also has a rather robust online mode that should keep players interested in this game long after they've finished the three sagas. Sadly my experience with the online mode is rather mixed. From time to time I was able to pull off a flawless online connection, but more times than not I found myself frustrated by laggy connections.
Even with some technical issues, Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit is one of the best games in the series. The action is intense and the gameplay feels good. It's a shame that so many characters feel alike, but it's easy to have a lot of fun with this game. And if you're not careful you might actually find yourself getting into the lurid Soap Opera-esque stories. Dimps still has a way to go before this game can compete at the same level as Soul Calibur IV or Virtua Fighter 5, but this isn't bad for a game based on an anime I can't stand.