The tag team fighting game is nothing new; we see it whenever a company has more characters than they know what to do with. Instead of trying to shoehorn everybody into a new sequel, we get games like Tekken Tag Tournament or Mortal Kombat Trilogy. Sometimes this tactic works and the fans love the effort, while other times it backfires and suddenly everybody thinks you're greedy. Dragon Ball Z: Tenkaichi Tag Team manages to offer a staggering amount of familiar faces, all while offering PSP owners a lot of great content in a portable package.
Despite my general disinterest in the animated show, I have quite a history with the Dragon Ball Z franchise. In the past few years I have reviewed a number of Dragon Ball games for all kinds of different systems, including Burst Limit
, Bundokai Tenkaichi 2
and the terribly namedHarukanaru Densetsu
(try saying that one time fast). In that time I have actually started to enjoy what these Dragon Ball Z games offer.
Going into a Dragon Ball Z game I know two things: I'm going to be annoyed by the cast of characters and the fighting engine won't be very deep. But there's something about the way these games retell the same stories that ends up sucking me in. In this iteration you choose from a number of classic stories, all of which end up in some large scale boss where it's your job to come out on top. You fly around an overhead world looking for adventure, collecting Dragon Balls and solving quests. But usually this is nothing more than an elegant way to get you from one battle to the next.
On the surface this Dragon Ball Z title plays like all the rest. The camera is firmly locked in an over-the-shoulder point of view and each character has a limited amount of punches and kicks. When you're not going hand to hand, the various combatants can also fly about the large open arena and demonstrate their magical abilities, known as Ki. If you've played other recent Tenkaichi installments, then you'll feel right at home fighting it out with this brand new PSP game.
Just as I started to feel a real sense of déjà vu, this Bandai published Dragon Ball Z game threw me for a loop. As the title mentions, this is a tag team match-up. I expected a bunch of characters (the back of the box suggests there are over 70 to choose from, though many need to be unlocked) and familiar locations, but I wasn't prepared for the particular style of tag team action I was getting myself in to.
In a game like Tekken Tag Tournament or Marvel vs. Capcom, players merely have to push a button to tag in their teammate. This is what sets the tag team battle apart from standard team-based fighters, like SNK's long-running King of Fighters franchise. But that's not the way Dragon Ball Z: Tenkaichi Tag Team handles it. Instead of letting you control both characters, this two-on-two fighter assigns you a computer-controlled hero who fights next to you the whole time. There's no waiting for somebody to be tagged, this is a free-for-all battle that is every bit as spectacular as it sounds.Not every battle involves four players; this game is full of one-on-one and one-on-two skirmishes. Adding so many extra people on screen may sound chaotic, but it can be an exhilarating experience. Your two opponents will work together to trap you, forcing players to completely rethink their strategies. While many battles can be won simply by mashing buttons, some later levels require a fair bit of planning to complete.
Unfortunately the thrill of the tag team battles wears off before too long, leaving players with a repetitive mix of boring stories to complete. Fans of this style of narrative (which hasn't changed in a decade of Dragon Ball Z products) may find these tales more engaging than I did, but the sad truth is that we've seen it all before. And after the novelty of the combat wears off, players are left with a fighting engine that doesn't match up when put next to Street Fighter, Tekken and even Mortal Kombat.
On the other hand, the game does look fantastic on the PSP's screen. The game warns you at the start that it's using the full power of Sony's portable, which leads to fast paced action and superb graphics. The cel-shading looks like it was pulled straight out of the cartoon and animates smoothly. Like so many PSP titles before it, Tenkaichi Tag Team runs even better when users install the game to a memory stick. Running it straight from the disc will eat up your battery in a hurry, but at least it will look good doing it.
With its huge roster of famous faces, it's easy to understand the appeal of this product. As a four-player fighting game, this is one of the best I've seen. I wish the game was a little deeper and the combat was more varied, but fans of this series already know what they're getting themselves in to. If you're the kind of person that wants every possible Dragon Ball Z character in one simple, compact fighting game, then Dragon Ball Z: Tenkaichi Tag Tournament was made for you.
Sadly I need something more. The gameplay didn't hook me long enough to care about any of the characters. Even though I was controlling dozens of different fighters, they all seemed to have the same moves and abilities. With no distinction between the combatants, I found that I lost all interest in this as a competitive game. Fans may fall in love with this comprehensive package, but some serious changes will need to be made to make this a palatable fighting game.