Pow! Biff! Zap! Smash! Wha?
What do you look for in a game? Well, it depends, right? Sometimes you want a game that will challenge you to think strategically, so that after trying and trying again you get that awesome feeling of accomplishment when you pass that seemingly impossible level. Other times you want a great story line, and characters you almost can’t bear to say goodbye to when you solve the last level. Sometimes you want a game that looks beautiful, or scares you, or lets you get together with your friends online. And sometimes you just want a game where you get to hit people. A lot.
Can you guess which type this is?
Yes, when you’re in the mood to turn off your brain and punch, kick, and ki blast your way through an army of grunting, beefed-up, spiky-haired warriors, nobody delivers mind-blowing psychic blasts (and repetitive stress injuries) quite like Goku, Trunks, Vegeta, and the rest of the DragonBall Z gang. In Dragon Ball Z: Shin Budokai - Another Road
, they’re back and ready to beat each other up yet again. So, if you’re in the mood to do some damage, it would be fair to say that, at its core, this latest installment of the Dragon Ball Z series is a fun, brainless fighting game.
Unfortunately, it would also be fair to say that, at its core, this game is exactly like the first Dragon Ball Z: Shin Budokai. And I mean exactly. Don’t let the title fool you, this is the exact same road. Did they think we wouldn’t notice? How dense do they think we are? Thanks for the re-gift, guys.
And the wrapping paper isn’t even all that compelling. I’ll be the first to admit that the storylines of the Dragon Ball Z games have never exactly been Pulitzer-winning writing, but this one is particularly unfathomable. The game takes place in a future where Goku has died of a heart condition, Trunks’ mom constantly embarrasses him, and… yeah, I have no idea. There’s a time machine involved, and Babadi and Buu are trying to drain everyone’s energy again, but that’s about as far as I can follow.
The eternally long ‘cut scenes’, if you can call them that, consist of mostly incoherent lines spoken by the various characters as they attempt to describe what’s going on. It’s like a cadre of tortured Norwegian high school poets trying to explain the action of a football game to you by holding up flash cards describing their reactions. In other words: unintelligible.
But you didn’t get the game for the story line. You got it for the fighting! Okay, fair enough. And while the fight scenes have the same pros and cons as the original, it’s obvious the game developers spent the bare minimum of time translating the game to the PSP platform.
If you’ve never played a Dragon Ball Z game before, you’re on your own here. The game just drops you into your first fight assuming you already know how to produce all those lethally awesome pyrotechnics that your enemies are already pummeling you with. There’s nothing resembling a tutorial, and the moves list is buried in the start menu. Once you get there you’ll find that the commands don’t match the PSP’s buttons, so you’ll have to run some experiments before you figure out that the “E” button is actually circle. It’s a not a deal-breaker, to be sure, but it shows a lack of attention to detail that’s all too prevalent in this game.
Despite the recycled core and incomprehensible story, there are a couple of new features that take steps towards redeeming this game. I particularly liked the new character customization system. Each character has a three by three grid where you place the cards that you receive for winning battles or completing missions. Some cards boost individual stats, like Blast Attack or Defense, while other cards act as multipliers – doubling the strength of the cards on either around them, for instance.
Moving cards around to maximize your bonuses is an engaging and unexpected bit of strategy, especially in a series not known for its smarts. Another interesting new twist is the choose-your-own-adventure
style of play in the story line. Each decision you make and each mission you accomplish (or fail) can send you down a different path with different missions and bosses. Just be careful how you play your first battle, however. A wrong move can mean a pretty quick end to your game. Oh, and the human race, for that matter.
Graphically, the fight scenes are the same quality as in previous versions: Bright cartoon characters set off against more textured, 3-D backgrounds. The style works, and it’s a credit to the developers that the fights look just as good on the PSP as they did on the PS2. But outside of combat, the graphics are very uneven. The field sequences, when your characters are flying from battle to battle, were clearly thrown together more hastily. The backgrounds are chunky and dull
, and the characters all look about the same. It’s a little jarring to go back and forth between the good design and the bad.
If you feel like punching a few random people into buildings, then Dragon Ball Z: Shin Budokai - Another Road may be worth your time. But if you played the last one, there’s really no reason to consider getting this one. If you’ve played one Dragon Ball, you’ve played them all.