Insert requisite balls joke here.
Like a teenager discovering his parents’ old vinyl collection hidden away in boxes in the attic, gamers have been treated to a wealth of resuscitated old franchises and genres this generation. An undead army of old sprite-based mascots from platforming games, 2D fighting games, side-scrolling shooters, and beat-’em-ups are shuffling through the streets, craving mindshare. Many games that return to those old styles of play—Little Big Planet, Street Fighter IV, Shadow Complex, and Castle Crashers—are among the best games of this console cycle.
And then there’s Namco’s latest Dragon Ball game.
[image1]Rather than feeling like a nostalgic return to the good old days of the side-scrolling beat-’em-up, Dragon Ball: Revenge of King Piccolo is more like a cranky old man who just woke up from a decades-long slumber. Reviving the original mid-80’s Dragon Ball characters and early ‘90’s brawler gameplay, Revenge of King Piccolo does its best to ride the current wave of retro-minded titles. Unfortunately, its storyline is as incomprehensible as senile rambling, and its combat mechanics are as dated as grandpa’s high-waisted trousers.
Revenge of King Piccolo digs far back into the early days of Akira Toriyama’s original Dragon Ball manga series, well before it spiraled into the chaotic zaniness of the Dragon Ball Z series. Toriyama’s character designs are as appealing as ever and show why the series has endured for so long. Alas, most of the game’s allure ends there.
Fans of the manga and anime series will be able to jump right into the story, but everyone else will be left utterly clueless (though I secretly suspect that even fans have a hard time keeping everything straight). All you need to know is that everyone wants balls, and it’s your job as young Goku to get them before everyone else does.
[image2]The game progresses through six levels divided into brief individual stages. There are no additional weapons, attacks, or characters to unlock for use on subsequent playthroughs, so the main adventure mode offers little incentive to play again. But you are graded based on how well you perform, so there is some small potential for replayability.
Combat consists of a few basic moves repeated endlessly, and since there’s no way to increase the difficulty level, the game is about as challenging and interesting as searching for Waldo in a funeral home. Boss fights all amount to the same basic strategy: whack, jump away, and whack some more. Thankfully there are no gratuitous waggle motions tossed into the mix, and the core combos are responsive when using a standard controller. However, with games like Castle Crashers doing so much to reinvent the old brawler formula, Revenge of King Piccolo seems painfully out of date.
Environments are plain and predictable. You’ll come across all the areas you’d expect in an old brawler or platformer: forests, snowy landscapes, fortresses, caves, secret hideouts, and so on. Enemies are similarly lacking in novelty and variety. The bright, cel-shaded colors and backgrounds give the title some life, and the occasional voice work and aforementioned character designs are the game’s greatest payoffs. Otherwise, Revenge of King Piccolo looks and plays like any generic beat-’em-up from the early ‘90s.
[image3]In an attempt to include something slightly more current, Namco has incorporated a Tournament mode. It uses the same movement controls as the Adventure mode and applies them to a 3D fighting game scenario. The combat mechanics are surprisingly versatile and seem more suited to versus play than to the main story mode. There are no deep strategies to uncover, but the simple approach works well in small doses. However, because there has been such a boom in fighting games this year, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Dragon Ball fans choosing this over another, more robust fighter. And for fans of the franchise, there are much better Dragon Ball fighting games already available.
Even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Dragon Ball: Revenge of King Piccolo’s clock stopped some time in 1991, and as luck would have it, games from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s are all the rage these days. Revenge of King Piccolo feels less like a nostalgia piece than a long-forgotten bit of fan service mediocrity that’s wormed its way out into the light of day. Fondness for beat-’em-ups and the early days of Dragon Ball might warrant a glance or two in its direction, but nothing short of an obsession with monkey boys will carry you through to the end.