Cha-la! Look at all them blonde Japanese characters!
In previous titles, the Z Warriors—Goku, Gohan, Vegeta, Krillan, and everybody else—had their focus on one or two other fighters at a time. It, coincidentally, is just like the show… only a few characters actually fight in an episode, which always struck me as a stupid strategy, considering they’re not doing this for fun or pride, but to save the world. What idiots these mortals be, though I guess you can afford the one-on-one strategy when the bad guys hold to it themselves, and you have magical scaly testicles to bring you back to life.
Did I say testicles? Sorry, I meant balls. DRAGON balls. Like, an Eternal Dragon that grants wishes (who disappears every time Piccolo or Kami die, which is often enough to consider renaming this so-called “Eternal” Dragon).
The big change this time is the taking away of the one-on-one fight to the death, instead allowing a bunch of people into the fight… so long as they don’t all Yamcha things up, which they will. Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z is the result, providing a few new playable characters for the first time. The most noteworthy of those characters are Lord Beeru and Saiyan God Goku (or as I like to call him, “The Skinny Ginger”) from the first DBZ movie in over a decade, Battle of Gods.
The rest of the cast comes back with them, including just about everybody worth mentioning in the DBZ universe like Cell, Trunks, Buu, and everyone’s favorite loveable weakling, Jeice from the Ginyu Squad (from Space Australia). Over 60 characters are jammed onto the disc, and thankfully they all feel like you would expect them to feel: Gohan’s an in-your-face brawler, Vegeta likes throwing lots of energy attacks, Goku has a Kamehameha, and nobody plays Tien or Yamcha on purpose.
Multiplayer battles are the bread and butter here, with local four-player and online eight-player battle modes to fiddle with. It’s easy to imagine the online play, given a game that’s as fast as this one can be, to lag right when you’re trying to pull off that major energy wave, but thankfully that’s not the case. Action is fluid, even when it does feel like things are lagging some, and the major energy attacks allow for a little leeway here and there when necessary. There doesn’t seem to be any ranking system to speak of, so the newbies are thrown in with the experienced pros, which can leave even advanced players overwhelmed by the pace. But hey, it’s DBZ after all, a show comprised of 500 punches, kicks and blocks in the span of ten seconds and six frames of animation.
With so much happening on screen, so many characters attacking you at once, and so many characters in the single-player mode, especially when attacking your character at once, it can be extremely frustrating to enjoy a match; not just because the fighters are tough, but because they’ll sometimes gang up on the single player (when you’re actually a team of four) and disrupt any combos you might try stringing together. The fight with Perfect Cell, for example, is a prime example of an over-aggressive pain in the ass. Start out with six Cell Jr. clones—at least two of which will target you and only you from the get-go—will screw up any momentum you’ll find. And when you do fall (your allies have the advantage of being able to raise each other from a knockdown), you better not have fallen with one or two others, or else it could easily be BAM!, Game Over!
When there aren’t multiple characters in a fight, sometimes there’s just the one: the mighty Uzuru, the massive ape form of the Saiyans. Those beasts are much more interesting to fight because of the big-boss-fight feel of them; take out a body part, which can be tricky because of their constant flailing and energy attacks, to weaken them, then hammer away until they finally fall… or until you figure out Yajirobe is a bigger coward than you thought and didn’t even drop off his sword. Pity. He would’ve been a tasty distraction. And it’s the fights like this that highlight the less-than-stellar AI teammates, who suspiciously love to, let’s say, “run in front of the gun” too often and leave you dead at the first sign of… y’know, death and all. In nearly every match where I was knocked down, an AI would stand on top of me and never revive me. Jerks.
Characters can be customized between missions by way of assigning cards to characters. They’re pretty simple, upgrading speed and defense and the rest of the basics, but there’s a space even for single-mission items to be equipped (like the Senzu Bean, which can bring you back from a knockout with full health) which can be all that it takes to turn the tides in some tough battles. Those can’t be equipped to supporting characters, and I wish they could… with how many times Kid Gohan let me down I wanted to punch him myself. GO BACK TO TRAINING WITH PICCOLO, WUSSY!
While the whole experience is a bit heavy on the “throw more fighters into the pit," the overall game isn’t too bad. The single-player isn’t even focused entirely on the main storyline… there are some side-missions of "kill a hundred dudes," or the ability to play from the bad guy’s point of view (beating the hell out of those goodie-two-shoes brought me back to smiling after that fight with Perfect Cell) that changes things up for the better. Who doesn't want to play as Vegeta, flanked by Nappa and a few Saibamen, to destroy that deadbeat Kakarott once in a while?
Will this appeal to the casual fan? I think more so than previous titles in the past. The playing curve is lower, the mastering curve is a bit lower, but the fully-voiced characters and straight-forward “hit everything is sight” will do the trick. Thankfully, Battle of Z doesn’t just Yamcha the whole game up.
You suck, Yamcha.