Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z Review
Developer Artdink’s first take on Dragon Ball Z easily separates itself from the Budokai and Tenkaichi games of Dimps and Spike. It expands the spectacle of the combat, making it feel closer to the show than ever before. What Battle of Z gains in scope, however, it loses in depth and technical proficiency.
Battle of Z is a fighting game by genre, but it is not a technical fighter. You won’t be doing quarter-circle forward movements to fire off a Kamehameha or differentiating between high and low kicks or punches. You can fire off energy blasts, hammer a single button for melee combo attacks, and pull of a few special attacks, which are different for each of the 67 playable characters. Some specials are direct and focused, while some are wide and can push fighters away. Others, like young Gohan’s, can provide support and health to teammates. The special attacks afford room for some teamwork since you can have a crew of offensive and support fighters, but Battle of Z is far from a class-based fighting game. In the Vita version of the game, the special attacks are moved from the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360's triggers to tapping specific quadrants on the screen. The preference is pressing buttons, but the touch screen controls get the job done without interrupting the flow of fights.
Combat takes place in large arenas where players have full three-dimensional movement. You can run along the ground or fly through the air in any direction. The action is flashy, offering a worthwhile emulation of the fighting seen in the show from a presentation perspective, but it gets tiresome quickly. Without the technical depth of other fighting games, or even those of past Dragon Ball Z titles, battles lack depth and are based on building up your meter from tapping the same buttons repeatedly to eventually fire off a strong special attack.
Battle of Z feels closer to an action game, but the campaign and versus structures have you duking it out against singular enemies like you would in a fighting game. Through the course of the single-player mode, it didn’t take long for me to lose interest and begrudgingly wonder how many more missions I would have to complete before reaching the end. You can also fight alongside (or against) your friends, but with a catch: you can’t do it via local multiplayer. This decision is confusing considering the competitive nature of the game, and the prevalence of comparable modes in previous Dragon Ball Z fighters. If you want to play with others, you have to go online.
The online Battle Mode offers all-for-one and team modes for up to eight players, but my favorite mode is the Dragon Ball Grab mode. Seven Dragon Balls are placed in a large arena and players must grab them, prevent them from getting knocked out of their hands, and try to knock them out of the hands of others. This mode removes the focus from pure fighting, adding variety to the repetitive formula. After hours with the game, I was happy to play a mode where I could do something different.
Online play is chaotic, especially when up to eight players are present. Energy blasts fly in every direction, characters who are punched across the map crash through structures, and competitors can zip behind and punch you in the back while you’re in the middle of slamming another foe to the ground. It’s a lot to take in, but feels appropriate for a Dragon Ball Z game. Every one of the single-player missions is available to play online in co-op, and teaming up to take on Vegeta in his gigantic ape form with other players is a dream come true for fans of the show.
If you are more concerned about recreating the spectacle of Dragon Ball Z than playing a refined game, you will have a good time here. Battle of Z values style over substance, but for an anime about super humans fighting super aliens while flying through the air, maybe it is the appropriate direction.