Genre : Action
Publisher : Atari
Developer : Webfoot Tech.
Release date : November 24, 2003
The Dragonball Z craze has passed its peak, but it shows no signs of a full slow-down. Oddly enough, it took a few years of notable popularity for any Dragonball Z videogames to make it to the U.S. Interestingly, the first DBZ game to reach our shores during the series' prime (Bandai's Dragonball GT: Final Bout on the PS1 was released before the T.V. series had gained the U.S. fanbase it would a few years later) was not a Japanese-developed title, but Atari's Dragonball Z: Budokai, on the Playstation 2. Atari also kicked a Gameboy Advance RPG series called The Legacy of Goku. Sequels to both Budokai and The Legacy of Goku have recently released. Both series have received mixed reviews so far, but the general consensus is that they are worlds better than the Bandai-developed attempts at DBZ games. Since it is nearly impossible to over-saturate the market with any single franchise if the demand is as high as it is with the Dragonball license, it comes as no surprise to see that Atari has decided to kick off what may become the third Dragonball-related franchise: Taiketsu, a GBA fighting game.
The game features a lineup of 15 warriors from the original series, including such recognizable characters as Goku, Raditz, Broly, and Cell. For those of you who aren't familiar with Dragonball Z, these characters are all from very different points in the series, which is a good thing. Now, here's where things start to go wrong: all of the fighters use a standard set of moves, with only a handful of "combos" that are character-specific. The game comes with a poster that gives only one of these character-specific combos per character. Whether or not this is a ploy to get DBZ fans to buy a strategy guide is for you to decide, but either way, it is simply a horrible way to ship a fighting game. Sure, it's fun to figure out moves by trial and error, but having only one special move to work with per character is inexcusable.
The single player mode is made up of a Tournament, where you make it through six rounds, a sub-boss, and a final boss, Endurance mode, where you try to take out as many opponents as possible, Time Challenge, which is exactly the same as Tournament mode, except it keeps track of how long it takes you to finish the game, and Sparring mode, which is a training mode, where you can battle any unlocked character. Time Challenge is somewhat useless, and the rest of the modes are just boring, but that's due to the gameplay. The characters move slowly, and it feels like a struggle just to get them to respond to your button presses. Since the GBA has so few buttons, there are a lot of combination button presses needed in order to handle the amount of actions possible. None of these seem to work too well. I'm sure it's not the hardware that is causing this, as other GBA fighters such as Street Fighter Alpha 3 and Guilty Gear handle combination presses much better than Taiketsu does. Atari has failed at delivering the most important part of a fighter: solid controls. Since this game is not heavy on story, it has nothing to fall back on.
There are so many aspects of this game that could have been improved, had Atari taken the time to develop them. The biggest sore spot is the sky battles. When fighters clash in the sky, it is nothing more than a slow rock 'em, sock 'em robot-style button-mashing fest; it looks and feels absolutely nothing like the lightning fast hand-to-hand battles the Dragonball Z T.V. show is known for! You can lure the computer-controlled opponents into the sky, and button-mash your way to victory, no brains needed. The other major lacking point is the story. There are absolutely no reasons given for anything - as a matter of fact, no actual story to speak of. It would have been nice if Atari had put together some short introductions for each battle, perhaps with some quick banter between the fighters, and a little bit of explanation as to why they are about to pummel one another into the ground.
Visually, the game is average. The fighters themselves are in sore need of a few more frames of animation, and the backgrounds are just boring. When you have a body of work as large as Dragonball Z to fall back on, is it too much to expect a little more to look at from a game based upon it? The GBA has a wide color palette available for developers. It would be nice if this game took advantage of that.
The sound effects are very muffled, and serve to do nothing but remove you from the experience of the game. Kicks, punches, massive energy blasts - they all sound like sharp, static-filled effects from the NES days. This game released in 2003, on a very capable piece of hardware. There is no excuse for this.
Dragonball games have been known to disappoint, but with the license in Atari's hands (placing it thousands of miles away from original licensee Bandai's dime-a-dozen development teams), gamers are advised to forget the travesties of the past, and hold these new DBZ titles to a fresh level of scrutiny. Now, to be forward, Taiketsu does not live up to the bar put in place by its sister series, Budokai. It does not have the same polish in it's gameplay, and it definitely does not have the frantic feeling of the epic battles that took place in the original comic or T.V. series. Besides the inclusion of a good selection of characters, there is nothing that makes this game better than the widely-hated Japanese Dragonball fighters of old. Taiketsu is a solid step backwards - but, since it has the Dragonball Z name plastered across it's box, I am sure it will sell a massive amount of copies, and Atari will feel no regret at shipping such a sub-par product. It's a shame; this license has a lot of potential.