Developer: Bandai Interactive
Release Date: December 02, 2003
It's 2002, fans of Dragon Ball Z have been hankering for a worthy videogame based on their favorite cartoon for nearly 10 years. Suddenly, unknown developer DIMPS comes along and releases Dragon Ball Z: Budokai for the GameCube, followed by a PS2 port a couple months thereafter. Fans rejoice and Budokai goes on to sell through the roof. Was Budokai the end-all-be-all 3D fighting experience everyone was hoping for? No. But it was pretty good, and the visuals were clean and sharp, the gameplay was simplistic but responsive, and the story mode recreated many favorite moments from the TV series. So it comes as no surprise that only one year after the original game's release, DIMPS has saw fit to push a sequel out the doors. And while Budokai 2 is hands down the better looking game, it is missing the original's major draw; the story mode. Nevertheless, the handful of small gameplay tweaks and the new fusion maneuver may be enough to warrant some excitement and possibly a purchase.
The newly introduced Dragon World mode, which replaces Budokai's story mode, is basically a simplified board game where Goku and friends bounce from location to location and fight a slew of different bad guys from the Dragon Ball universe. The goal here is to collect the powerful dragon balls, though it is always, unsurprisingly necessary to deal with the enemy hordes first. The story in Budokai 2 is not based on any of the cartoon's sagas and is instead an original plot where a collection of well-known baddies team up to collect the dragon balls before Goku.
This is fine and well for the first few maps of the mode, but after a while the action becomes predictable and boring. Every map essentially boils down to having to defeat the villains, and, well, that's pretty much it. To make matters worse, most bad guys must be defeated multiple times before they are permanently dead. But if you really want to enjoy the game's multiplayer aspect, you're going to have to take the time to drudge through the Dragon World mode. This is the only way you'll be able to unlock most of the game's characters, moves, and stages.
Luckily, there are a few other modes in the game that help to somewhat offset the mundane Dragon World campaign, such as a standard duel, where you can face off against another human or the computer; a World Tournament mode that pits you in a ladder-style championship event; and a helpful training mode that explains the various new aspects of the game.
But the combat in Budokai 2 isn't all that different from last year's game, and returning players should be instantly familiar with the control system of the game. Like many other 3D fighting games, you have punch, kick, and special attacks. You can form combination attacks by hitting the right succession of buttons. By double tapping the D-pad towards your opponent you'll fly up to them and if you hit an attack button while doing this you can launch the opponent into the air. This is kind of cool, because the fight then takes place in the sky. If you execute another launching attack at this point, and if the opponent is placed in the correct area of the screen, you'll launch them yet again. Sometimes this will result in a ring out, other times it will send them screaming through the air to an entirely different environment where the fight will resume.
Each character in the game has the ability to shoot bursts of energy that home in on the opponent. The weaker energy bursts can be deflected back by hitting the block button at precisely the right time. Being able to turn an opponent's attack against them is something that takes practice and timing, but is definitely worth the effort since you won't have to waste your own Ki energy to weaken the opponent. Another cool feature of Budokai 2's fighting system is taken straight out of the cartoon. You know those sequences on the show where two fighters unleash a flurry of punches and kicks at light speed? Well that is recreated here in fine form. When two fighters attack each other at the same time they'll enter into a series of impossibly fast blow. You'll need to constantly mash on the attack buttons during these sequences, and the best button masher will be the one who does damage to the other, less button masher savvy character.
But the most dramatic departure from the original Budokai is hands down the fusion system, which gives players the ability to combine two characters powers for a limited time. During the heat of a battle, performing this maneuver will practically guarantee a victory as your power will be dramatically increased. While the instructional manual does little to help the player understand exactly how to perform this maneuver or even mention that you can, the importance of it should not be overlooked. Busting out with a fusion in a seemingly hopeless fight can sometimes mean the difference between life and death. Though even on the later maps of the single player campaign most players will be hard pressed to find much of a challenge.
Visually, Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 2 really one-ups the original game. The cel-shading technique used to render the on-screen characters in Budokai has been substantially retooled and improved this time around. Every character in the game has a distinctive hand drawn art style to it, making the proceedings look almost identical to the cartoon on which it is based. More detail has been added across the board; the characters, environments, and special attack effects have been given a few coats of gloss and graphical intensity. But a lot of animations and various visual elements have been recycled from the past game, so those going into Budokai 2 hoping for an entirely new experience will inevitably be disappointed. In terms of sound, Budokai 2 is pretty much right on par with its predecessor. In fact, it's identical in a lot of ways as some of the music and a lot of the sound effects are lifted directly from it. But there is quite a bit of new voice acting from the original voice actors of the cartoon, which is nice.
Overall, Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 2 isn't a dramatic departure from the first game, but it does include enough new gameplay elements and visual improvements to justify it as an actual sequel. The biggest bummer about the game, though, is the absence of last year's entirely enjoyable story mode. The new Dragon World mode is simply not fun enough to warrant the lack of a fleshed out story mode. Even so, if you were a fan of the first game, chances are you'll enjoy the sequel.
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