Developer: Arc System Works
Release Date: November 22, 2005
Buy 'DRAGON BALL Z: Supersonic Warriors 2': NDS
With that expression in mind, let's talk a bit about Dragon Ball Z: Supersonic Warriors 2.
Now, if you're a fighting game fan, odds are you know who Arc System Works is. For those who don't, a quick primer: they're the mad minds behind the Guilty Gear fighting games, which feature some of the zaniest character designs ever to hit the scene, and with gameplay and move sets to match. The games are flashy and over-the-top, but in no way sacrifice gameplay or creativity for pretty visuals. In fact, they're rather intricate. To make those pretty lights occur and be effective with them at the same time, you have to have skills, reflexes, and knowledge of timing.
Now, let's take this development house, and put them in charge of creating a fighting game for a manga/anime franchise that's already known and loved (or hated on, depending on your case) for its varied cast, and flashy, over-the-top fighting; more so than even most anime that come down the pike today.
Yes, folks, the results really are as good as you'd imagine.
Three-on-three tag team battles, with helpers. Unlimited flight, an immense amount of special techniques, and team supers. Ever wondered what would happen if Frieza, Cell and Buu combined their powers at the same time? Now you can find out. (A hint: it results in a 135-hit combo. You heard me.) Each character also has an Ultimate Attack that they can pull off when their life is low, and can turn the tide of the battle in an instant (Broly's is pretty much an instant win). Every single one of them will make your jaw drop upon witnessing them.
A lot of these things have been seen in other fighting games before, but until now, they haven't been applied to Dragon Ball Z. That one aspect changes everything. This game doesn't play.
Supersonic Warriors 2 may be on a small screen (technically, two of them, with seamless touch screen control), and it may use sprites (which are wonderful and don't you forget it), but it packs so much of the essence of Dragon Ball Z fighting in its gameplay that it needs to be seen to be believed.
Heck, it actually holds its own against this year's excellent 3D installment, Budokai Tenkaichi. That's an achievement if I ever saw one. The only things I can think of that Tenkaichi may have over SSW2 would be the fact that the basic melee fighting is deeper and more polished. There will be many times in SSW2 when you feel that you're just randomly dashing and flying around the world, instead of applying an actual battle plan to your matches, and using your wits instead of your beams. In other words, using everyone's beams and other special moves are an incredible amount of fun, and each fighter's repertoire is more varied and inventive than in the 3D game. The price is less technicality and technique in the fighting, but it's still in no way a button-masher.
There's plenty of meat to go with the fighting; Supersonic Warriors 2 contains some very robust single-player modes, though one wouldn't think so at first. Upon first booting up the game, you'll see "Z Battle" and "Story Mode", which all look quite generic at first glance. Do not be fooled. Beating Z Battle will unlock Maximum Mode, which pits you against a series of matches for new characters and new ratio points so that you can put together stronger teams of people to use in battle.
In Maximum Mode, you'll fight stronger and stronger teams, until eventually, the game just decides to get evil on you, and pit your team against a super-powered version of a character. These super versions of characters move at the exact speed that you've seen them move in the show — you blink, and they're on the other side of the screen. Their special, techniques will make you cry. It's impossible for me to describe; it's just something you have to see.
Story Mode, for its part, is the best we've ever gotten out of all the DBZ games to date, even toppling Tenkaichi's. I say this because not only does it follow the main storyline, there are several branching paths that can lead to lots of different "what if:" scenarios. What if a certain saga baddie got beaten early? What if one of these characters switched sides? There are a lot of these going around, which adds something fresh to the storyline that DBZ fans have already tread over time and time again. It's like playing through a whole bunch of DBZ fan fiction gone wrong. Mind you, the localization is rushed and horrible to boot. The characters curse fairly liberally, yet, for some reason, we're still seeing references to "other dimensions." Typos abound as well. Still, all of the hypothetical stories that have been put in place are quite enjoyable to unlock and experience.
As mentioned before, the characters are sprites, which doesn't detract from gameplay in the slightest. Said sprites are well-animated, and the flashy moves that they put out, even more so. The whole thing delivers the illusion of the anime such that you may think that you're actually controlling an episode of it yourself if you squint. Budokai Tenkaichi's graphics engine still handles that illusion one better, but the handheld iteration has its own charm.
The audio presentation, however, makes a far stronger showing. The soundtrack consists of the hard-hitting rock and techno tunes that Arc is known for (via its aforementioned Guilty Gear games), and they really get you in the mood to lay some smack down. There are also some special tracks that fit certain situations — when you're facing down an enemy (or a set of them) far stronger than your team, the music will let you know. There's also a lot of voice acting crammed into the DS cart (by the English dubbers), and it's all used very well. Hearing the characters talk to themselves and each other, especially during team attacks, really adds to the "dream match" atmosphere that the game is clearly going for.
Supersonic Warriors 2 is one of those games that, at first glance, seem not worth bothering with; however, once you learn how it works and put it through its paces, it's extremely satisfying. Single-player alone will keep you busy for a good long while (though almost by force), and battling your friends is a fun diversion.
Make a note, people: 2005 was the year when Dragon Ball Z fighting games as a whole stopped being insults to the franchise, and stopped being guilty pleasures. (Or late 2004, I suppose, if you count Budokai 3; I don't, but...) Arc added many welcome features to an already good foundation — let's hope they're given the chance to refine and enhance them further.
Even if it's by default, at the moment, this is the best fighting game on the DS.