Release Date: November 19, 2006
The Dragon Ball gaming franchise has a storied past here in America; and if you’ve actually played the games, you know the stories are almost all negative. For many years, the only Dragon Ball game to make it stateside was the horrifically bad Dragon Ball GT: Final Bout for the PSone, which at one point was selling for over $100 on eBay. It was fanboyism at its worst, but it eventually got the attention of the corporate types, as Atari started shipping new Dragon Ball games by the truckload in 2002.
Though none of these games were quite as awful as Final Bout, few garnered any kind of critical success, with most relying too much on the license to deliver a decent gameplay experience. Most notable was the Dragon Ball Z: Budokai series, which spawned three brawlers of varying quality before Atari switched developers and relaunched the series as Budokai Tenkaichi. Like clockwork, another sequel has hit the market, just in time for the Wii launch. Although it barely deviates from the blueprint established by its predecessor, Budokai Tenkaichi 2 is a title absolutely deserving of unbridled fanboy love, proving that bigger sometimes does mean better.
Budokai Tenkaichi 2 succeeds largely because it is a Dragon Ball Z game, as the gameplay itself would likely prove rote and monotonous without the constant use of familiar characters, settings, and storylines. But Budokai Tenkaichi 2 is actually pretty enjoyable, despite the repetition. It starts at the top, with colorful menu screens narrated by characters from the show, and continues through each and every scrap of gameplay, creating a true Dragon Ball experience that plays like nothing else currently on the market.
The main draw has to be the Dragon Adventure mode, which allows you to play through the majority of the storylines from Dragon Ball Z and Dragon Ball GT (roughly 350 anime episodes worth of content). This translates to two-dozen sagas, each containing between three and 24 playable battles. All of the major (and minor) fights are present, including encounters with Vegeta, Majin Buu, the Androids, and pretty much anyone you can think of from the show. Hidden battles and “what-if” situations keep things fresh, even for those who have a mental mastery of the Dragon Ball universe. Each battle is bookended by in-game cut-scenes that provide context and background, as well as push the story forward.
Though it may seem incredibly comprehensive, the storyline still seems a bit thin. Dragon Ball Z may not be revered for its complex narrative, but that’s not the issue; what’s lacking is the presentation during the cut-scenes. In many cases, instead of visually displaying the conclusion to a saga, it will just give you a text summary of what happened and move forward. For example, it might say, “Goku unleashed a huge Spirit Bomb and vanquished” whoever, but why not actually show Goku unleashing the Spirit Bomb? Essentially, the Dragon Adventure mode is not meant to supplant the anime series, only supplement it. That’s perfectly fine for the hardcore fans, but those unfamiliar with the entire series might feel a bit left out.
Also of concern is the very noticeable repetition in this mode. Granted, Dragon Ball Z would often drag out fights across an entire (or multiple) episodes, but there’s no good reason for the video game to do the same thing. At times, you will fight the same enemy three or four times in a row, even if you have significant wins in each battle. The outcome of a battle is often not represented in the following cut-scenes. You can defeat an enemy without taking a single hit, yet he will be standing over your broken body, laughing about his victory. A bit of cohesion would have made this a more worthwhile experience.
Whether or not you stick with the entirety of the Dragon Adventure, there is plenty of additional content to choose from. Take on arcade-style ladder challenges in the Ultimate Battle Z mode, or enter a Dragon Tournament to prove your supremacy. You can create the match of your dreams in the highly-customizable Dueling mode, which also features support for two-player split-screen battles. Did I happen to mention the 125+ playable characters that can be unlocked by playing the various modes? If you really wanted to, you could probably stretch this experience out over the next year (or at least until Budokai Tenkaichi 3 drops).
Gameplay in Budokai Tenkaichi 2 is unlike any other fighter on the market, though it is, at its core, a bit of a button masher. After all, the game features just one melee attack button; and though I like 65-hit combos as much as anyone, I would have liked a bit more in the way of variety. But Dragon Ball Z is not just concerned with punches and kicks; or gravity, for that matter. Characters can shoot fireballs, charge their Ki meters, teleport, transform, and float around at will, be it in the air or underwater. What it adds up to is a very unique experience that allows for a lot of freedom, though the temptation to mash on the A button is very hard to resist (especially when those huge combos flow like water).
Budokai Tenkaichi 2 wisely offers the option to use either the Wiimote/Nunchuk combo or a Classic/GameCube controller. Either option has its own benefits and hang-ups, so it is worth considering the variables. As a Wii title, it would seem that the Wiimote combo should be best, and for the most part, it works pretty well. The Wiimote holds the main attack buttons (A & B), and its pointer is used for aiming and blocking. Movement is mapped to the analog stick of the Nunchuk, while charging Ki is as simple as holding the Z button. Those wishing to change their vertical positioning can simply hold down the C button and move the Nunchuk up and down.
As advertised, you can use the Wiimote and Nunchuk to unleash a number of super-moves, though the movements are typically as simple as holding B and Z, and then shaking the Nunchuk and slashing with the Wiimote. Even with the simplicity, it makes for a good use of the motion controls, and will probably be adored by younger gamers.
However, for whatever reason, the developers didn’t want people playing the game from a distance of greater than eight feet. At that distance, the game is still playable, but the screen darkens and displays the message, “Please position yourself closer to your television.” I can only hope that this does not become a trend for Wii games, as I had to rearrange the room every time I wanted to sit and play with the Wiimote. Gamers who wish to play from a distance can bust out the old Wavebird or a GameCube controller and play with a more conventional scheme. Both controller schemes are functional enough, so it really comes down to preference and typical gaming habits.
In large part, Budokai Tenkaichi 2’s use of the license succeeds because of the visual and audio experience. The character models are fantastic, using 3D models with impressive cel-shaded texturing. Many other games have used this technique in recent years, but none have moved this fluidly or looked as sharp as Goku and his extensive crew of buddies and baddies. Some of the characters’ shadows needed work, but the majority of the visuals are top-notch. The backgrounds can be a bit drab, but they can also be quite easily destroyed. Knocking an enemy into a building or tree never lost its amusement factor, even after several hours.
Most of the sounds from the anime series made their way into the game, as each character is expertly (and extensively) voiced. The voice work is typically over-the-top, but that’s the way it is in the show. Familiar themes and cheesy techno/rock instrumentals fill the menus and cut scenes, further empowering the overall presentation. Really, the only aspect of the audio/visual presentation that lacked polish was the subtitles. Phrases like “I guess I’m just gotta kill you” and “Oh, so you’ve came” are hilarious, but not intentionally so. Mastery of the English language was clearly not a requirement among the playtesters.
Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 2 is a capable fighter, but a great Dragon Ball Z game. Knowledge of the original license is not required for play, but you will get a lot more out of the experience if you can tell your Super Saiyans apart without consulting Wikipedia. Regardless of your take on the original source material, Budokai Tenkaichi 2 is one of the most comprehensive and playable anime-inspired games in recent memory.
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