Release Date: December 3, 2007
Okay, let's get this out of the way first: I loves me some fighting games. Give me anything from Marvel vs. Capcom 2 to Super Smash Bros. to as far back as old-school Street Fighter Alpha, and I'm pulling super moves and smash attacks and having a grand old time doing it. It's also relevant to note that I (used to) like the "Dragon Ball Z" show. I was never as rabid a fan as some, but I always thought that the show had a certain charisma. I also get an odd sort of enjoyment out of the old Dragon Ball Z Budokai titles, and when the opportunity to review Dragon Ball Z Budokai Tenkaichi 3 for the Wii came around, I decided to seize the day in hopes that it would repeat the earlier titles' successes. Instead, what I wound up with was a borderline-unplayable abomination that will put even the most diehard Goku fanatic off of his Senzu Beans.
Let's start by enumerating the positive things I have to say about Dragon Ball Z Budokai Tenkaichi 3. The audio work is really quite good; the attacks each have their own specific sounds that match the sound effects from the show with almost startling accuracy. Whether it's the strange space-warping sound when a player teleports or the sound of charging power in preparation for attack, or even the character's voices before and after a match and in the menus, players who have some experience with the anime series will be able to instantly recognize which character is speaking. A large number of different play modes are available as well, ranging from the tournament mode present in virtually every one of this title's predecessors to a story mode that will guide the player through the storyline (okay, the major battles) from the series.
Now for the bad news: That's about it.
Visually, while the environments can be sprawling and fairly impressive, there are definitely some glitches in Budokai Tenkaichi 3. Whenever backed against a wall or concealed by an aspect of the environment, characters have an unnerving tendency to suddenly turn see-through. While it's understandable that this would be considered useful so that the player can still see his opponent, this problem could have been much more elegantly solved by simply adjusting the camera to pan toward an outward view when the character is otherwise invisible. Seeing what your opponent is doing is good, but seeing what you and your opponent are both doing is better. Additionally, where is it written that characters' mouths must be incapable of motion in anything other than cut scenes? This is next-generation technology, people. It just can't be that hard to let characters speak with something other than telepathy.
The tournament mode is inherently flawed, with a battlefield much too small for the fighters. When you can unleash an attack combo that will fling your opponent all the way across the arena, having ring-outs really isn't a very good idea. It's even worse when there's a large structure that juts into the battlefield and extends halfway up the screen that also counts as a ring-out. On more than one occasion, you'll find yourself getting a ring-out on an opponent that you could have easily finished off with normal attacks simply because the battle had wandered in that direction. Of course, that won't always be necessary; in one of my playtesting battles, the computer opponent launched one distance attack at me, then immediately ran for the edge of the screen and got a ring-out within five seconds of the match starting. I suppose he didn't want to be playing this game, either.
As incredible as it may seem, the above paragraph is not the worst that can be said about Budokai Tenkaichi 3's assorted play modes. No, that honor goes to the Dragon History mode, in which players are allowed to replay key battles from storylines past to see how they fare. It is regrettable, then, that the computer AI has been cranked up to absolutely unbeatable strength. During your first fight with Raditz, you will find that your attacks do little to no damage — and even less knockback, unless your combo is somehow successfully completed — and that his health is almost limitless. Worse still, while the opportunity will be given to switch back and forth between Goku and Piccolo at certain key points in the battle, neither character is any match for your opponent.
Of course, the real problem here is the fighting system. It has been suggested by some that this game is well-designed for the PlayStation 2, and I consider that to be entirely possible if it's actually a different game. While the PlayStation 2 is mercifully incapable of requiring the hand motions necessary for special attacks, the Wii doesn't exactly give you a lot of choice in this regard. What's that? You want to fling Goku's patented Spirit Bomb? Well, first of all, you'll need to charge up your energy. That'll take a few seconds. Now lift your arms up high. Wait for the game to register that your arms are in the right position. Now lower them. See, that only took about 10 seconds. Unsurprisingly, your opponent has moved from his previous position.
Ready to try again? Don't bother! After all, while you were charging your powerful attack, your opponent dashed at you, unleashed a six-hit combo followed by a kick into the air, teleported up into the air and smashed you back down toward the ground, teleported behind you and kicked you across the battlefield, and then hit you with several distance attacks while you were incapacitated. Don't feel bad if you failed to block that because you can't. Gentle reader, I truly wish that the preceding text were some kind of hoax, but I am not exaggerating. Less than half an hour before the writing of this review, that very incident occurred in actual gameplay, prompting a red-faced, forceful depressing of the power button and the distinct urge to transform the game disc into a projectile.
In summary, Dragon Ball Z Budokai Tenkaichi 3 is fundamentally flawed in its basic execution; in a fighting game, the inability to fight properly is a severe drawback. The tutorial does little to teach the player about how the game's moves work, and the remarkable sound design and wide variety of characters utterly fail to draw this game back from the edge of sub-mediocrity. Dragon Ball Z fans of the most die-hard and forgiving variety might find this title palatable due to its comprehensive character list and the faithfulness (mostly) to the storyline, but fighting game enthusiasts will find that even the Wiimote strap is not enough to keep them from flinging a controller through the television screen in frustration. Super Smash Bros. Brawl is coming out perhaps a month from the posting of this review; save your money, reserve that and be patient. In the meantime, do yourself a favor and Destructo this Disk.