I think it might be time to retire the Dragon Ball Z fighting series for good, and Dragon Ball Z: Infinite World definitely drives home that point. It's not that I'm down on the games because I really enjoyed Budokai Tenkaichi 3, and I thought that the current-gen Xbox 360/PS3 entry, Burst Limit, had pretty impressive visuals, but if Infinite World has proved anything to me, it's that the developer is running out of ideas, fast.
In the '90s, I was a big DBZ fan boy, and while my fascination with the series has tapered off, I have fond memories of hanging out with a friend and catching the new (to us) episodes that popped up on Cartoon Network, wondering if tonight was going to be night that Frieza and Goku finally finished their two-week-long fight, which, in reality, was supposed to last five minutes or so. I even remember going to comic conventions and picking up bootleg fan-subbed "Cell Saga" VHS tapes and thinking that I had encountered some hidden treasure, lending them to many classmates so that they could get a head start on stuff that wasn't airing on American TV just yet — and unedited, to boot. I like the franchise, and while I'm more apt to see the flaws in it nowadays, I'm far from a hater.
I still found Infinite World to be a pretty horrible game. It's a fighter that tries to emulate some of the stuff that's been done in a couple of Naruto titles, where they try to piece together the story of the series through fighting levels and collect-a-thons set in different locations, almost like a platformer without any actual platforming. This aspect really falls flat in Infinite World, with a frustrating camera that rarely points in the direction you want it to, along with some boring and incredibly bland visuals for the locations in which you're collecting the little icons. All of this is actually required before you can start a match, which is a frustrating gameplay mechanic that I've never liked in anime fighter titles, and it doesn't work that well here either. I'd rather hop from fight to fight instead of having to collect a bunch of items that have no real impact on the story.
Also, how many times have we seen the early DBZ sagas in cut scene form at this point? This one starts off like all the rest, with Vegeta kidnapping Gohan, moving into Frieza, and so on, something that we've all played through multiple times across multiple titles for the past six years or so, and it's really starting to grow stale. I understand there's only so much you can mine from the story since the series has long ended, but a different starting point would be much appreciated, or at least some type of altered history to make things more interesting this time around. Instead, Infinite World uses the same story we've seen time and again and fails to do anything remotely interesting with the presentation. I also think this effort looks worse than what we've seen in the PS2 iterations of all three Budokai Tenkaichi titles.
Infinite World's biggest selling point is its huge roster, with over 45 fighters taken from the entire series, featuring all the usual mainstays like Goku, Vegeta, Piccolo, Gohan, etc., in addition to their variants and different forms. There are also a lot of the more obscure cast members that popped up later in the series, so longtime fans will get some fan boy joy out of seeing some of the underrepresented characters. Once you get past the character selection screen, though, there's not a lot to enjoy.
The title basically plays in a similar fashion to the Budokai Tenkaichi games of the past, but there are a few minor changes and the glaring omission of the struggle beam blasts, which have been with the series for a while now. It used to be that if you and your opponent fired off an energy blast at the same time you'd have to struggle back and forth against each other in order to get your shot out, one of the more interesting mechanics in the series, but this time, it's completely gone. Instead, you're given a fighter that feels a bit more like a bare-bones entry, and it also feels a bit slower than in previous games, which detracts from the fun even more. Characters are sluggish both on the ground and in the air, and while the frame rate seems to hold up fine, everything comes across as slow. The visuals also fail to excite, including character models with some sketchy art and bland texture work, especially in light of the recent excellent work in Burst Limit.
Other carryovers from the previous game include the capacity to purchase new abilities from the shops and then edit your current character's move list to make room for said abilities. It's one of the better features from the series, and it helps to keep the fighters interesting and unique, even from player to player. There's no online mode here, but there are two-player modes, and it's always interesting to see two differently styled Gokus go against each other with completely different sets of abilities. It'd be interesting to see this mechanic in more fighting games, if it were possible to keep all of this balanced.
As I said before, the game is visually disappointing, and while it keeps with the style of mimicking the animated series with cel-shaded characters, the outlines often seemed non-cohesive, and the arenas all appear to be used in other titles. While that means the stages will be instantly familiar to the fans of the show, they fail to do anything interesting or have any cool mechanics or gimmicks at play. The level designs for the non-fighting stages are all pretty poor and straightforward, but there are a few annoying and often difficult jumps you'll need to make to pick up an item or two, which highlights just how unnecessary these sections feel.
There's the option to pick between English and Japanese language tracks, which is nice to have since I'm not a big fan of the English dub, which seems to use the most current show voice actors. The Japanese dub will grate your ears a bit for certain characters, and little phrases tend to get repeated too often, but for the most part, it's not that bad. The music consists of recognizable tracks from the show, but since we've heard this stuff so much at this point, it's nothing to get excited about either.
I was really disappointed with Dragon Ball Z: Infinite World, and I already wasn't expecting much from it. Sure, the roster is impressive, and it definitely covers some unique characters, but playing the game feels more like a chore and less like the fun fighter it should be. The addition of non-fighting levels is a step in the wrong direction for the series. Fans should definitely avoid this one, even if they're dying for a new DBZ fix, as this title is likely to turn you off of the series for good.
More articles about Dragon Ball Z: Infinite World