Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Developer: Dimps Corporation
Release Date: April 8, 2009
With the anime series Dragonball and its subsequent sequels being such a huge hit, it was inevitable that a live action movie would be made. While some would consider that to be a dream come true, after seeing what 20th Century Fox has done for the film, most would consider that dream to be more of a nightmare. Along with what was supposed to be a big movie is the video game version, curiously released only for the PSP. By all accounts, this too should be a dreadful experience. Surprisingly, however, Dragonball: Evolution isn't great, but it's definitely better than the movie.
Dragonball: Evolution contains several different modes of gameplay. As expected, Story mode follows the plot of the recently released film. Though you get to play as other characters throughout the story, you'll primarily play as Goku in his quest to retrieve all seven of the dragon balls and stop Piccolo from taking over the world. The fighting is strictly a one-on-one affair, with one-round bouts that last through the 12 different chapters of the game. What will amaze players, though, is that the Story mode doesn't have a lot of fighting in it. For the most part, players will be doing nothing but hitting the X button in order to pass through the many cut scenes. It seems like more of a missed opportunity here, since there are some scenes that would be prime territory for fight sequences. The opening scenes where Goku decides to finally stand up to his tormentors, for example, could have been a good source for more fights. Instead, the game goes for a simple cut scene to explain away the fight. With the fighting few and far between, players will only want to go through this mode to unlock content and get through the gist of the movie as quickly as possible.
The actual fighting engine is pretty reminiscent of the previously released Dragonball titles on the PSP, specifically the first few Dragonball Z Budokai games. The characters are all 3-D but fight on a 2-D plane, with some limited 3-D movement thrown in. The characters all have a few combos that are easy to pull off, since all you need is a combination of light and heavy attacks. This makes it easy for most people to quickly get into the fighting and get in a few good matches. The special moves, however, are toned down a bit to match the action from the movie. You won't be throwing down a barrage of fireballs, for example, or shooting out laser beams. Instead, your moves will involve more close-range force blasts that knock down people or, in the case of a few fighters, gun and staff attacks. For those who are used to the way a Dragonball game fights, this will come as a big shock and force them to rethink their strategies when playing. Also gone is the ability to fly into the air or jump. All of your fighting has you planted firmly on the ground which, again, is more in line with the movie and far away from what fans would want or expect. The game instead opts for long and fast dashes, but after a few fights, you see that most fights will be spent dashing toward a retreating foe rather than actually fighting.
Arcade mode is the same as in other fighting games. You have five initial fighters to choose from, each with his own story that has no ties to the movie or each other. Each match consists of two rounds, and you must fight through 10 enemies to beat the mode. Each character has a specific final boss, which is great, but the game still shares the same difficulty level of the Story mode in that it's extremely easy to beat the game, no matter which character you choose. Worse yet, the only way to open any of the six remaining locked characters is to completely play through the Story mode. If you couldn't stomach the mode, you have no chance of playing as anyone who's not in the initially unlocked bunch.
Network Battle is just the standard versus mode, but the label can be a bit misleading. The game actually features a ranking system based on battle points. The more you win, the more points you get, while losing has a similar, inverse effect. This becomes a great way to match up people with opponents who have similar skills, but while the system seems to call for online play, the mode is limited to ad-hoc local wireless play. With a matching system like this in place, this would have become a great reason to grab the game since very few PSP titles feature online play anymore. Alas, this becomes another example of an opportunity missed by the developer and publisher.
Mission mode gives you several different challenges to conquer. There are three difficulty levels to deal with, each containing 15 missions, which can range from simply beating an enemy in a short amount of time or trying to beat an enemy when you only have half a life bar. This is the mode that finally puts some real challenge into the game, as none of the tasks are easy. Though you don't really get anything special for completing all of the tasks, it's still a mode that gamers will try to master.
If there's one positive thing that can immediately be said for Dragonball: Evolution, it's that it is packed with plenty of game modes. Aside from the modes already mentioned, you have your standard training mode, where you can try to learn a few special moves. You also have an alternate story mode once you beat Story mode for the first time. While it really isn't all that different — you still have to go through more cut scenes than fights — at least the ending changes. Finally, you have Survival mode, which must be unlocked, but with the AI not changing in this mode either, lasting long in the fights isn't going to be too much of a challenge.
The controls are pretty similar to the anime-based games it tries to emulate. The game uses either the analog nub or the d-pad to move the fighters. The Square button performs light attacks, while the Triangle does heavy attacks. The X button causes the fighter to block, while Circle performs special attacks. The fighting tends to be fast, and the controls do a good job of being responsive enough so that the user can perform moves accurately and quickly. For a fighting game, this is all anyone can really ask for in this department.
The graphics are good, though some interesting design choices could make people scratch their heads. The character designs, for example, try to mimic the actors from the movie. The overall animations for each fighter are good, but they lack detail, such as moving mouths or blurry clothes textures. When these same characters are in cut scenes, they seem to have added lines to create a faux anime look. Again, it's a strange move that doesn't seem to add to the graphics, as it detracts from them a bit due to the conflicting styles. While the backgrounds don't suffer this problem of identity, they do suffer from being bland and uninspired. Washed-out colors make each arena less memorable than the last, with nothing really noteworthy at each location. Finally, the effects from the special moves are too subtle. Just about all of the special moves are colored white, which may be fine for dark backgrounds, but lighter ones make it too hard to tell whether you unleashed a special move.
As far as sound goes, it works but feels like they could have done more to this aspect of the game. The sound effects are good, as every hit sounds just about right coming from both the headphones and the built-in PSP speakers. Even the special attacks sound great here. The music is much like the previous Dragonball games: generic and forgettable. It works well in getting you pumped up for a fight, but you won't exactly remember anything about it once it finishes playing. What the game fails to deliver on, however, is voice. The only times voices are present are before and after matches. Even when they do appear, the voices have such a low volume that you really need the displayed subtitles to understand what the fighters are saying. Where voices are desperately needed, though, is in the Story mode cut scenes. Instead of getting the scenes spoken by any of the voice actors, all you get are sound effects and music. Without any voices, the Story mode becomes even more unbearable.
As you can see, Dragonball: Evolution isn't exactly a bad game, especially from something that's based on a really bad movie. It's not a great game when compared to other fighting titles on the portable console, but it's decent and can provide a bit of fun. Even in comparison to other Dragonball games, this one lacks the breadth of moves and an expansive roster. The horrible AI, combined with the extremely easy difficulty, means that only the Mission mode will feel like the game has any "meat" to it. Given the full price of the title, it would be best for PSP fighting fans to get their fix from the older, better titles out there. Dragonball: Evolution is best as a rental, if you really have to see how a really bad movie can turn into a decent game.
More articles about Dragonball: Evolution