Developer: Craft and Meister/Banpresto
Release Date: July 2006
Two Dragon Ball Z games are going to be punching their way to your PS2 this summer, one a sequel to last year's Budokai Tenkaichi and the other a PS2 port of the 2005 Japanese arcade title Chou Dragon Ball Z. Called Super Dragon Ball Z for its US release, this title has quite possibly the greatest pedigree a fighting game can hope for: it's the brainchild of Noritaka Funamizu, one of the creators of the original Street Fighter II and the producer of nearly every classic Capcom 2D fighter from Street Fighter Alpha to Capcom vs. SNK 2. After splitting with Capcom to form his own development studio, Crafts & Meister, Funamizu immediately pursued the Dragon Ball Z license and won the rights to craft a very special 3D fighting game out of it.
His creation, Super Dragon Ball Z, bills itself as the "professional" DBZ fighting game, designed to cater to serious fighting game fans with serious skills. There are only 18 playable characters, but each has a far deeper and more strategic set of moves than their Budokai counterparts, and one character appearing in Super DBZ has never been playable before in any DBZ game ever. Atari is bringing this game to the US in conjunction with Namco Bandai, the parent company that owns the DBZ license in the US. According to the game's producer, fans have been requesting a serious DBZ fighting game like this for years, so in some ways, Super DBZ represents a dream come true for those fans.
The list of playable characters in Super DBZ includes perennial favorites from throughout the show's 400-episode run: Mystic Gohan, Gohan, Goku, Vegeta, Krillin, Trunks, Piccolo, Android 18, Android 16, Gohan, Frieze, and Cell. Two special characters were also pointed out to us: Goku's wife Chi-Chi, playable for the first time in any DBZ title, and a brand-new version of Mecha Frieza designed by series creator Akira Toriyama himself exclusively for the game.
The action takes place throughout seven expansive stages designed to accommodate combat on the ground or while flying in the air. The combat sequences heavily emphasize use of projectiles in setting up and breaking combos, but the real damage is done by rushing down your opponent and battering him with hand-to-hand moves. Developers assured us the game would run at 60 FPS, with all combos and moves cancelable into their 12th frame of animation. This indicates Super DBZ is a title that will definitely require sharp reflexes for high-level play, while combo canceling will be essential. It won't be a game that favors blind rushes, though, because every successful combo break can be used as the starting point of a counter-combo. Players who prefer to take a defensive stance with their playing certainly can, although we guess outright turtling will be punishable by use of projectile-triggered combos and throws.
To complicate high-level play, Super DBZ uses a character customization system something like a more complex version of Street Fighter III's. Each character in Super DBZ has a range of unusually powerful "special moves," like Goku's Kamehameha, that you can "unlock" to a customization list by "leveling up" that character. "Leveling up" is a matter of beating the story modes and consistently winning battles with the character in question. Then when you go into versus mode to play against others, you can assign any two of the "unlocked" moves to be your character's special abilities. This adds an element of surprise to the high-level battles, as an enemy Mecha-Frieza might up and bust out a Kamehameha on you. Every character in the game has at least two moves to be unlocked, which promises incredible variation in which special moves characters can equip in the final game.
Gameplay appears to share the same basic flow as 3D fighters like Tekken, but with the addition of the ability to fly up into the air. This, combined with the unheard-of emphasis on projectiles, results in an extremely active game with very few lulls in the action. Even characters who are far apart from each other can still be actively engaging in combat, and it becomes entirely possible to retreat from an opponent in one of several directions while still mounting an offense. When fighters draw close to each other to lay down combos, then the action resembles a more normal 3D fighter, but with an almost DoA-like emphasis on counter-moves. Demonstration videos shown of what high-level play in the game should look like involved a lot of furious attempts to launch combos off of counter-moves, in addition to a lot of feinting with projectiles. Combined with the customizable special moves, it seems like the potential for ensnaring opponents with pure mind games in Super DBZ is going to be immense.
It might seem a bit strange that a veteran game designer like Funamizu would choose a DBZ license for his development studio's debut effort, but that goes back to the enormous influence as a manga that DBZ has back in Japan. Funamizu is essentially a product of the "DBZ generation" that was deeply influenced by the manga when it was new, an influence that Street Fighter fans have long pointed out. Ryu's "Hadouken" attack is, after all, essentially the same maneuver as Goku's Kamehameha. For someone from that generation, a prestigious DBZ title would be the perfect way to make their company's debut while celebrating their roots.
The appetite for DBZ games in the US seems to be endless, while the hardcore fighting game fan is often poorly served. There are few licensed fighters that fans would take seriously as competitive games, but Super DBZ could very well be the first title to break precedent in that respect. Simply watching play videos makes it impossible to deny that there's real possibility for high-level strategy inherent in the engine, while the customization and the promise of playing Chi-Chi and the new Mecha-Frieza will probably be enough to draw most casual DBZ fans into the game. Super DBZ hits this July, and hopefully, it won't just get lost in the endless shuffle of license games.
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