SONY PSP REVIEW: DRAGON BALL Z: SHIN BUDOKAI

I don't know what series has spawned more games, Pokemon or Dragon Ball Z? Hey, come to think of it, whatever happened to Digimon? I thought that was going to be huge. Glad I didn't invest in it. by Colin Thames

March 14, 2006 - Dragon Ball Z: Shin Budokai is the latest in the Dragon Ball Z series and it's the first title of the series made for the PSP. Shin doesn't bring anything new to the table, in fact it takes a few steps back over the recent console versions, but given the limitations of the system its pick up and play configuration should appeal to DBZ fans on the go without too many hard feelings.

There's no shortage of modes, but it all revolves around fighting which some might view as existing on the shallow side. Modes include Story, Arcade, Z Trial, Time Attack, Survival and a wireless, two-player mode. There are only a handful of moves accessed by one button which you can vary by pressing any of the four directions on the D-pad. There is virtually no strategy to the fighting, and other than blocking, you will be button mashing for the duration. Thankfully the fights are over quickly, usually within a minute or two (for reasons I'll explain below). Obviously this would create chaos in the world of "real fighting games" but fans of DBZ like it for more than what is apparent on the surface. So, yeah, it's not the deepest fighting game nor is it on par with console DBZ games, but I'd bet my left Gohan that most PSP owning DBZ fanatics will enjoy it, no matter what.

In an effort to add some variety to the combat the characters have various ranged attacks which act more like projectiles in a shooter than a fighting game. There are 18 characters in all and they all use the same basic moves. They only differ on their Special Attacks. In some ways having multiple characters with the same fighting control system makes things less complicated but only when you're talking about a console version where there are multiple button combos to memorize. There's no reason that the characters in this game couldn't have had totally different control systems that activate totally different moves. This would have made the game deeper and less redundant.

Occasionally you might get caught up in some combos or get juggled in the air where the only thing you can do is try to block and ride it out. Moments like this are few and far between which is good if you're on the receiving end but it also means that you'll be even more limited in your offensive combat moves.

Special Attacks involve throwing huge balls of energy at your opponent, from a distance. These attacks can be devastating to an opponent and thanks to the PSP's mighty little processor, the particle effects look fantastic as these energy balls explode into multicolored slivers of light. I have to admit that I was impressed with these powers. They were fun to use and I could have probably played an entire arcade game with these Special Attacks alone, however, the fun would probably only last a couple of dollars worth of quarters.

Ki is another energy resource that you can use to inflict damage on your opponent. Like the Special Attack it's meant to be used as a ranged attack. You can recharge your Ki by pressing the L button but it leaves you vulnerable to attack so it's best to recharge when you're safe. You can choose to either run away from your opponent to get some time alone or you can wait until you knock him out of commission for a few seconds. Knowing when to recharge is really the only time you'll use strategy in the game.

The storyline is something else. I literally mean, "something else." I don't have a clue what's developing. It seems that everyone wants to fight regardless if they are enemies or friends. Some dialog begins which typically makes no sense and then before you know it the two guys are involved in a fight. I don't know if the story is supposed to be so esoteric or if it's just the product of sloppy translation.

In the story mode you'll play as a variety of characters, both good and evil. At first it seems kind of exciting to play as the evil characters until you realize that they all have the same basic moves and strengths as the good guys. You are literally forced to play as different characters such as Gohan, Teen Gohan, Gotenks, Android #18 but the story mode, which is divided into chapters, allows you to let some characters remain undefeated. This changes the course of the storyline allowing for different plot twists as the story branches out. You can go back at anytime to any previously opened chapter and it will be the same as when you left it.

Fights don't last long and that's a good thing for such a portable system as the PSP. You're only a minute away from a save if you're about to be interrupted. The wide screen is great for a fighting game such as this where ranged combat is just as important as melee. The characters are very colorful and cel-shaded which gives them a very polished look. The environments are mostly barren but there are some surrealistic backgrounds that look as though they were inspired by a 60's acid trip. The music is techno crap which isn't bad but it's muh too repetitive. Even the sound effects are blasé. There just isn't any dynamics to the audio.

Overall the game can be fun for a few hours. It's good for casual gamers that may be fans of the series or even for new fans of the movie since it's relatively easy to pick up and play. The wireless two-player mode is a nice addition as you're not just fighting against the AI, but with such a limited control system evenly-matched players might as well flip a coin to see who wins since it all comes down to button mashing and getting lucky. There are lots of modes and unlockables which will razzle and dazzles newbies and less sophisticated gamers but the hardcores will be advised to look elsewhere for their combat thrills.

Features:

  • Combat systems including counter-attacks, super high-speed bouts, flight and Ki (energy) management.
  • Dragon Ball Z: Shin Budokai allows players to challenge some of the most evil characters ever seen in a comic-based video game, or to play as the bad guys themselves and become the most feared and powerful warrior in the universe.
  • High-speed WiFi multiplayer battles featuring the universe's most powerful fighters
  • 18 playable characters, including prize fighter Pikkon
  • Revamped version of the acclaimed "Saiyan Overdrive" fighting system
  • In-game transformations to more powerful forms
  • All-new stage from the Janemba movie
  • Seven game modes, including compelling story mode

By Colin Thames
CCC Freelance Writer

Rating out of 5
Dragon Ball Z: Shin Budokai (PSP)
4.3
Graphics
The characters are colorful and cel-shaded. They even look better than their cartoon counterparts.
3.5
Control
The lack of moves is what really brings this game down in score, but the control is quite good.
2.5
Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
There's nothing going on in the audio department that warrants a listen. Could have used more vocal samples and tunes from the cartoon series.
3.0
Play Value
The two-player mode will wring the most play value out of it.
3.8
Overall Rating - Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.
System: PSP
Dev: Dimps
Pub: Atari / Bandai
Release: Mar 2006
Players: 1 - 2
Review by Colin

Review Rating Legend
1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid
2.0 - 2.4 = Poor
2.5 - 2.9 = Average
3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
3.5 - 3.9 = Good
4.0 - 4.4 = Great
4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
5.0 = The Best