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 Dragonball Z Budokai: Tenkaichi

Title: Dragonball Z Budokai: Tenkaichi
Format: PS2
Developer: Bandai
Publisher: Atari
Region: PAL
Players: 1-2
Rating: 12+

I have to admit that before playing this game I had absolutely no idea what Dragonball Z was. Well, I did know it was a popular Anime/Manga franchise from the creator of the Dragon Quest series, Akira Toriyama, but ask me to tell the difference between a Goku and a Gohan and my face will go as blank as the cheque Bill Gates handed to the Stamper brothers. Although I love my fair share of Anime, both popular and obscure titles, DB Z has never really interested me much.

So has the latest game. Tenkaichi Budokai changed my mind? To be honest, not really. From the outset it's very clear that the developers have really done well in the presentation, but this game probably isn't the best way to get into the DB Z Universe. From what I gather it's not the kind of series you could easily sum up with one game; one look at the Wikipedia entry illustrates this perfectly. Like many Anime since, this universe is full of convoluted plot points and a deep and rich history that stretches back over fifteen years. Those of you with a patchy knowledge of the backstory may find the Story Mode, Z Battle Gate, pretty handy though.

As you'd expect from the story mode, this is a fleshed out version of the main battle mode, featuring major battles from key moments in the Anime. They are nicely interspersed with some impressive cut-scenes that will know doubt please fans of the series. With most battles you are given an objective to complete before you can progress, but unfortunately these normally equate to simply using a particular move, meaning some battles can be over incredibly quickly. Revealing the story would be far more rewarding if the game itself wasn't so difficult to play.

To begin with, you are fighting in true 3D, something that is incredibly hard to get right (Even Tekken and Virtua Fighter restrict the fight to two planes) and can make dodging much harder than it should be. Your characters move around too slowly as well and the dash move is hard to control, meaning getting around the arenas is a real pain. If your opponent moves too far away the lock-on system disengages and makes it nearly impossible to avoid some attacks, a fact made harder by the over-the-shoulder camera. Once you're close enough to deal some serious damage to your foe the camera again gets in the way, and gets especially jerky when you unleash some of your more powerful moves.

It's a shame there are so many fundamental problems evident here, as each character is blessed with an impressive array of moves and this could have been a much better fighter if constricted to a two plane system. Throwing your opponent off into the distance with a well timed throw or special is satisfying, particularly if you can aim them into the destructible backgrounds. The arenas themselves are nicely designed and open enough to complement the action but be prepared to explore every nook and cranny for your adversary when their AI decides to take them off for a game of Hide and Seek.

This is a game that is essentially flawed but is so full of content, with over 50 playable characters, that fans of Dragonball Z are likely to be able to overlook some of the smaller problems and still enjoy themselves. The characters, arenas and the animations are of the highest quality, as is the sound production, with voice acting even stretching to the menu screens. It's a bit like having a flashy Ferrari with a Reliant Robin's engine.

If you are a fan of the series you can mark this up a few notches, as you'll get much more out of it than I could, just don't expect something with the depth of Virtua Fighter 4.

Score:
Gameplay: 4.2
Graphics: 8.9
Audio: 8.5
Lifespan: 6.5
Total: 7.1
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Buy Dragonball Z Budokai: Tenkaichi now at Play.com
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