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Dragon Ball Z Ultimate Tenkaichi

Score: 55%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: NAMCO BANDAI Games America
Developer: Spike
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Fighting

Graphics & Sound:

As rare as Dragon Ball Z games are these days, with maybe one console-based release a year at this point, it becomes a disappointment when a release misses the mark so badly on the core fighting mechanic as much as Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi does.

First though, the game's presentation. Like most DBZ titles, the look and feel of the now-classic anime series is captured well. Each character model looks just like their TV series counterpart and the new visual style for the game isn't quite as heavy-handed with the cel-shading as Spike's more recent DBZ titles, the Raging Blast series.

It's also no surprise to long-time Dragon Ball game fans that the voice acting is spot on as either clips from the show, or new recordings from the same voice actors are used for each of the characters. The only non-standard voice seems to be the character you can create in Hero Mode since you can choose from a variety of vocal styles, (i.e. teenager, angry, silent). While a fan of the show can tell who these voices are patterned after, they don't sound like any specific character.


Gameplay:

Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi has all of the standard gameplay modes that DBZ fans have come to expect. Besides the Training, Online Versus, World Tournament and Story Mode though, a new type of play is introduced in Ultimate Tenkaichi, Hero Mode.

Where Story Mode takes you through all of the biggest battles in the series all over again, Hero Mode lets you create your own Saiyan character and take him through his own all new adventure. Sure, he will still meet the same heroes and villains that Goku does, but under different circumstances and for different reasons. Both the Hero and Story Modes take on a World-Map style for moving between the different story elements, much like what fans will remember from Budokai 3, and while being able to fly around the whole world and find interesting areas to explore is nice, there were a few times when I couldn't figure out exactly where I needed to go in order to advance the story.

Unfortunately, where Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi breaks down is at the very heart of the game, the fights. While they look great and definitely give off the hard-hitting feel of the show, the controls are over-simplified and, for the most part, all you have to do in order to pull off huge combos is keep hitting (X).

Basically, the two characters meet up in the arena, someone gets off a combo of hitting (X)(X)(X) first and the game goes into "Clash Mode." Here, the fighter who pulled off the simple combo can choose to hit (X) or (Y) to do a combo that will do one of two sets of pre-arranged attacks that sends each character flying all around the arena. After each time the attacking character belts out a few hits, that fighter can continue the combo by tapping a direction on the D-pad and hitting that (X) or (Y) again. This process repeats three or four times before the defending player has any kind of control again, although they can attempt to recover by rapidly pressing all four face buttons as fast as possible, a task I found all but impossible to pull off.

What results is the same massive hit-count combos with tons of damage being dealt out over and over again; sometimes you are the one being beaten up and sometimes you are the attacker. There are a few other maneuvers you can perform in the fights, including ultimate attacks, that are as simple to pull off as those melee-based moves, but they all feel like quick-time events you might find in other genres, not fighting. The whole control scheme just doesn't feel right for a fighting game, and results in a button-masher with no real strategy.


Difficulty:

The problem with Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi's fighting mechanic is that you never really feel like you have to use any kind of strategy in order to progress. Sure, you might run into fights where you don't actually win the first time around, but I often found that I lost these fights only by a margin and my loss was more often then not due to not winning out on enough Clashes rather than not being able to pull off the correct devastating combos or ultimate attacks.

As for the non-story-driven modes, World Tournament isn't much of a challenge for the same reasons, and the online play is nice since you can go up against actual players, but the fights are still as repetitive and button-mashy as the rest of the game. When fighting is what your game is all about, and you miss the mark like Ultimate Tenkaichi does, there's just no getting away from it.


Game Mechanics:

Spike has had their hands on the console DBZ fighting games for a while now, and they have put out a good variety of games. I don't want to dog them too much for wanting to try something different with the fighting controls and feel for Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi. What is there works, it just doesn't make for the best gameplay, especially when you put it next to Spike's Raging Blast and Budokai Tenkaichi games. In fact, I believe this title would have been far better if it was a new entry in one of those lines and the only major change was the addition of the Hero Mode. The ability to create my own character and take it through its own story is really appealing.

I really can't recommend Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi. While the new Hero Mode offers some interesting gameplay and the open-world style of the story-driven modes hearks back to Budokai 3, the core fighting mechanic just isn't there. If you are looking to pick up a new fighting game, even if you are a hard core DBZ follower, then you will want to look somewhere else.


-J.R. Nip, GameVortex Communications
AKA Chris Meyer

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