Dragon Ball Z is one of the largest and most successful anime series in the world. The anime is shown in a variety of countries and even to this day, you can still find it on television or DVD's. Naturally, there are tons of anime fans out there who want to get a piece of the action for their gaming consoles and there have been considerable attempts at bringing the DBZ experience home. All of these attempts failed miserably with one horrible game after the other. That's when DBZ Budokai came in with a brand new concept: A good DBZ game. Super Dragon Ball Z however is not part of the Budokai series and is a very different game altogether. In the hopes of recreating some DBZ magic, Noritaka Funamizu, a producer from the Street Fighter series, was enlisted to help in the creation of the game. The end result is a solid fighter that lacks a bit in depth and fun when compared to the Budokai series.
Players that are looking for some kind of story in this game will be sorely disappointed. It's almost non-existent and there are no special cutscenes in between battles. The arcade mode for instance, pretty much just pits players against different opponents in different planets. The closest thing to a story that players will get is a short cutscene of cell destroying some tanks before the final battle. By beating him, you'll also get another short cutscene of cell blowing up. That's about it. The emphasis of this game is on the battle system and there aren't too many bells and whistles to be found here.
Visually speaking, the game is also a bit different from the Budokai series. Super DBZ is actually based on the manga instead of the anime show, so some of the characters look a bit different. Truth be told though, it doesn't have as much graphical polish as its Budokai cousin when it comes to the characters or the levels. But there is a nice cell shading effect that permeates the whole game and gives it a bit of charm. As far as sound goes, players will get some dubbed voices and there is no option to switch them to Japanese….like a certain other game that I've been mentioning on this review. A lot of the voiceovers consist of nothing more than saying "hyaaa" and the sound effects during fights aren't that impressive either.
Voiceovers and cutscenes aren't really the bread and butter of Super DBZ anyway. The real treats here are the fights and I'm happy to say the fighting system is quite good. Besides, the main arcade mode, players have the option of playing Z survivor, training, or versus modes. Players can also create a semi-custom character by selecting one of the available characters in the game and changing their name, color, and abilities. The game doesn't really force players to create custom characters but if you want to gain extra abilities, moves, and more costumes or colors, that's the way to go. After creating a character, players can challenge the CPU or a friend in arcade or vs. modes. The fighting itself is very fast paced when compared to Budokai, and it feels more like playing Street Fighter. Super DBZ features a low attack, and a heavy attack. These make up pretty much all the combos in the game and most utilize three button combinations like low-low-high or high-low-high. The game also has jump, guard, throw, and dash buttons. By pressing the jump button while in mid-air, the character will levitate, allowing players to battle in mid-air. Flight is limited however, since it consumes special bar points that recharge once the character hits the ground again. Super DBZ also features special moves such as kamehamehas and others. These are pretty much like hadoukens from Street Fighter and are easy enough to pull off. By doing other combinations, specials can also be performed which do more damage but consume the ultimate bar. These can be dodged rather easily since players are able to move sideways and need to be exploited at opportune moments to be successful at hitting a target.
Is this the next Street Fighter in terms of gameplay? Not really. The fighting system simply isn't polished enough. A lot of characters in the game only have two combos, two specials, and one ultimate. That's it. Unless players are willing to take the time and level up the characters or get Dragon Balls, that doesn't really change either. And leveling up a character isn't as easy as it seems. Fighting fans have to pretty much beat the game just to get little more than one full experience bar and the AI is brutal for new players even on normal mode. By that time, you may be tempted to think "boy it'd sure be nice to have a couple of extra attack buttons or abilities wouldn't it?" Some of the environments also get in the way of the fight and are more annoying than interesting. If players are willing to level up however, there are a plenty of abilities available that make the game a bit more enjoyable.
Other than arcade mode, Z survivor is the other way to level up and get Dragon Balls. However, it is basically survivor mode and really doesn't offer much extra to the game. After winning each battle in survivor mode, a sort of chance wheel comes up that gives players special abilities by pressing the X button at the right time. You can also get Dragon Balls here, which help in other ways but I'll get to that in a second. Most of these abilities consist of getting extra experience, filling up 50% of health or +15% defense and they're only available for the survivor mode anyway. The only things worth getting are the Dragon Balls since they carry over even after players are done with Z survivor. And even though the game mentions Z survivor to be the best way to get Dragon Balls, that's not correct since there's a chance you might not get one, whereas arcade mode gives you a Dragon Ball after every battle.
Getting seven Dragon Balls allows players to enter a mode called Dragon Summoning. It's essentially a cutscene of Shenron being summoned and then players can make a wish such as getting new abilities, new colors, or hidden characters. That sounds great but the game restricts your wishes from the get-go. Players have to obtain the seven Dragon Balls several times and play the game for a considerable amount of time before getting hidden characters, which is okay since it gives you a sense of accomplishment when you finally get Majin Vegeta or others. Getting these Dragon Balls isn't a particularly difficult task since almost every battle lets players get one and even if it's game over, the Dragon Balls are kept.
Did Super Dragonball Z blow me away? Not really. But it's still a good fighting game. It may start out as a fighter without much depth but if players are willing to take the time to level up characters and acquire new abilities, the game is a lot of fun. That being said, I'm a little disappointed in the way the developers chose to approach DBZ here. The game just feels overly simple. The reason why I loved DBZ as a kid is because of the monstrous characters with huge power levels. It's great to see Goku and Vegeta duking it out in the anime with huge beams of light and Super DBZ fails to capture that aspect of the anime. On the other hand, this game may appeal to people who aren't fans of the show, simply because it's so far removed from the idea. What broke the experience for me was that I thought I might as well have Kung-Fu-Man fighting Karate-Man since it sure didn't feel like Vegeta and Goku. With a little more polish, this game could be amazing but at present, it's a decent fighter that will appeal to the right type of audience.