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Dragonball Z: Budokai 2
Review By: J. Michael Neal
 
Developer:  Dimps
Publisher:  Atari
# Of Players:  1-2
Genre:  Fighting
ESRB:  Teen
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card
Date Posted:  3-9-04

Nothing beats pleasant surprises. As a childhood fan of the series, I jumped at the chance to review Dragonball Z: Budokai 2. Sure, Iíve fallen out of touch with the series since junior high, and was off doing bigger and better things when Cartoon Network ushered in the franchiseís second coming, but enough of a soft-spot remains to get me giddy as a schoolgirl at the thought of an all out Super Saiyan battle. A cacophony of negative reviews and phobia of licensed games lead me to set my expectations pretty low for this one, however. Imagine my surprise when I discovered just how good a game Budokai 2 really is. I mean seriously, I was shocked! I had to check and see if I was really playing the same game these other reviewers were! Sure, itís certainly the shallowest fighting game you can find, and probably the homeliest too, but as a DBZ game itís second to none. Itís fun, itís long-lived, itís both a great single and multiplayer game, and it uses the license to the fullest. A fan of the series couldnít ask for more!

Gameplay consists of your most basic fighting engine. You can move freely in and out of the 2D plane of fighting, as well as fly when knocked into the air by an attack, but there is no jump button. There is, however, a punch, a kick, a guard, and a Ki, or projectile, button. That gives you one more attack button than Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution, but donít expect anything anywhere near that level of sophistication Ė thereís only so many combinations of punch, kick, and Ki and the game recycles the same button inputs for everyone, so learn one character and youíve basically learned them all. How is this kept in the least bit interesting? Well, there are several kinds of special attacks that trigger unique gameplay scenarios. These help break up the otherwise monotonous combat and add an extra layer of depth to the gameplay. For example, when two stunning attacks collide a lighting-fast exchange of blows between characters ensues. The player who manages to hit the most amount of buttons before the event ends wins the tug-of-war and delivers the most amount of damage.

Another kind of special attack will require a player to input a randomly displayed button sequence in order to pull off. Still another has players rapidly rotating the analog sticks to fill up an attack bar within a limited amount of time. Mix these in with timing blocks to deflect or counter projectile attacks, rationing energy to power your super moves, and charging Ki among other wrinkles and you have gameplay that isnít quite deep enough to rub shoulders with the first string games like Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance or Tekken 4, but itís certainly a few steps above button-mashing brawlers like Super Smash Bros. Melee.

The game is also kept interesting by its cast of characters. We are talking about Dragonball Z here! If you donít crack a little smile at the sight of Vegeta or Trunks or Cell the coolness of the 32 selectable fighters will be lost on you, but if you do you will go through any links to unlock them all. And itís worthwhile too, because these donít feel like palette-swaps either. Each character has the unique ďfeelĒ of their small-screen counterpart, partially due to the appearance of all their signature moves and abilities, and partially due to the high-quality animations and voice-work.

Yup, all the voices youíve come to recognize from the series are here, which definitely adds a lot to the credibility of this game. It means a lot to have Goku sound like Goku, and Frieza sound like Frieza, and Piccolo sound like Piccolo, and so on and so on. It also means a lot to have all the characters so accurately modeled. Everyone looks, moves, behaves like how they should, and with the new and improved cel-shaded visuals, it makes things feel as close to the show as possible. Of course it also makes everything have a low-detailed and jagged edged look, especially in S-Video, but thatís nothing us PS2 owners havenít dealt with before.

With a game like this, though, visuals donít matter too much. Hell, look how popular (and ugly) Dragonball Final Bout and the first Budokai were! And when a fighting game has a single player game as cool as Budokai 2, itís not too difficult to turn a blind eye to slight imperfections. Oh yeah, you didnít know a fighting game could have a cool single player mode? Well, itís true. Itís no Virtua Fighter 4 or Soul Calibur 2, but you know what, itís pretty damn solid in itís own right. A combination of board game and RPG, the Dragon World Mode places you in the role of Goku and takes you through an adventure loosely based on the events of the television series up through the Majin Buu saga. Youíll move your character pieces around an isometric map, triggering fights and collecting various unlockables. These include new characters, outfits, and maps, but more importantly, combos, moves, and abilities that can be equipped to specific characters and used to make more powerful, customized versions of them. These customized versions can then be used in the Dueling or Tournament modes, and the unlockables, which are represented by trading card like ďCapsulesĒ, can be exchanged between save games from the Options menu. As you can imagine, finding, buying (with money earned from the Dragon World and Tournament modes), and trading Capsules is a major point of longevity for this game, especially considering the sheer number of Capsules there are to find. It takes some serious time and effort to get them all, particularly the rare and powerful ones, and choosing just what to install in your characterís limited number of slots makes for a healthy dose of strategy AND individuality.

Once youíve completed the Dragon World you can then enjoy Babidi's Spaceship, where a number of new single player challenges await. And of course, thereís the multiplayer aspect, which is as solid as any form of direct head-to-head gaming competition. The good thing about Budokai 2 is that the low learning curve makes this the kind of fighter just about anyone can pick up and play, young or old, without committing hours and hours to practice and memorization; and the customization feature opens up a whole ďmy character verse your characterĒ Monster Rancher-like aspect.

If youíre a fan of DBZ, youíre going to appreciate this fighter and all it has to offer, regardless of what all those boneheaded reviews have said. This is a good game dammit! The fighting engine isnít the deepest, but it has its moments; the Dragon World mode is addictive and entertaining and unlocking Capsules to create customized versions of your favorite DBZ characters is a lengthy and rewarding endeavor; the two-player battles are a blast, especially when the special attack sequences are thrown in to spice things up; and the look, feel, and sound of the game is total Dragonball Z through and through and sure to please anyone looking for the DBZ experience on their game console Ė sure, the visuals arenít as spiffy as one would like, and yeah, itís not going to unseat any of the major fighting franchises any time soon, but if you like your balls dragon, you canít got wrong with Budokai 2.

HIGHS:

  • Official voices! Yay!
  • Low learning curve makes the game accessible to everyone.
  • Damn fine single player experience to support its multiplayer game.
  • Customizable move sets makes for plenty of longevity and just enough strategy.
  • Special attack sequences liven up combat.
  • Itís Dragonball Z! Who canít enjoy an epic DBZ fight?

LOWS:

  • Cel-shading is great, but the jaggies, my God the jaggies!
  • Too shallow to be taken seriously by fighting fans.
  • May rely a little too much on the franchise to pull in an audience.

FINAL VERDICT:

If you liked the first one or are simply a fan of the series looking for a great translation of it to the fighting genre (without hitting the import racks) give Budokai 2 a try. It may not be the most complex fighter out there, but itís a solid game with an impressive amount of replay value.

Overall Score: 8.0

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