Dragon Ball Z Budokai: Tenkaichi Review

The end of the year always seems to bring out a few new Dragon Ball Z games. While this can often be the sign of a series produced for quantity over quality, in the case of DBZ the games have actually gotten a lot better each year. Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi continues this trend and continues it quite nicely, resulting in what I dare say may be the best DBZ game to date. This is of course great news to DBZ fans, but it also presents an opportunity for those just getting into the whole DBZ thing as it can actually appeal to gamers outside the hardcore DBZ crowd. Hard to believe, I know, but stick with me for a little…

Before I get into game modes, power-ups, and all those usual things, I want to start by letting you know just why Tenkaichi is different: it’s the first game in the series to really take the fights into 3D. Oh sure, previous DBZ games were in 3D and let you move up and down the screen as well as left and right. You could even fly up off of the ground for some aerial action. However, Tenkaichi really is fully three dimensional. You can go anywhere in the free-roaming battlefields and you can stay on the ground, fly up high, or hover and swoop anywhere in between. It’s pretty cool to fly directly over your opponent and rain down damage from above as he scrambles to figure out where that attack is coming from. The only real restriction on your movements is the force fields that mark the boundaries of each map. Unfortunately this is a pretty big restriction as you can get pinned up against these contrivances and pummeled if you’re not careful.

To support the new fight environment, the game uses an over the shoulder camera that may take a little getting used to by fighter fans very familiar with the traditional fighter camera angle. The angle itself is not as much of an issue as is the camera’s problem with swinging around quickly enough to always stay on the action. With as much dashing and flying as there is in this game, this can be a hindrance a bit too often. In an attempt to overcome this issue the game provides you with radar to track your opponent’s location and button to align yourself with his position, but I’d rather that the camera just worked consistently.

The fighting system is smart in that the controls for each character are pretty similar. You can move between the characters without learning a new attack scheme. This is not to say that the characters themselves are the same. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses, so you have to be smart and use the right approach with each character. In fact, no matter who you are controlling playing smart is a requirement. You need to know when to press an attack and when to defend yourself. A lot of the actions are context-sensitive, so in different cases the block button may teleport you, let you pull off a powerful counter, or just block an incoming punch. Button-mashing won’t get you very far in this game, especially since the AI knows how to exploit someone who’s just attacking at random.