Dragon Ball: Origins Review

If youíve ever been to a game store, you know that there are about a zillion games based on Dragon Ball Z, which, if you arenít familiar, is an older Japanese manga/anime series centered on an alien named Goku and his fight against evil. What there arenít a ton of, however, are games based on Dragon Ball, the even older beginning to the Dragon Ball Z story. The only one I can think of is Dragon Ball: Advanced Adventure for the Game Boy Advance, which ranks up there with Astro Boy: The Omega Factor as one of the finest side-scrolling handheld titles ever made. Now, finally, the people at Atari have given us another Dragon Ball game, Dragon Ball: Origins for the Nintendo DS. While it doesnít quite equal the sublime thrills of the previous GBA game, Origins is one of the better-licensed games available on the DS and certainly worthy of the greatness of the original comic and television show. BUTÖ your enjoyment of the game will all depend on how you look at things. Stay with me; Iíll explain.

Like I mentioned above, Dragon Ball: Origins follows the childhood of Goku from the very beginning up through his fight with the mysterious martial artist Jackie Chun at the Budokai Tenkaichi (Strongest Under The Heavens) tournament. Unlike Dragon Ball Z, though, there is far more plot development and character dialogue in Dragon Ball, and even though Origins doesnít tell the whole story, it is a lot of material to work with. All the familiar characters appear in the game, from the desert bandit Yamcha to the diminutive Emperor Pilaf to the kung-fu master/pervert Master Roshi Ė they are all here and as great as they always were. Now remember, I said this is a lot of material to work with, and for better or worse, that comes through in the game.

Even though there is a lot of excellent voice work (especially for a DS game) and great animation to distract you, Dragon Ball: Origins uses a TON of cutscenes to tell the story. Not quite as many as, say, any of the Metal Gear games, but a lot. A whole lot. This is where your perspective will come in. These scenes are great for old fans that want to relive the adventure without having to rewatch or reread the original series. They are also great if you are a Dragon Ball Z fan who wants a little background on where the story began (incidentally, Dragon Ball is unavailable on DVD in the states right now; the previously released sets are impossible-to-find collectorís items and FUNimationís re-release of the series on DVD wonít kick off until sometime next yearÖ Origins and the manga graphic novels are the only place youíll be able to get the whole story for some time to come). If you are a casual DS gamer with no interest in Dragon Ball or Dragon Ball Z, then the scenes and the story will be major pains in the butt as you strive to complete the game.

But thatís what really matters, right? The game? Well, if you enjoy or feel you can ignore the cutscenes, then youíll find a mostly fantastic game in Dragon Ball: Origins. Youíll spend the gameís 10-15 hours playing as Goku, a young boy who has a tail, no knowledge of the outside world beyond his Grandpa Gohanís farm and is virtually indestructible. The game begins when Bulma, a 16-year-old girl, stumbles upon Goku in her search for seven magic Dragon Balls, little orange orbs that when assembled, grant their user any wish under the heavens. The two team up to find the balls and a great adventure begins.

Even though I hate this comparison, the best way to describe how Origins is played is kind of like a mixture of The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglassí gameplay with a little bit of Icoís partner-based exploration. I hate the comparison because both Phantom Hourglass and Ico were masterpieces, and Origins is merely a very fun, but not world-changing game, like the other two. Like Phantom Hourglass, Goku is controlled almost or totally, depending on your preference, with the DSí touch screen. The stylus serves to attack with both Gokuís fists and Power Pole, attacks that can be changed on the fly, depending on the situation. You can also move Goku with the stylus, much like was required in Phantom Hourglass, but you have the option of using the DSí d-pad as well, a very nice addition. You gain special attacks and moves over the course of the game, but it remains a run/jump/fight 3D, top-down experience at its core.