Dragon Ball: Evolution Review

I'll be honest – what you are reading is the second review I've written for Dragonball: Evolution, the PSP exclusive fighting game based on the American "re-imagining" of the Dragonball universe, a theatrical film of the same name. For the past few months, I've gone back and forth on how I thought I'd feel about the movie when it was released. The insane Dragonball purist in me immediately brushed the yet-to-be-released film off, while the open-minded fan in me stressed the need to give this new take on the franchise a (ahem) fighting chance. Judging from the previews, Dragonball: Evolution had as much to do with my beloved Dragonball universe as Mario does with the PlayStation, but now that I've seen the movie and spent some time with the game, I can say that things aren't as bleak as I imagined they would be. Neither the game nor the film feel like they truly deserve the Dragonball name as we fans have always known it, but each has its share of things that open-minded fans can (and will) enjoy. As is often the case on the Internet, I rushed to judgment on both the game and the film. After further reflection, though, my originally scathing review needed a rewrite; Dragonball: Evolution on the PSP isn't the worst game ever. It isn't even the worst Dragonball game ever (that title still belongs to Dragonball Z: Taiketsu on the Game Boy Advance). What this game ended up being is a near-clone of the other two PSP Dragonball fighters, Shin Budokai and Shin Budokai: Another Road, with a palette swap in favor of the movie's characters and designs, rather than the tried-and-true look of the manga and anime. If you enjoyed those games, you'll probably have some fun with this one. If not, you probably won't, but writing it off for its attachment to a not-so-bad film would be the height of a fan's foolishness.

With all that said and out of the way, the rest of this review will be about the game and the game only. If you want my dissertation on the film and its place and effect on the Dragonball universe as a whole, I'll tell you what – buy me a plane ticket, I'll fly to your hometown and take up residence in your house. It'll take about a month of solid discussion to sort everything out, and even after all that, you probably still won't have an answer you'd be satisfied with. What you would have is some tattooed weirdo living in your home, drinking up all your Yoo-Hoo and eating every last box of Chicken in a Biscuit crackers in the joint (props if you get the amazingly obscure reference).

Since the game has been panned in nearly every advance review I've read or heard of, it makes sense to begin with its negative points. I'd be a liar or worse if I didn't admit that the game has some serious faults, and it does. The most noticeable of these faults is the game's overall presentation. As with most movie or television tie-in games, Dragonball: Evolution loosely follows the story presented in the film. You'd never know that, though, just from playing the game. The "story mode" uses only static, ugly character portraits and written dialogue bubbles to move things along. This approach is dated at best, and here it fails to even come close to keeping anyone who isn't already familiar with the story up to speed.

For example, the game's first battle is between Goku and his grandpa Gohan. Before the fight, we get two portraits, one of each character, talking (not really… you'll read all this stuff) about harnessing power. Then, you battle Gohan, with no explanation as to why you'd be fighting your grandfather. Beat him, and a short scene of him kicking Goku's ass will play. After that, two more portraits and written dialogue about the Four-Star Dragon Ball, Goku's 18th birthday, high school, bullies and a few others things will pop up for you to scroll past. Then, with no explanation, you are controlling Gohan in a fight against Mai, one of Piccolo's henchmen (women, in this case). There is also a bit about Goku using his Ki to open a locker for a girl, who fans know to be Chi-Chi. During all this, the game doesn't name either girl once. We never see a single locker, the Four-Star Dragon Ball or anything that even alludes to what is happening in the film, which incidentally is Goku being bullied by some jerks and Mai looking for Gohan's Dragon Ball for Lord Piccolo. Simply put, this is storytelling at its laziest and sloppiest.