Dragon Ball Z: Tenkaichi Tag Team Review

Here's a riddle to get us started. Question: How many Dragon Ball Z characters does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Give up? Answer: Just one, but it takes him nine episodes. Ha ha. Anyway, the Dragon Ball franchise's popularity affords it at least one new game per year, often more than that, and the latest in the long line is Dragon Ball Z: Tenkaichi Tag Team for Sony's PSP. This portable fighter, in an obvious effort to be different than the countless DBZ fighters before it, gives fans something not seen in a Dragon Ball title since the import-only Super Famicom days, the ability to control more than one warrior in 1-on-1, 2-on-1 or 2-on-2 battles. But does this mechanic make Tenkaichi Tag Team worth your gaming dollars? Gaming dollars that could be spent on any number of older, cheaper DBZ titles? And does it set itself apart from the two previous and stunningly similar PSP DBZ fighters?

If you are familiar with the Dragon Ball Z storyline, you won't find anything new in the progression through this game's plot-driven single player mode. It covers the entirety of the DBZ anime, from Raditz's arrival on earth to the defeat of Kid Buu, which is nice, but don't expect any new plot elements to be revealed in the game. It might not be fresh material, but it is presented well. The game bridges the gaps between fights with a top down view of the planet, where you can move a chibi-style character between points of interest. This allows for some exploration between fights, where you can take on mini-missions for characters found on the map. For example, in one of the first maps, a character asks you to locate a capsule he lost. You can find it and bring it back to complete one of the stage's multiple objectives. Other objectives include winning fights with different partners, locating key objects, fighting optional monsters, etc. It's a simple, one-dimensional system, but it adds variety to the same old fight after fight progression found in most other games of this type. This is not to say the fights are boring, though; but we'll get to that.

Of course, there is more going on here than just a story mode. There are ranked battles similar to other fighting games, a series of challenge modes, a training mode and a shop system that allows the player to spend D-Points won in matches on new capsules to augment their fighters. I spent the most time with the shop, as the completion percentage tally in the upper right hand corner of the screen kept me playing until each and every capsule was bought and paid for. There isn't a wealth of options and play modes aside from the single player story, but what is there makes sense and works well enough.

The fights are the meat and potatoes of Tag Team, though, and they are pretty impressive. The abandonment of straight 1-on-1 battles is what sets this game apart, and what makes it my favorite DBZ fighter in quite some time. Unlike past the past two PSP titles, Shin Budokai and Shin Budokai: Another Road, fighting in Tag Team takes place in a three-dimensional plain, as opposed to the 2.5-D of previous titles. The free range of movement and the enormity of the stages wonderfully recreate the DBZ "feel" and make the up-to-four-characters-at once battling manageable. A simple lock-on system allows players to keep tabs on who they want through all the commotion, and the PSP's simplified control scheme makes recreating the series' most intense fights both easy and fun. Add to that special partner attacks, super-huge mega finishers and fully customizable movesets for each of the 70 (!) characters and you've got a fast, frantic game that feels closer to Smash Bros. than it does to Street Fighter.