Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi Review

I know, I'm sorry; this review is a few months behind the times. The latest Dragonball Z fighter, Ultimate Tenkaichi, came out last fall, and I'm just now getting around to reviewing it. Most critics wouldn't bother with a game already this old, but I've got an obligation, as a DBZ superfan, to review this one. Why should you care? Because even though this might not be the best playing DBZ game to date, it is by far the best looking. Depending on how big a fan you are, Ultimate Tenkaichi can either be worth it's weight in gold or just another floating piece of Namekian space dust.

Let's kick things off with the game's presentation. Ultimate Tenkaichi is head and shoulders above any previous game starring the proud Saiyan race. First, and most impressive, are the 22 minutes of totally brand new hand-drawn animation. This new stuff comes in the form of story-telling cutscenes and the best intro movie a DBZ game has ever been graced with. In case you don't know, the Dragonball series ended in Japan decades ago and the original animation is beginning to show its age. So seeing these characters redrawn and recolored in eye-exploding HD is a real treat, with the intro movie's almost blinding color scheme being an obvious highlight (among so, so many others). You'll have to finish story mode to unlock them all, but the reward is well worth it.

The in-game graphics aren't quite the showstopper the cutscenes are, but they are among the best the franchise has seen yet. Characters are rendered in a bizarre mix of cel-shading and 3D, giving them the look of living, breathing action figures on the screen. It's a look attempted and perfected by a recent Japanese DBZ arcade game, and while this doesn't look quite that nice, it is a huge step forward and away from the previous Dragonball: Raging Blast console games. The menus and backgrounds are pretty good as well, and help round out Ultimate Tenkaichi as the prettiest DBZ console game ever.

Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi screenshot 10

The gameplay is where things begin to fall apart. Ultimate Tenkaichi is, for lack of a less harsh term, the easiest, simplest fighting game I've ever played. You've got all the standard punches, kicks and energy blasts at your disposal, but these are all used as a means to get players into a flashy game of rock, paper, scissors (but with only two choices; no Spock or lizard here). Here, the two characters clash on-screen and players are prompted with a "one or the other" button choice. He who chooses wrong gets kicked all over the stage in an impressive display that players have almost no control over. Each and every fight follows this pattern: Combo into clash, win/lose clash, watch the action for a few seconds, recover and repeat. Toss in a super move now and then and you have the entire game 's structure right in front of you. As awesome as it looks, the whole business wears thin quickly; a problem compounded by each fight's somewhat longer than normal duration. The baby game of "which hand is the coin in?" forms the foundation of the clashes and fights in Ultimate Tenkaichi, and it's just too simple to stay fun for long.

As yawn-inducing as the fighting is, the game contains a mode that will have even casual fans willing to put in the time to complete it. The mode? Create a Saiyan. Players are given a limited palette from which to build their very own member of the warrior race, and once built, can be taken through an alternate universe story featuring all the DBZ fighters from the main series. As you defeat opponents you can find and/or unlock all kinds of new clothes, hair, etc. for your created Saiyan, and you are free to change his looks at any time (that's right, his; I didn't see a single female option in the creation process). Usually, collecting everything for a 100 percent save file would be my sole motivation, but I was surprised at my rapt interest in this other timeline story. It's unsettling to see enemies like Captain Ginyu and Freeza act completely out of character at first, but you'll quickly become enthralled with how the next beloved fighter will break character and how. I realize some of the more hardcore (i.e. snobby) fans might flip out over my approval, even endorsement, of this mode. Calm down, guys; if the dude with the Dragonball Z tattoo sleeve (me) says it's ok to like it, it's probably ok to sit back, relax and enjoy the ride. I did, and you will, too.

Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi screenshot 48

I briefly mentioned Ultimate Tenkaichi's story mode which, as you can imagine, follows the same DBZ story followed by every Dragonball game ever made. It's got to be in there, folks; like it or not, you know it has to be in there. So why even bring it up? This time, the game practically screams, we got us some boss battles. Indeed, a few true bosses have been added into the game, most notably the screen-filling Oozaru (giant ape) Vegeta and Horundegaard monsters, but the fights fall flat. Instead of an actual battle, players are forced into mini games and quicktime events that just aren't that fun. As great as it is to finally see an Oozaru in a game, the execution of the fight is just way off and a chore to finish. Great effort, but no follow-through, I guess.

Coming from a rabid DBZ fan, I can assure you that only the hardest of the hardcore are going to be interested in Ultimate Tenkaichi. I loved the new animation, creating a Saiyan and being truly interested in my Saiyan's bizarro world tale, but the fighting is tedious, easy and boring, somehow all at once. Ultimate Tenkaichi may be the best looking DBZ game to hit our shores, it doesn't have the gameplay to back it up. Mega fans probably already own the game by now, but everyone else should wait for the inevitable sequel.

Final Rating: 50%. A Dragonball game strictly for hardcore fans? Imagine that...


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