Dragon Ball Z Budokai HD Collection Review

It has been a little while since I've had something Dragon Ball-related to review. Last year's Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi was a visually stunning, but ultimately rather shallow button-mashing fighter, and without a Xbox 360 Kinect, Dragon Ball Z Kinect isn't a review I'll be writing any time soon (but that doesn't mean I didn't buy the game anyway...). The super fan in me is already psychotically excited for 2013's all new DBZ theatrical - and animated (whew) - film, but with that still a half-year away it is too early to say much more about it. So, what is this Kinect-less DBZ nut to do to fill the time? Luckily, Namco Bandai has the answer: An HD update of two of the better Dragon Ball fighting games from the PS2 era, Budokai and Budokai 3. It looks like I can finally unhook that PS2 now and enjoy these great games on the 360 (or PS3, if you choose).

I'll get the obvious out of the way first. No, I don't know why Budokai 2 was neglected for this HD collection. And I'm probably less happy with that decision than anyone reading this. I loved the second entry in the Budokai series - the gameplay was much deeper than the original, the animated introduction was better than some full length Dragon Ball episodes and/or movies and we finally got a chance to play through the series' last act, the Buu saga. Sure, American PS1 gamers with Final Bout or Ultimate Battle 22 already had that chance, but everything in those games - aside from their animated introductions - sucked anyway. Back on topic, releasing this set with one-third of the series missing doesn't make sense to me either. But I'd rather have part one and part three than no HD updates at all, so there's that, I guess.

I want to briefly go over each game before I get to the remastering and whether or not this collection is even worth your time. Dragon Ball Z: Budokai was the first Dragon Ball game on the PS2 and despite its many flaws, fans, myself included, went bonkers over it. Sure the fighting was simple, the character models were blocky and ugly and the story was indecipherable to all but the biggest fans, but it was the best DBZ game to hit anywhere outside of Japan up to that point. I spent way too many hours with Budokai, unlocking every last bit of content not because it was a great game or even a competent fighter, but because I was finally getting to play with my favorite heroes and villains in game form.

Budokai has since lost that "best ever" status and the game hasn't aged gracefully. The two-attack-and energy-blast control setup feels ancient by today's standards, and the fact that nearly every fighter controls and plays the exact same way is even more glaring now than it was all those years ago. Budokai even fails as a nostalgia piece or collector's item due to its in-game engine-rendered opening and cutscenes. At least I could make the case for some snappy hand-drawn animation like that found in most other subsequent DBZ titles, but it just isn't there. The only real draw here is the inclusion of a Japanese voice track and trophy/achievement support, but it just doesn't feel like enough to make it worth the time. Like the aforementioned Final Bout and Ultimate Battle 22, and others like Taiketsu or Supersonic Warriors, Budokai is part of Dragon Ball's video game history, terrible as it (and all those as well) may be. This part of the HD package will, and with good reason, be mostly overlooked by those who purchase this collection.

Dragon Ball Z Budokai HD Collection screenshot 1

Budokai 3 is a much different story. For as much of an improvement as the absent Budokai 2 was over part one, part three is leaps and bounds better than the game before it, and considered by some to be the absolute pinnacle of Dragon Ball fighting games. The opening cinematic, fully hand-drawn, is a masterpiece; the Kuririn (Krillin) tattoo on my right arm comes from a screen cap directly out of this vignette and my longstanding ringtone is the chorus of the original Japanese song written for this very piece! For serious fans, this intro, especially touched up in HD, makes this collection worth the $40 asking price.

If you aren't as nerdy as I am, the actual game should be enough to get you to take out your wallet. Budokai 3 features not only the characters and stories from all 291 episodes, but also the plots and characters from special DBZ movies and television shows as well. Also, for the first time up to that time, fans finally got the choice between English dubbed voices or the original Japanese voice track. The fighting mechanics are also greatly improved, making this one a game that could please serious fighting game fans and Dragon Ball nuts equally. With a roster of 42 fighters (a tad on the small size by today's DBZ game standards) and more modes than any previous game, Budokai 3 proved that Dragon Ball could and should get quality games based on the license.

The HD upgrade in Budokai 3 is much more noticeable than it is in part one. The character models and menus look sharp and crisp, with the cutscenes and intro being the standouts. Like Budokai, this game gets trophy/achievement support for this release. I imagine there will be fans who will pick this up for that alone, much like I'd be interested for just the shinier new animation. No matter what reasons you may have, even mildly interested DBZ and/or fighting fans should try this one out. The game has aged quite well and the HD stuff only makes a great title even sweeter.

Dragon Ball Z Budokai HD Collection screenshot 2

If you are a DBZ super fan, the HD upgrades should be enough to make you pick this one up. If you are a trophy/achievement whore, then there is plenty here to keep you happy. If you think fighting games are the cat's pajamas, then Budokai 3 is probably something to look into, though Budokai probably isn't. Budokai 2 is definitely missed - even Super Dragon Ball Z or Infinite World would have fit in nicely - but DBZ fans shouldn't let that stop them from giving the Budokai HD collection a look, especially if they have fond memories of the games on the PS2.

Final Rating: 70%. This collection won't make everyone happy, but for the people it tantalizes the wait for next year's new movie will be a little more bearable.


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