Scotsman Games review: Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z - Xbox 360 (reviewed) / Playstation 3 / Playstation Vita
Score: 6.0 / 10
The staggering popularity of the franchise in Japan and international manga enthusiasts has resulted in numerous game adaptations. Some, like the Kinect offering from 2012, have been less than stellar, although other titles - notably the Budokai Tenkaichi series - have largely done Toriyama’s creation justice.
Thanks to the quality of the cell-shaded animation and the typically frenzied visuals, the action in Battle of Z is visually enticing, if not progressive. Billed as a fighting game, the action takes place in the third person, with vast, featureless arenas ensuring the combat is seldom intimate. Indeed, it only takes a half hour or so to realise that what we regard as core fighting mechanics are not among the game’s strengths.
In theory, foes are targeted using the right shoulder button, a straightforward enough control when there are only one or two combatants to contend with. But the locking mechanics frustrate when there are multiple enemies on screen and the camera pans and twists as you avert attacks. In a game which appears to place an emphasis on strategy (your fighter can be upgraded with a bevy of cards and points) the action is random.
The temptation is to launch random offensives given the uncertainty surrounding who is in your sights. This emphasis on an attack-orientated approach is not helped by a rudimentary blocking control which uses only the left shoulder button. Irrespective of the classes involved, battles can be won too often by a combination of mashing the attack buttons and occasionally blocking. Should an enemy prove particularly resilient, a quick Unique Attack (activated by either trigger button) is usually enough to dispense of them.
Thankfully, this simplistic combat system is offset in part by an RPG-influenced character combination concept which sees developers Artdink ask players to select a team of well-suited combatants rather than go it alone. In a single player mode surprisingly bereft of narrative or cut scenes, this is an interesting development and something different for the franchise, although the AI means your allies are sometimes missing in action, hanging back and relying on long-range attacks irrespective of what is happening.
Online, in co-operative play, the innovation works better. There is a sense that different players with different characters complement one another, at least when they are on the same side - my experience of venturing onto Xbox Live for one of the numerous competitive play modes ended quickly and painfully, an indication of how serious Dragon Ball Z veterans are about their games.
With a roster of more than 70 characters, including the likes of God Goku, Beerus and Whis, Battle of Z promises a variety of play styles based on the four different fighting types:ki-blast, support, melee and interfere. For fans of the series, this is undoubtedly a boon, but for those with only a fleeting interest, the expanded universe cannot compensate for a fundamentally rudimentary and unsatisfactory fighting style.