Sunday, 2 February 2014

Review: DragonBall Z: Battle of Z (PS3)


Yes it's another preposterously named DragonBall Z game and yes it continues the trend of milking a popular anime franchise like all of the previous titles have.  Battle of Z however does try something a little different and although it isn't the first time it has been done, it's certainly the first time it has become available for a wider audience.

What am I talking about exactly?  Well it's the unique selling point of Battle of Z and that is that every level now features four characters per side in each mission fighting at the same time.  It has been something a gaming wish for myself personally as being able to have the quick paced battles of Dragonball in a sort of battle royale style is just plain cool.

The story isn't anything new here as the game simply follows the main arc of the manga, starting with the Saiyan saga and ending in the Buu saga.  We do get to step outside of the canon arcs with the Cooler movies and Broly but that's it, so don't expect to rush off to face Bojack, Turles or the other androids in this game.  The only real differences are the addition of three AI or player companions in each level and the odd alteration to some battles such as having Vegeta and Nappa fighting side by side, but it sticks to the general flow of the story without too much deviation.  For those uninitiated in the Dragonball story this game won't really help you to understand what the hell is going on, but knowing who is who isn't essential here.  I suspect though that only fans of the anime will be buying this game anyway.

If you see this online, expect to be slaughtered
Gameplay is fairly simple which is a blessing considering the fast pace of combat here.  On the PlayStation 3 melee attacks are limited to one combo per character which is mapped to the triangle button.  Ki blasts are on circle while cross and square alter your height when flying.  Variation comes in the form of unique attacks which every character has two of.  These are mapped to the shoulder buttons and depending on the character and their type, will yield different results.  A melee focused character like Goku will perform short range but high damage melee strikes, while Kid Gohan will generate healing spheres or fire a larger blast at foes.  Combining the L1 button with circle, triangle or square will produce more powerful versions of each unique attack but draw off more energy.

Special attacks are generally large screen filling Kamehameha attacks that do massive damage but are dependant on energy.  Having enough stored allows you to fire them by pressing triangle and circle, but they are direct fire moves which require your target to be stationary to score a hit.  The now traditional ultimate attacks however have been dumped from most characters with a grand total of eight characters having them.  The reason for this is unclear but these attacks basically insta-kill everyone on the map if they are performed.  The animations are virtually the same for each one except for a colour change on the explosion so they are nothing to write home about.

Characters are broken down into four types, each with different ability bonuses and play styles.  Melee characters are focused on just that with an emphasis on higher health and melee damage.  Ki blast characters are the long range fighters who can fire repeated blasts but have less melee damage and health.  Supports focus on healing the party but suffer in both health and damage, while interference types run a sort of jack of all trades approach.

Each character can be powered up with cards obtained for completing levels improving things like health, melee damage, ranged damage, energy recovery and defence.  There are more specialised cards which grant bonuses to stats or add extra slots for more cards while others grant temporary buffs during play.  Cards can also be bought with points obtained through play, with particularly powerful cards costing hundreds of thousands of points each.  Once you have enough cards to properly outfit a party of four, some levels which at one time may have been challenging become extremely easy.  The card system is good in the sense of giving the player a feeling of progression but also comes off as lazy.  I think maybe a RPG levelling system would have given players something aim for with each character and given them a reason to play as them, thus extending the games life somewhat.

Attacks look big and impressive
The story mode can be played alone with AI partners of your choosing or in cooperative mode with other players online.  The game lacks any kind of local coop or competitive mode because the developers wanted to ensure the player had the full screen to utilise and to reduce frame lag.  The AI is generally good at fighting and will even heal you regularly if you take a support character with you.  They do however more often than not completely fail to revive you even when right next to you which can be a complete pain at times.  Real players are far more helpful but you run the risk of them also not reviving you.  Cooperative play is better though and is a great way to power up your characters by obtaining cards.  It's also a good way of seeing what characters are better for competitive play too.

I do have my gripes with the character selection though here.  There are some odd omissions such as Chiaotzu, Zarbon and Dodoria who are generally in every game but for some reason don't get a look in here.  The other part that bothers me is the roster boasts over seventy characters but a majority of these are transformed modes of exisiting characters, so expect multiple Goku's, Vegeta's, Trunks, Frieza's, Cell's, Gohan's and Buu's.  Why the transformations aren't just lumped together like previous DBZ games is a mystery here since there is plenty of room to add other movie characters along with those missed from the main saga's.

Enemy AI can also be a complete bastard here too, either going from passive moron who ignores you despite your repeated attacks, or blinkered killer who never stops attacking you until you're downed.  This kind of play is fine if the camera wasn't such a sod to use properly.  Locking onto a target is simple enough but when under attack by someone you are not locked onto the camera has real trouble switching to that character, looking at every one but the one you want it to look at.  This will get you killed at times and it does the same thing when trying to revive downed allies too, so expect to lose points during some levels because of the awkward camera.

competitive play can be summed it up like this: a stunning mess.  Having eight players flying around firing blasts at each other, teleporting and punching each other rapidly sounds cool on paper but in execution it's terrible.  The gameplay boils down to hideous amounts of ganking in team battles as each side picks on the weakest character for cheap points repeatedly.  Teamplay is virtually non existent and no one plays a support anyway so don't expect any healing and very little reviving from allies.  The free for all mode is a little better but still devolves into ganking one player or being sneaky and skirting around the map waiting for a cheap kill to present itself.  Suffice to say the competitive multiplayer has little to offer and compared to the cooperative play which this game was primarily designed for it feels like an afterthought.

Giant boss battles are featured but aren't anything special
Graphically the game is good, utilising a new cel-shaded engine which renders the characters well and the environments look good.  The maps designs here are actually very good for a DBZ game and have some neat little area's to them such as the Kai planets waterfall area or the plains tunnel.  They are bigger than any game previously and although they aren't the most visually stunning they are still good for what they are.  Character animations are slick and very fast and even during the games most busy moments the framerate doesn't dip, even during the most hectic online match.  If anything the netcode is very strong for this game. 

The sound department is good for what is expected of a DBZ game.  The voice cast are trotted out once more to repeat the same lines of dialogue for what must be the ten millionth time for them, but they do a good job regardless.  The smacking, blasting, warping, zinging and twanging sounds are all present from the anime and the musical score is present also.  It's Dragonball sounds really, nothing great but nostalgic none the less. 

Overall Battle of Z is a nice but flawed step in this new direction of DBZ brawlers.  It certainly could have done with more characters and not have split every transformation into it's own separate character.  If they produce a sequel we will no doubt see more characters added along with new features but for this game it's fine.  The gameplay is decent and the challenge is there for those who want to put the time in to unlock every character and obtain the best cards.  For casual players though it will become repetitive and stale fast and probably send you back to raging blast 2 or Budokai Tenkaichi 3 after a few days.

SCORE: 6.1/10

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