A good Dragon Ball game feels like Karaoke: celebrating Akira Toriyama’s over-the-top melodramatic action —and letting players fool around with the beloved source material— is more important than delivering a pitch-perfect performance. Dragon Ball games live and die by how well players are able to sing songs in the key of Z, and Battle of Z couldn’t even stand in for a metronome, let alone a Karaoke machine.
Battle of Z is a 4v4 brawler that tries to add nuance to its multiplayer through RPG character classes and tag-team manoeuvres. Other battle-royal fighting games, like Super Smash Bros. or Power Stone, use items and constantly shifting terrain to push players together, and to pull them apart. Going after the hammer in Super Smash Bros. leaves you vulnerable, until you get it, which makes you invincible — it’s a basic risk/reward scenario. The way Battle of Z is supposed to work is with a party of different ‘types’ (as in: melee, interference, and support) working together to facilitate an all-out attack. But here is the thing: Battle of Z is nothing but a frantic, rage-inducing free-for-all.
In both Single-player and Multiplayer teams share a pool of lives. Some of the weaker characters contribute two lives to the pool, while others, like Adult Gohan or Perfect Cell, don’t contribute any retries at all. It’s not the worst idea —at least as far as unbalanced 4-player brawlers are concerned— because it encourages teamwork and makes everyone else’s life as important as your own, but the action is so fast-paced it’s hard to keep anything in mind other than “am I targeting an enemy?” Yes or no. The AI in Single-player seems even more confused than I was; bringing a healer class into battle is no guarantee that there will be any healing going on.
The most effective strategy in Battle of Z is to dash, and then to kick. Dashkick. It’s frustrating that in a game featuring magic energy balls that a kick to the face is most effective, but it doesn’t matter much because even if you wanted to use different skills, most of the characters move and control so similarly that it’s barely noticeable who you’re using. Yes, they all have unique names for their attacks, but if you press the same buttons and the same move comes out then there is no difference. It would be one thing to accept that a licensed game has shallow gameplay, but Dragon Ball: Battle of Z doesn’t even seem to have any reverence for Dragon Ball.
Goku and friends can’t ‘charge their ki’, they can’t counter-attack or deflect energy blasts, they aren’t even able to transform in battle. So before the climactic showdown with Frieza you need to go and select Super Saiyan Goku from the character roster — because nothing says epic Dragon Ball showdown like picking Super Saiyan from a menu screen. All this coupled with things like having a colour slider instead of different costumes for each character, or characters’ faces often being expressionless during cutscenes, really sucks the excitement out of getting to play something in the Dragon Ball universe.
Do you have any idea how much 10 year-old-me would have wanted this game!? Really any Dragon Ball game.
And that’s the thing: I got this on the Vita and I’ve played way more of it than the game deserves, because 10 year-old-me would never live it down if I skipped it. It’s a begrudging enjoyment from a part of me still clinging to the idea that one day there’ll be an incredible Dragon Ball game. But this game? It’s bad and you shouldn’t play it. No amount of nostalgia or wishful thinking will turn Battle of Z into something worth your money or time.
- Seriously Dragon Ball games, half my fun is being able to transform into a Super Saiyan — what are you doing?
- I spent large parts of the game just healing my AI team because if they go down you lose lives.
- Online people constantly ‘camped’ my corpse.
- Playing as four Gokus at once isn’t as fun as it sounds.
- Still want a 3D Dragon Ball Z adventure game.