Before Dragon Ball Z, there was Dragon Ball, which followed young Goku on his quest to hunt down the seven dragon balls with his friend Bulma. Unlike other Dragon Ball Z games, Dragon Ball: Origins on the Nintendo DS is an action adventure role-playing game where there is a mix of exploring and puzzle-solving, but there is plenty of action as well. The 3D character animations also stood out quite a bit when we got some hands-on time with this game at Atari's Gamer Day in San Francisco.
The game is split into episodes so that once you complete a small section of the game, you can save and return to that particular area whenever you wish. The amount of time it takes you to complete the area and the chests that you open will also be documented. When we opened the episode menu, we saw roughly 50 squares scattered across the touch screen, so there seems to be quite a bit of story and content in Origins. As mentioned previously, the storyline starts off with Goku as a young boy who meets Bulma, an inventor searching for the legendary dragon balls. She quickly finds out that Goku is in possession of one of them, but he is very attached to it, calling it grandpa. Together they agree to go off in search of the remaining dragon balls.
Origins can be played entirely with the stylus, or you can choose to use the D pad and map the buttons to corresponding attacks. The controls are very responsive with the stylus, so it's fairly easy to do everything you need with the touch screen. To attack, all you have to do is tap on the enemy. At the bottom of the touch screen, you'll find your health meter and energy meter, as well as the weapon you have selected. The energy meter will recharge on its own and prevents you from spamming powerful attacks, so you'll have to pace yourself. A fist icon will be at the bottom to represent Goku's hand-to-hand attack, and if you tap it once, it'll switch to his power pole. His pole has a wide range, and you can also click on Goku, then drag the stylus away from him to swing the pole in a 180-degree arc to damage a cluster of enemies--in our case, it was an assortment of pigs. Keeping the stylus on Goku himself will charge him up for a dash, and you just need to drag the stylus in the direction you want him to go. We were told by the producer that, eventually, you'll be able to unleash your powerful Kamehameha by tapping the letters that pop up on screen and then directing where you want your beam to go.
As smart as Bulma is supposed to be, she isn't very useful when traveling because she'll tag along mindlessly, and you'll have to clear the path or provide a bridge for her in order for her to stay with you. She can't jump, whereas Goku automatically jumps when he approaches a ledge. Part of the puzzle-solving elements have Goku move boulders and rocks so that Bulma can keep up with him. In a fight, she does do her part by pulling out her gun and taking a few shots, but Goku will do the bulk of the fighting. You can upgrade Bulma's weapon later on so that she can keep up. We fought several groups of pigs, which would drop a steaming pork bun when they died. If you've ever had a pork bun, you'll have an idea about what first came across our minds when we saw the plump mound.
As you're fighting and exploring, you'll have an isometric view, which expands across both screens. The visuals and music are done very well in Origins. The 3D character animations look great, with Goku and Bulma making hilarious facial expressions when they get excited or are surprised. The art is different from the bulked-up characters in the Dragon Ball Z universe because they're children, but the back and forth banter between Bulma and Goku is amusing. The overall tone also feels lighthearted and fun. The environments that we wandered around in were vibrant and clean, making it relatively easy to navigate.
Throughout the adventure, Goku may find or buy figurines, which can be traded with friends via Nintendo's Wi-Fi Connection. If you enjoy exploring every nook and cranny, there are 200 to collect. Those who want to learn more about Dragon Ball lore can start from the beginning when Dragon Ball: Origins is released in November.