If you're a longtime Dragon Ball Z fan who's into video games, the past decade or so has been a little rough. While there have been several attempts at bringing the popular anime to a game console, the results have been anything but satisfying. However, the Dragon Ball franchise's game exploits took a dramatic turn for the better last year with Infogrames' Dragon Ball Z Budokai, a 3D fighter that was fun, playable, and faithful to the source material. Given the game's popularity, it's no surprise that Atari, the publisher formerly known as Infogrames, is bringing it to the GameCube. We recently spent some time with a build of the GameCube version to see how it's coming along.
For those unfamiliar with the Dragon Ball franchise, the series has revolved around the defense of Earth by powerful superbeings. The anime series has gone through a hefty number of story arcs and features an ever-growing cast of eccentric characters. Dragon Ball Z Budokai takes many of the classic sagas revolving around franchise poster boy Goku and packages them into a one-on-one fighting game that stay true to the over-the-top combat the franchise is known for.
Dragon Ball Z Budokai features the same selection of modes as its PlayStation 2 cousin. You'll find three main gameplay modes--story, duel, and world tournament--as well as practice and edit skills options. Story is the centerpiece of the play modes, offering you the chance to participate in three sagas: Saiyan, Namekian, and Android. You'll play as key characters in the different sagas and see different sides of their narratives. Duel is a standard one-on-one battle against a friend. World tournament is a series of three championships that offer hefty cash prizes. The catch is that you'll have to unlock them by purchasing the right capsule from Mr. Popo's shop. The practice mode lets you perfect your brawling skills and familiarize yourself with a character's combos. Edit skills lets you customize your fighter by using the aforementioned capsules to enhance their abilities. If you've played the PlayStation 2 version, this should all be familiar. If you haven't, you should be able to pick up everything up pretty quickly.
The combat in the game is simplistic but suitably flashy. You have a punch, a kick, a Ki blast, and a guard that you can combine into different attacks and unique combos. By building Ki, you'll be able to transform your fighters into different forms that should be familiar to fans of the franchise. For example, it's possible to transform Goku into a Super Saiyan, complete with beefed-up power levels and enormous hair.
While the gameplay has remained virtually untouched, the game's graphics have undergone some noticeable tweaks in the transition to the GameCube. The overall style has been tweaked to give the game a more cel-shaded look, with pronounced shadows on the characters and in the environments. The GameCube handles the processing burden with aplomb, although it appears to be a bit too faithful to the PlayStation 2 version in some cases, as there are some jaggies. You'll see detailed environments and impressive 3D re-creations of all the characters moving along at a zippy frame rate. One of the most impressive elements of the game's visuals has to be the faithful re-creation of the anime's opening sequence in real-time 3D. The audio in the game is helped considerably by liberal use of the anime's US voice cast.
From what we've seen so far, Dragon Ball Z Budokai should be a game that will please longtime fans and possibly convert some new ones. The game is fast, and it features a bit of RPG depth and plenty of unlockable content. Obviously we would have liked to have seen some new content in addition to the overhauled graphics, but what's on hand is still solid. Dragon Ball Z Budokai is slated to ship this fall for the GameCube.