The Budokai series of Dragon Ball Z games has been the single bastion of hope for fans of everything DBZ, and it's the strongest franchise Atari has going at the moment. As a result, there's a lot of pressure to keep improving the series, while pumping out a new game every year. At a recent press event, we went hands-on with Tenkaichi, the fourth game in the Budokai series, and it looks like the game will continue the positive trend in the series with bigger stages, new characters, and the same over-the-top action Dragon Ball Z is known for.
One of the biggest changes here lies in the stages where you'll be fighting. The stages are massive this time around, and they're filled with destructible objects, like tanker trucks, buildings, and even mountains. Sometimes, when you destroy one of these objects, you'll find power-ups that can help you out in a fight. In fact, the environments are so large that stealth becomes a viable tactic, since you can find a hiding place to avoid or ambush your opponent. Because the environments are so large, two-player mode is now played with a vertically split screen, where each player has an over-the-shoulder perspective on the action. It's kind of awkward to play a fighting game split-screen, but once you play it, you'll quickly understand why developer Spike chose to present the action this way. There are 11 stages in the game, but some of the stages have to be unlocked with special Z items. That might not sound like a lot, but since you can fight in the air, on the ground, or even underwater, you can bet there will be plenty of variety to the battles.
Although the Budokai games are essentially 3D fighters, the biggest draw in the series has always been the single-player story mode. In Tenkaichi, the dragon universe mode has been replaced by battle gate mode, which is essentially the story mode. There are 18 different battle gates, and each one contains different episodes, with 140 episodes in all. Before and after each battle, you'll see a fully animated and voiced in-game cutscene. Each character has a unique story, and with 15 characters in several different ki forms, there are plenty of story sequences to watch.
The next mode we saw is ultimate battle mode, which is similar to a survival mode you'd find in other fighting games. Here, you can fight 100 ranked fighters. As you play, you can unlock Z items that will give you things like new characters, stages, and power-ups. There are more than 200 Z items in the game, and you can unlock them by playing through the various modes in the game.
World tournament mode is basically a tournament fight that takes place in a smaller arena. You can choose up to eight characters to compete in each elimination tournament, where the point is obviously to beat everyone else in a series of one-on-one fights.
Dueling mode is Tenkaichi's version of versus mode. You can choose from 90 different characters and have a player-versus-player, player-versus-computer, or computer-versus-computer match.
Evolution Z is the item customization mode, and it can be played by one or two players. You can play with the fighters that you've powered up using the Z items you've unlocked. In addition to simply attaching Z items to your characters, you can also fuse multiple items together to create stronger items. For example, instead of taking up two slots with two health +1 and health +2 capsules, you can combine them to create one health +3 capsule that only takes up one slot in your inventory. You can also import customized characters from Budokai 3, or you can import characters from another memory card so that you can pit your customized fighters against your friends' fighters.
The fighting system in Tenkaichi flows a bit more smoothly than in previous Budokai games. In past games, the action would stop for a beam struggle or dragon rush, but this time, all those moves are integrated seamlessly into the fight. It makes the battles move a bit quicker, and it removes the rock-paper-scissors rush system found in Budokai 3. The controls haven't changed much in Tenkaichi, which is a good thing. You can still fly all over the place and send powerful energy blasts at your opponents, and the melee is as fast as ever.
The graphics look sharp and detailed, and although the environments look somewhat flat, they fit the source material just fine. The characters look great, especially when you switch back and forth between their many different ki forms. All the fighters are fully voiced, so you can expect to hear the requisite shouts and screams as the characters blast one another about each stage.
Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi is shaping up to be another step forward for the series. The new characters and larger stages will give you lots of new content to explore, and the character customization and Z-item collection will give you plenty of incentive to keep fighting. We'll bring you more updates on the next DBZ game before it ships this November.