Atari has had its fair share of success with its 3D fighters based on Dragon Ball Z in the past few years. The publisher is looking to keep that streak going with Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit, an Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 upgrade to the series developed by longtime Japanese collaborator Dimps. We had the chance to get a first look and try out a work-in-progress version of the upcoming game, which is looking like a promising first step into the current generation of consoles.
Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit doesn't appear to be straying too far from the formula that's worked so well for the previous games. You'll find five modes that cover the expected bases. Z Chronicles is the story mode, which lets you play through one main story. For those keeping score at home, the game's storyline will run from the beginning of the series to the end of the Cell saga. Rather than have you play as a set character throughout, you'll take control of different characters, depending on how the story plays out. The game will feature three main characters, Goku, Piccolo, and Krillin, which should not come as a surprise to anyone, considering when the story is set. However, as you progress through the story, you'll come to unlock more than 20 playable characters. If that's not enough characters for you, the game will offer dozens of cameos through one of the gameplay mechanics, which we'll cover in just a bit. While Atari reps were tight-lipped about the exact stages in the game, if you know the story, you can make some guesses as to where you might be duking it out.
The Versus mode offer four match types, three of which test your skills and one of which offers you a chance to learn by watching. Versus CPU lets you test your skills against the computer, while Versus player lets you take on a friend on the same machine. Xbox Live lets you take on random folks online from around the world, which is a first for the series. This will feature leaderboards and rankings to let you see how you stack up against the competition on the world stage. Finally CPU versus CPU lets you pit the computer against itself, which can be handy if you're looking to figure out some fighting techniques. The Trial mode is a collection of three submodes, but Atari reps would only reveal the Survival mode to us. The other two unlockable modes are currently being kept under wraps. A Tutorial mode will get you up to speed on the game's fighting system, and a Training mode will let you practice against a customizable CPU opponent.
As you might expect, a game like Burst Limit will live or die by its fighting system, and from what we've seen so far, it's shaping up well. The system is more along the lines of Dimps' Budokai games and has a solid, balanced feel to it. Combat will take place in a general sphere, whether you're on the ground or in the air. As with previous games, the battle can go from land to air in a heartbeat. There isn't as much interactivity with the levels from what we've seen so far; think of the modest stuff done in the early Budokai games, but combat does have a good feel to it. Counters and special attacks feel pretty good although timing is always something that takes some getting used to with each game.
A new addition to the combat is the drama piece system, which lets you pick three helpers before going into a battle; you'll start out with a modest pool of them but unlock a small army as you go through the game. The characters trigger automatically during combat if specific conditions are met. So, for example, if you equip helpers who block throws or shield you from a certain type of attack, they'll just hop in and do their thing when your opponent tries to get the move off during a fight. The downside is that the helpers act as one unit only during a fight, so you can't rely on them to compensate for any lack of skills on your part. The guard system offers the same blocking and teleporting options we've seen before, but the timing is trickier given the game's blistering speed. You'll also be able to block supermoves at the cost of ki energy.
The visuals in the game are eye-popping, courtesy of the sexy marriage of slick cel-shaded art with the HD power-up afforded by the PS3 and the Xbox 360. The work-in-progress version of the game we tried was just stunning and popped in HD. The action was fast, almost to the point of not being able to follow what was going on, and the frame rate held steadily even in this unfinished state.
The audio will, again, be pitch-perfect for fans of the series, thanks to the use of both the American and Japanese voice actors. Expect the special kind of rock music that only DBZ could roll with, as well as the standard clutch of familiar sound effects for the various blows and powers.
Fans of DBZ will most definitely be pleased with where Burst Limit is heading. The game is looking great, and the gameplay is solid. It may not be not as robust as what we saw on the latter games on the last-gen systems, but it's a good start for the series, especially with the inclusion of online play. Newcomers to the series may want to check it out because the fighting system is accessible and 3D fighters are pretty thin these days. Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit is set to ship this July for the PS3 and the Xbox 360.