Infogrames must surely realize that it has a Pokémon-caliber property in Dragon Ball Z. This makes it quite surprising that it has taken us this long to see the first actual fruits of it. In any event, we have a preview build of Dragon Ball Z: The Legacy of Goku for the Game Boy Advance, and we've been playing quite a bit of it. As you'd expect, the game is quite faithful to the series' mythology, and it incorporates a number of characters, settings, and conventions that will strike a chord in the hearts of devoted fans. The game itself is a Zelda-style action RPG, complete with a fairly robust character development system that allows your character to increase in both physical and spiritual power and learn all sorts of mystical attacks. Everything is drawn in a colorful style that is quite faithful to the look of the series, and for the most part, the game is pleasant to immerse yourself in.
The game begins with Goku and his son Gohan visiting Master Roshi and company at Roshi's beachfront Kame House. After some catching up, though, things get a little hairy. The evil Saiyan Raditz appears on the scene, and, in an effort to coerce Goku into wreaking havoc upon the world (Goku's birthright as a Saiyan, according to Raditz), he kidnaps Gohan. Goku's longtime enemy Piccolo subsequently materializes and offers him the opportunity to team up and defeat Raditz. Given the circumstances, Goku agrees. Goku then rushes away on his faithful cloud, Nimbus, and begins his search.
The gameplay that follows this will be familiar to anyone who has played classic action RPGs in the vein of Zelda, Crystalis, and Secret of Mana. You traverse a huge colorful world from a top-down perspective, and you interact with--and, if the situation warrants, battle--whatever you may come across. Dragon Ball Z's actual environments are quite large and very organically arranged, and there are no discernable transitions, except when the tilesets for entirely new areas are loaded. The early sequences will place you in the area surrounding Goku's home, which, when all is considered, is quite expansive. Though you won't get much in the way of guidance, your job is to explore these environments in search of Raditz and Gohan. Though you'll eventually stumble upon the right path, the lack of any real clues or an auto-map feature makes it needlessly difficult to get on track. Hopefully, something of the sort will be implemented into the final game, as it would make the transitions between sequences that much more smooth and eliminate the rudderless feeling you'll surely get otherwise. As you explore environments, at any rate, you'll often meet characters on the field who provide you with opportunities to perform minor fetch quests, all of which are logged for you in the game's interface for easy reference. Completing these small quests will grant often grant you a small reward, as well as the personal satisfaction that comes from helping someone in need.
To help you pass the time as you explore these largish environments, you'll come across a wide variety of creatures. At first, you'll be fighting some fairly unimpressive foes, such as crabs, dogs, and lizards. As you progress through the game, though, you'll take on other, more formidable foes--larger beasts, and even hostile bipedal entities. You'll be fighting quite frequently, and issuing attacks is as simple as hitting one of the GBA's face buttons--one will cause you to punch enemies, the other will allow you to execute one of Goku's special attacks, the default being his classic kamehameha fireball. You can flip through special attacks with the select button, and using each one depletes your ki. Your ki will gradually regenerate, though, so you'll basically have license to bombard enemies at your leisure. At any rate, holding down on the button will allow you to charge your fireball, which makes it cause more damage, though it doesn't alter it aesthetically in any way. These sorts of projectiles, at this point, seem to be your most effective attacks, as the game's hit-detection system seems a bit off. As it stands, it's pretty hard to line up for an effective hand-to-hand attack with an enemy. Perhaps this is due to the fact that you're basically attacking with your hands, but nevertheless, it's often more more difficult than it should be to determine whether or not you're actually hitting an enemy. The only indication that you've done so successfully is seeing the defeated enemy actually slump to the ground, unconscious. Hopefully, these elements will be tweaked before release. Goku can also fly, though not for extended periods of time. Hitting the R button will allow you to zoom into the air for a few seconds, which allows you to access tall ledges. Though you can't stay in the air for too long, areas in which you'll have to do lots of flying will have wing icons scattered throughout them, which recharge your flight powers for another run. Some ledges will be lined with jagged spikes, though, so you have to be careful to only zoom on to smooth ones.
Aesthetically, the game does look quite nice, especially as far as the characters are concerned. They're all immediately recognizable, despite being drawn as 16-bit-style superdeformed sprites. They also animate quite endearingly. The actual environments look decent for the most part, though some tilesets seem to have been more lovingly drawn than others. The "town" environments you'll come across look remarkable, with nice full-looking buildings and pleasant environmental features. The "field" environments are a bit less consistent, though. Some of their elements--such as trees and larger rock structures--are very nicely detailed, while others are notably less so. One thing that is very cool, though, are the environmental creatures you'll see throughout the environments--tiny snakes will crawl around the forests, and squirrels will hop about the town areas. The effect is quite cool, and it really makes the environments feel alive and busy.
Overall, Dragon Ball Z: The Legacy of Goku looks like it will definitely please fans of the series. It remains quite faithful to the series' well-established mythology, and it manages to creatively incorporate many of its unique elements. We sincerely hope that the gameplay kinks it currently contains aren't indicative of what the final game will be like. We'll have more for you as soon as we receive an update.