Building on the popularity of previous Dragon Ball Z fighting games like Budokai and Budokai Tenkaichi, Super Dragon Ball Z for the PlayStation 2 will make an appearance at this year's E3 conference in Los Angeles. We had an opportunity to get a hands-on taste of the game prior to the show at a press event, where we also talked to Ryo Mito of Namco Bandai, one of the producers of Super DBZ. According to Mito, the developers of Super Dragon Ball Z recognize that the fans of the series have aged somewhat since the first Budokai game was released almost four years ago. As such, the development team aims to make this new game appeal to slightly older players who may now have more sophisticated tastes in fighting games.
In an attempt to appeal to a more discerning audience, the development team has brought in Noritaka Funamizu, best known for his work producing the classic Street Fighter II games. The design sensibilities of Super Dragon Ball Z will try to reflect a more serious approach in hopes of attracting a more hardcore fighting game audience than the one that enjoyed the first Budokai games. Instead of seeing dozens of different playable characters that may not have varied too much, Super Dragon Ball Z will have 18 different playable characters. Each will have a unique style, with different combos and special abilities, as well as different ratings in areas like attack power, speed, and ki recharge. All characters will also have some level of customization, with the ability to learn two special moves from other characters.
The fighting arenas in Super DBZ are 3D and quite large, with cel-shaded characters that look just like their counterparts on the anime series. There are seven different arenas, ranging from a simple concrete platform surrounded by a wall to a lush meadow with trees. There's some destructibility to the environments, as you can smash your enemy into the ground or through walls, and as you'd expect from a DBZ game, you can jump into the air and continue your fights high above ground. This means there's an elevation element, so not only can you sidestep opponents' ranged attacks before charging at them, but you can also jump over those attacks, hit the dash button, and end up behind your enemy to start off a nice combo. The developers promise great depth to the combination system in Super DBZ, with the ability to cancel out of combos and start anew. We found that, much like Soul Calibur, you can still mash buttons and get some decently lengthy combos out, but actual knowledge of the systems will let you fare better in the long run.
Your ki meter will build as you land and take attacks, much like the alpha meter in the Street Fighter Alpha games or similar mechanics in many other fighting games. As you build this meter, you can unleash special attacks. A separate action meter at the bottom governs your usage of movement abilities like jumping high in the air, dashing, or sidestepping. The smaller characters in the game can make liberal use of these abilities, but the larger, stronger characters aren't as nimble and make less-efficient use of this meter.
It remains to be seen how the changes to the DBZ fighting game formula will go over with the established audience for these games, as well as with the more serious fighting game players. Perhaps we'll get a better idea when Atari showcases the game at E3 this year. But in any case, Super Dragon Ball Z will ship for the PS2 in North America this July.