After over a decade of poorly realized Dragon Ball Z fighting games, Atari and little-known developer DIMPS surprised many people in 2002 when it released Dragon Ball Z: Budokai for the PlayStation 2. Amazingly, it wasn't half bad. Atari churned out a sequel a year later, and though it made some improvements to the graphics, the single-player game wasn't nearly as compelling and the package suffered for it. Now, a full year after it appeared on the PlayStation 2, Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 2 has arrived for the GameCube. A few modest improvements have been made in porting Budokai 2 to the GameCube, but the game just feels late, and a little irrelevant.
Like the original, Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 2 is a simple, straightforward fighting game that values accessibility over depth. The crown jewel of the original was a fun, fast-paced story mode that reenacted many of the most memorable moments from DBZ, and the absence of such a mode in Budokai 2 is its biggest flaw. In place of Budokai's story mode, Budokai 2 features the new dragon world mode, which is essentially a board game where you control a team of Dragon Ball Z heroes as they move around on a series of maps while fighting bad guys and collecting dragon balls. The story for the dragon world mode takes some liberties with the Dragon Ball Z continuity by fashioning a tale that has many of the series' different villains teaming up to collect the dragon balls. Unfortunately, after a few levels the overlying story just sort of derails. The fundamental problem with the dragon world mode is that there's really no point to it. Your sole objective, on most maps, is to find the bad guys and fight them; however, the board game format doesn't bring a lot of strategy to the table. Also, in most cases you have to fight the same enemy several times before he is permanently vanquished, which just isn't any fun.
Unfortunately, if you want to get the most out of Budokai 2's multiplayer game, you really need to play through the dragon world mode, as it's the only way to unlock many of the game's characters and stages. Beyond the dragon world mode, Budokai 2 offers a duel mode (where you can fight against the CPU or another player in a one-off match), a single-player, ladder-style world tournament mode, and a training mode. Whether you're already familiar with Budokai or not, the training mode is worth going through, as it explains the mechanics that are new to Budokai 2 and explains those that make the series different from other 3D fighters.
The fighting system in Budokai 2 isn't too different from the original, though it does add a few new bells and whistles. The game still plays like a stripped-down 3D fighter, with basic punch, kick, and energy attacks that can be strung together for more-powerful combos. Players can't actually jump, but there are certain attacks that will launch your opponent into the air, at which point you can fly up to him or her and continue your battle in the sky. If you and your opponent both try to attack each other at the same time (with certain moves), you'll enter burst mode. Here, both characters unleash a flurry of punches and kicks, and mashing buttons is the only way to come out on top. The most significant addition that Budokai 2 makes to the fighting system is the fusion technique, which allows you to merge your fighter with another for a short period of time while in midfight, thus greatly increasing your power. While the fusion technique is definitely a nice touch, the game still lacks any sort of power-struggle mechanic, which is where players try to overpower one another by using huge beams of energy.
Budokai 2 really outdoes its predecessor in the graphics department. Budokai had a fairly cartoony look to it, but Budokai 2 ups the ante by rendering all the characters with a cel-shading effect. Though it's not the greatest-looking cel-shading we've seen, it definitely works to the game's advantage by giving the characters even more of a hand-drawn feel. The character models appear slightly more detailed and display more-prominent creases in skin and cloth. A little bit of the glossy shine effect, which the characters took on in the latter parts of the series, is even apparent. The visuals aren't entirely new, though, and the game borrows a fair amount from its predecessor. Virtually all the in-game animations are reused from the first game, and many of the characters themselves share identical animations. The sound is also recycled from the original pretty liberally, and players of the first game will probably notice a lot of familiar music, menu sound effects, and voice clips. To its credit, though, the game does include a fair amount of new voice acting--all provided by the American voice actors from the Dragon Ball Z cartoon.
The first Budokai was total fan service, and, really, Budokai 2 isn't that radically different. However, it feels rushed and doesn't quite exude the same level of care that the first installment does. The omission of a story mode is Budokai 2's biggest misstep, and the dragon world mode simply isn't a suitable replacement. The improved visuals are nice, and some of the additions made to the fighting system are fun, but Budokai 2 is still underwhelming.