Though Atari seemed to have established a pretty comfortable rhythm with the first three Dragon Ball Z: Budokai fighting games, it chose to shake things up with last year's spin-off, Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi. It strayed from the conventional fighting game format in favor of a third-person perspective and more-free-roaming action, and the fighting felt a bit more technical, though not necessarily any deeper. Its newly released sequel does little to address the clunky, somewhat limited combat of the original, though a wealth of playable characters all but ensures that this game will get its hooks into fans eager to fight as their favorite Dragon Ball Z and Dragon Ball GT characters.
Like its predecessor, Tenkaichi 2 is a fighter that's played from a behind-the-back perspective. You're given the illusion of an open world, and most of the environments make good use of the 3D space with plenty of hills, valleys, bodies of water, and destructible environmental items, such as buildings and massive rock formations, to knock your opponent around. Attempts at exploration, though, are stopped short by massive webbed force fields that surround the battleground, making it apparent just how confined the environment really is. It can take a while for first-timers to adjust to the somewhat unconventional control scheme, but the action is pretty simple. You're given a button for up-close melee attacks, a button for ranged "ki" energy attacks, a charge button for restoring the energy needed for ki attacks, two dash moves for either closing or widening the distance between you and your opponent, and a block button, which, when used in the right context, can also instantly teleport you a small distance. Fighters will regularly get knocked high into the air during combat, and you can move up and down through the air with the press of a button.
To engage your opponents, you'll need to lock onto them, which is either done by a press of a button when they are within sight or will happen automatically when you're close enough. The whole lock-on system is still a source of frustration, since your camera and control perspectives are relative to your enemy's position, which can make for some unintuitive directional controls. Also, the camera still has problems dealing with the full 3D space, and if characters are right below or above you, it's impossible to see them. Fans will recognize some of the signatures of Dragon Ball Z combat in Tenkaichi 2, including quick fits of up-close melee attacks, massive energy wave attacks, and fighters being knocked great distances and through buildings and mountains. There are also plenty of character transformations and tag team battles, but needlessly convoluted controls hinder their usefulness. Though the number of unique special attacks for each character is limited, they're usually the ones you'd want to see. The problem is that you have access to many characters' most powerful abilities right out of the gate, and they're generally not that hard to pull off. Additionally, the controls to pull off these often-protracted, screen-filling assaults are basically the same for every character, and the combined result is some seriously repetitive gameplay.
Since the behind-the-back perspective means multiplayer has to be done via a less-than-ideal split-screen mode, you'll probably spend most of your time in Tenkaichi 2 playing against the computer, which is predictable and has a weakness to midranged combat. It doesn't take long to realize that all you need to do is knock your opponent a short distance, launch an energy attack, recharge while your opponent is immobile, and repeat. It's monotonous, especially since you end up watching the same canned special attack sequences several times over the course of a single fight. One thing that Tenkaichi 2 does address is the stifling difficulty of the original, though the challenge from fight to fight within each difficulty level can be wildly inconsistent. Though the action moves quickly, the controls can feel unwieldy on the PlayStation 2, something that's even more pronounced when the Wii's motion controls add a layer of abstraction. Rather than simply pressing buttons, you'll be shaking the Nunchuk and waving the Wii Remote around to pull off moves. It's not intuitive, and a lot of the controls are context sensitive not only to your opponent's position, but to where you have the Wii Remote pointed. The Wii version handles much more easily with the Classic Controller or with a standard GameCube controller, though the Dual Shock 2 still proves to be the best-suited controller for the action.
Ungainly gameplay will keep Tenkaichi 2 from appealing to those just looking for a good fight, but the sheer volume of fighters and content will likely satiate DBZ fans. There are dozens of playable characters from throughout the run of both Dragon Ball Z and Dragon Ball GT, including Goku look-alikes Bardock and Turles, minor DBZ players like Yajirobe, and powerful DBGT villains like Bebi Vegita, Broly, and Android #13. Most of these fighters must be unlocked in the game's adventure mode before they can be used in the separate tournament and duel modes. The adventure mode is long and chronicles basically the entire run of DBZ and DBGT. It's a surprisingly long-lasting mode, especially for a fighting game, but you have to slog through a lot of stuff that has already been covered in numerous other DBZ fighters before you get to see anything new. Though it's cool to see more obscure content like the stories from The Tree of Might and Lord Slug alongside the more predictable Saiyan, Freeza, Cell, and Buu sagas, the game does a poor job of telling the stories. While the actual fights move fast enough and are brimming with enough crazy energy attacks and hard-hitting melee action to make them fun to watch, little effort was put into the cutscenes used to drive the story. You'll notice a blockiness to the characters that's not apparent during a fight, especially around their hands. Though occasional efforts are made to re-create specific scenes from the anime, the cutscenes usually try to get by with the in-game animations, which look awkward in a dramatic context.
You'll often need to beat an opponent to advance the story, only to see that in the next story sequence, your characters have been thoroughly thrashed, a contradiction that creates a real disconnect between the action and the story. Worst of all, the game will often sum up story arcs with a little bit of text that describes the most exciting parts, rather than showing them. So, instead of getting to see Goku summon an incredible spirit bomb from the Tree of Might to destroy Turles, you get to read about it. The pacing of the story mode is further stifled by nearly constant load times. You'll wait 15 seconds to watch two characters exchange a line of dialogue, then wait another five seconds to load a character select screen, and then another 20 seconds before you get to fight. It could take you a good 20 hours to get through the whole adventure mode in Tenkaichi 2, but you'll likely grow bored with it before then. The voice actors in the game, who are mostly the same actors who voice the Funimation-dubbed US version of the anime, also seem pretty bored at this point, though it's tough to blame them after having to energetically spout lines like "This is the end for you, Freeza!" over and over again for the past 10 years. There's some catchy music thrown in there, but you end up hearing the same two or three upbeat tunes over and over again.
Save for the different control schemes and some marginally improved graphics on the Wii, there's not much difference between the two versions of Tenkaichi 2, and neither is easy to recommend. Those who were able to wade through the problems of the original will find a lot of content to play around with here, but this is a game that is simply not suitable for anyone else.