Dragon Ball Z: Shin Budokai Preview

We get an exclusive look at Atari's upcoming PSP fighter.

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Atari's run with the Dragon Ball Z license has found its stride with the series of 3D fighters on the PlayStation and GameCube. The series, which began in 1989 in Japan and 1996 in the US, has enjoyed a successful run that's seen it through epic story arcs that have followed the adventures of superhuman powerhouse Goku. The games have been a smart blend of accessible fighting, cool art, authentic voice, and a host of familiar faces from the DBZ universe. Atari and developer Dimp's are aiming to bring the experience to PSP owners with the upcoming Dragon Ball Z: Shin Budokai. We got an exclusive look at a work-in-progress version of the game, which is shaping up to be an eye-catching debut on Sony's portable system.

Dragon Ball Z: Shin Budokai's plot is drawn from the upcoming DBZ film, Fusion Reborn.
Dragon Ball Z: Shin Budokai's plot is drawn from the upcoming DBZ film, Fusion Reborn.

As with the previous DBZ games, Shin Budokai will draw from specific story arcs from the long-running series. In this case, the game will draw material from the upcoming feature film Dragon Ball Z: Fusion Reborn, which follows Goku's attempts to deal with a threat to the universe that will require him to buff up his already impressive skills. As a result, you'll find a game roster that includes a mix of classic and more-recent additions to the mythos. Besides Goku, you'll be able to choose Teen Gohan, Gohan, Vegeta, Trunks, Krillin, Piccolo, Frieza, Android #18, Cell, Kid Buu, Cooler, Broly, Gotenks, and Pikkon initially. As you progress through the game you'll unlock some fighters as well. Each character will come with their own set of unique moves and special attacks that you'll need to master in order to kick butt effectively.

You'll have ample opportunity to do so in the game's four modes, dragon road, arcade, Z trial, and network battle, most of which should be familiar to anyone who's played the console games. Dragon road is the game's story mode and will send you through a series of fights broken up into assorted unlockable chapters based on the action in the Fusion Reborn film. Arcade is a stripped-down fighting mode that eschews the story trimmings and just sends you into battle against CPU opponents. Z trial is essentially a challenge-style mode with two variations, survival or time attack. Finally, the network battle mode is an ad hoc Wi-Fi mode that lets you take on a friend. In addition to these four game modes, you'll find a training mode that lets you practice on a CPU foe whose fighting style you can customize.

Combat in the game's various modes will yield currency in the form of zenie, which you can use in the game's shop. Unlike the console games, Shin Budokai's shop won't stock capsules that contain new, equippable moves for you fighters. The shop will instead contain items you can use on your profile card, a virtual calling card you can trick out using the items you purchase. The items will vary in size, and some will be backgrounds for your card, while others will be decals you can use to decorate the main background image. The game will feature an editor to let you assemble your various items together into a unique card. Your card will hold your battle data and can be shared with friends for bragging rights.

As far as the fighting mechanics and control go, Shin Budokai leans more towards the system seen in the third console game and does away with the awkward camera angles of last years DBZ: Tenkaichi. You'll have the same core attacks as in previous games: rush attack on the square button, smash attack on the triangle, and ki attack on circle. You'll block with the X button, charge your ki with the left shoulder button, and trigger your aura burst with the right trigger.

Battles start on the ground and usually end up in the sky.
Battles start on the ground and usually end up in the sky.

Overall, the various modes play well and offer a good level of challenge. The dragon road, although linear, does offer some path branching for variety. Completionists will be happy to hear you can go back and take the alternate routes if want to make sure you take on everyone. The Wi-Fi multiplayer is a little bare-bones, although we're happy to see it included. The inclusion of stat tracking is a nice touch, but we'd obviously like to have seen more fighting modes for it to track.

The presentation in the game mirrors the look and sound of its console cousins. The graphics come impressively close to the console games thanks to a sharp, cel-shaded look. The roster of fighters is lovingly re-created in convincing 3D, with each character bearing a slick resemblance to its anime counterpart. The environments are on par with the level of quality seen in the characters and feature elements such as falling snow to help give them a unique look. Albeit a bit thin, the audio in the game is nicely done, making use of the anime's voice cast. You'll hear the traditional mix of familiar themes and original music in the game. However, the biggest omission in the game's audio is the lack of narration during the story mode. It's hardly a big deal, but it's noticeable by its absence. However, one nice audio touch is the ability to switch to the Japanese voice, which should please DBZ purists.

Based on what we played so far, Dragon Ball Z: Shin Budokai is looking like a solid game worth checking out. You'll find an engaging array of modes, cool visuals, and solid sound in the package. Fans should also enjoy the story content of the game, which is tied to the upcoming DBZ theatrical release Dragon Ball Z Returns. The online play, while a welcome touch, left us hungering for more to do. Overall, Dragon Ball Z: Shin Budokai is an engaging game that's looking sharp on the PSP; any fans of the console fighters should pick it up, and new fans will want to check in to see what all the fuss is about. Look for more on Dragon Ball Z: Shin Budokai when our full review hits later this month.

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