By the time you've played through the first two levels in Dragon Ball: Advanced Adventure, you'll be convinced that it's just another generic side-scroller slapped together to take advantage of the nostalgia that fans have for the animated series. Give it a few more levels, though, and your opinion will change. Once the game hits its stride, you'll realize that this isn't a quickie cash-in after all. It's actually a slickly produced, hectic action game that faithfully replicates key aspects of the license it's based on.
Advanced Adventure ambitiously distills the entire 153-episode run of the original Dragon Ball series into 15 side-scrolling levels. Every important event in Goku's childhood is covered, from his first meetings with Bulma and Master Roshi, to his conquest of the Red Ribbon army, up through the aftermath of his first encounter with King Piccolo. Dozens of characters made appearances in the show throughout the years. Somehow, the developers have managed to cram most of them into this game, either as actors in cutscenes or as one of the many bosses Goku must fight in his never-ending quest to gather the seven dragon balls.
To say that the story mode gets off on the wrong foot would be an understatement. The first level is a plain jungle path filled with generic monsters that seems to go on forever. To make matters worse, you initially only have access to Goku's basic punches and kicks. The next level sends Goku into the sky atop the flying nimbus, which would be sweet, except that there are only a few blue lizards and a single shape-shifting boss to fight.
Thankfully, as you play through each subsequent level, the game gets better and better. Later levels introduce platforming sections, multiple paths, and secret rooms. Fans of the show will recognize the many enemies populating each level. Most levels have a boss at the end, in the form of one of Piccolo's underlings or some large contraption developed by the Red Ribbon army. New combination attacks, stick attacks, and spirit attacks are added to Goku's repertoire as you collect the various items situated within each level. Airborne flying nimbus levels and one-on-one matches are interspersed between the standard levels. The nimbus levels are mainly for show, and the outcome of one-on-one matches generally depends on who attacks first, but both are welcome diversions from the standard beat-'em-up levels. There are even a couple of minigames.
As the inclusion of the nimbus levels attests, this isn't just another quickie cash-in developed to siphon money out of fans' wallets. While going through the game, you get the impression that great care went into making it jibe with Toriyama's vision. All of the various environments are colorful and resemble locations from the show. Cutscenes feature large character portraits based on Toriyama's original artwork. Much of the in-game music is music that was used in the show. Fans will appreciate the voice clips that were recorded for each character's spirit attacks and victory cry. Also, just in general, the game puts the Game Boy Advance's horsepower to good use. Scrolling background layers add a sense of depth to the backdrops and afford some impressive cloud effects in the nimbus levels. Many times throughout each level, the screen will be filled with enemies, bullets, and missiles. Some bosses are also roughly as tall as the screen is. The character sprites are rather small, but they're intricately detailed and animated. Goku transitions from one attack to the next seamlessly, and enemies make contorted faces when they're hit.
Like any side-scroller, Dragon Ball: Advanced Adventure isn't going to occupy weeks of your time. In fact, you'll probably beat it the first time through in two hours or so. That's not so different from the majority of license-based games. What is different, however, is how many incentives the game provides for playing through the story mode multiple times. When you finish the game the first time, you'll unlock a variation of the story mode that introduces collectible items, and you'll gain the ability to play through the game with Goku's buddy, Krillin. Items picked up in the story mode will add additional playable characters to the story mode and to the stand-alone one-on-one mode. There are more than 20 characters to unlock, each with unique moves and animations. These incentives are great and will probably triple or quadruple the play time that most people get out of the game. It's just too bad that there isn't a linked cooperative mode. You can play the one-on-one mode against a friend, but that's nowhere near as fun as it would be to tag-team the main quest.
Dragon Ball fans should definitely pick this game up, and non-fans should at least consider doing so. Dragon Ball: Advanced Adventure is a fun, diverse action game that does the license proud.