Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z butchers the DBZ license. Studios have sought to replicate the spiky-haired heroics of Goku and pals for years, though none have come close, including developer Artdink. Even if the backwards menus, a broken camera, and feeble-minded AI could be excused, the basic controls and defective multiplayer cannot. Battle of Z introduces pathetic four-on-four battles while dumbing down combat to an insulting extent.
Half of the controller’s face buttons handle your ascent and descent in flight. The other two perform a solitary kick-punch combo and fire energy blasts. The shoulder buttons modify these attacks some, letting characters unleash powerful finishers – Goku’s Kamehameha, Vegeta’s Final Flash, Piccolo’s Special Beam Cannon – once they gain enough stamina.
Injuring adversaries boosts a brawler’s energy, but players must contend with another antagonist: the lock-on camera. Enemies bolt around battlefields – almost teleporting – disorienting the camera as it fails to keep up. No points for effort here. If another fighter enters your line of sight, the lock-on swaps targets, because of course you want to ignore opponents ambushing you in favor of challengers fleeing from harm. Those with motion sickness should stay away.
Some fights pit you against larger bosses, like Vegeta's Great Ape form, but their methods of defeat (take out the arms, legs, and head) remain unchanged.
Fans should also keep their distance. Battle of Z’s campaign is devoid of backstory. Why did Vegeta invade Earth? Who killed Krillin? How did Goku become a Super Saiyan? Who are the Androids? Cell? Majin Buu? The "narrative" strings together repetitive skirmishes that demean the anime's over-the-top spirit. Although most of the story arcs aired two decades ago, who could forget future Trunks slicing mecha Frieza into confetti, or Buu blowing up the goddamn planet? Where is the insanity, Artdink?
For all the talk about cooperation, conflicts may as well be one against four, too. To say the AI lacks intelligence would be grossly dishonest. Although the D-pad lets players issue orders to allies – to use special attacks or stay on the defensive – they do both poorly. Battle of Z limits the revives per match, and attackers annihilate teammates. When your partners run out of lives, if you quit nursing these cel-shaded nitwits for one second, you fail the mission. You can resurrect KO’d fighters should you reach them in time, yet they never return the blessing. Comrades regularly neglected my pleas when hovering inches away from my incapacitated body, costing us the win.
Support cards (unlocked after every mission) increase health, damage, and energy regen, but the AI squanders their benefits as well. To even access these buffs, players must wade through ill-designed menus. First, pick a mission and your fighters. Next, open the character info menu, not the character select screen. Then go to “customize” and equip your best cards. Just remember to verify changes or you will have to restart the whole process. With that mess sorted, the battle can start, as long as you confirm your confirmation.
Fighters cannot transform during battle. Each evolution is a different character.
Co-op at least attempts to streamline the confusion, since players babysit one protagonist, not four. Still, the monotonous conflicts remain. Gamers struggle through sixty soulless missions, bombarding opponents who display abilities you could only dream of – escaping unblockable attacks, for example. In response, my team and I exploited balance problems. Battle of Z’s roster contains four classes: the melee type, the ki blast (ranged) type, the support type, and the interference type. Because closing gaps between enemies takes a lifetime, and because projectiles stop aggressors in their tracks, we spammed ki blasts, chipping away at hostile health bars without care.
Multiplayer does without balance, too. Characters do not have equal stats – Super Saiyan 3 Goku possesses several thousand more HP than standard Goku – and teams can be comprised of clones. I got wrecked by four randoms, each utilizing Legendary Super Saiyan Broly. The match ended in the blink of an eye. Once someone perishes, the rest of the squad falls like dominos. And forget about stability. The busted netcode reduces frame rates to single digits unless multiple players quit.
There is one upside. The lack of Kinect support is a positive, but how far must a video game sink for critics to commend what it lacks instead of what it presents? The visuals look shabby alongside CyberConnect2’s work on the Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm series, and if I wanted to hear Dragon Ball Z’s original voice actors for old time’s sake, I would rewatch the show. If Battle of Z meant to reel in fans and newcomers, Artdink needs tastier bait.
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Release Date: January 28, 2014
Number of Players: 1-4 (Campaign), 2-8 (Multiplayer)
Platforms: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PlayStation 3, PS Vita