As I've said previously, I make it a point not to accept game review assignments for games based on licenses of which I'm unfamiliar. I nearly turned down Atari's new Super Dragon Ball Z for the Sony PlayStation 2 because of that very reason as, admittedly, I don't know a thing about Dragon Ball Z. I can't tell a Goku from a Gohan. However, one thing persuaded me to take this one on after all, as the design team behind the game are responsible for a little fighting game you may have heard of: Street Fighter II. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see how the old Street Fighter team is evolving the fighting game for modern times, so I eagerly leapt into the world of Super Dragon Ball Z.
Super Dragon Ball Z is a hell of a fighting game. It's a 3D fighter in which characters from the series spar in environments filled with demolishable obstacles. Is there a wall between you and your rival? Kick the wall to bits. Stone column in your way? Punch it apart. Better yet, knock the opponent into it, thereby causing bits of brick and stone to crack and crumble on impact. The controls are a simplified variation on the old "three kinds of punch and three kinds of kick" scheme in that there's only a single punch button and a single kick button. Add to that a dedicated jump button (or levitate button, as the case may be), a dedicated block button, and a few shoulder buttons for use in pulling off quickie special moves and combos.
Some special moves will feel familiar in that they use either the same control sequences (or very close variations thereof) of classic Street Fighter II controls. Basically, this means that if you're a Street Fighter veteran, you already know how to pull off most of Dragon Ball's special moves (just what those moves actually do, however, is left for your discovery). Expect to see fireball-type energy attacks, amazing flying kicks, and the occasional slam attack that knocks opponents off of the current battle level and down to another level.
Once again, Super Dragon Ball Z is a hell of a fighting game. There are several modes of play available including most of the basics you'd expect to find in a fighting title: an arcade mode in which players take on rival after rival on the way to the top of the food chain, a survival mode that limits players to multiple encounters with only a single life bar, a versus mode to challenge a friend, and so on. What makes Dragon Ball stand out is a mode in which players can build their own custom characters. Just pick a stock Dragon Ball character, give him or her a unique name, and start fighting. Each victory will earn special experience-like points that can be used to upgrade a character's abilties. Want a more effective punch? How about a killer kick? Apply those points to the custom character and build a warrior that specializes in your own playing strengths. Over time comes the chance to earn Dragon Balls which eventually leads to wishes for (and access to) all kinds of additional unlockable features.
So, with all that said, is Super Dragon Ball Z fun? I'd imagine I'd get more out of the game if I knew just what was going on with all the Dragon Ballery, but even in my ignorance I've enjoyed the game. It doesn't take very long to slog through the arcade mode, but the idea here isn't just to clear a single mode one time and call it a day. The challenge and longevity comes from building a custom character and unlocking everything that the game has to offer. I recommend Super Dragon Ball Z especially for those of you out there who are ardent fans of the series, and for the rest of us it's certainly a solid title worth your time and enjoyment.