I want to make one thing immediately clear, I am not a game reviewer who automatically discounts a game because it is based on the Dragon Ball Z universe. In fact I’m a huge fan of Dragon Ball, I own the entire unedited series on DVD. Heck, as bad as it is I even own the entire Dragon Ball GT series on DVD. So whenever I review a Dragon Ball game I go into it with an understanding and love of the source material. With that said, Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi is without a doubt the most disappointing Dragon Ball game I have ever played. Saying that I have played it is a stretch too, not because I didn’t put several hours into the game, but because the gameplay is so repetitive and shallow that the game almost plays itself. Which maybe I could have looked past. But to add insult to injury the developers decided that it would be a good idea to add quicktime events to the boss battles that require ridiculously fast button pressing.
It’s So Pretty
Before I get to everything that is wrong with Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi, I might as well tell you about the game’s strongest feature, the graphics. This is without a doubt the best looking Dragon Ball game to date. The characters are all modeled in 3D and look exactly how you would expect them to look, most of the time they actually have more detail than they do in the animated series. The backgrounds are also really impressive, packing in way more detail than was ever present in the TV show, but at the same time keeping all of the important scenes recognizable. The game also uses a lot of the animated scenes from the television show throughout the main storyline. What’s impressive about this is that somehow the developers remastered them so they look even crisper than my DVD versions. When all of these aspects combine you have the absolute best looking DBZ game on the market. It’s too bad a video game is meant to be more than simple eye candy.
Where’s The Gameplay?
Like most Dragon Ball games, Dragon Ball Z Ultimate Tenkaichi is a fighting game and shortly after you get over how great the game looks you will realize that it isn’t a good fighter. The reason is that the fighting engine doesn’t offer any variety. Literally every single battle (with the exception of certain boss fights, more on that later) boils down to closing in on the enemy, hitting the square or triangle button, then winning a 50/50 chance button press event. If you win the 50/50 guess the game goes into what is essentially an automatic attack mode that looks really cool, but leaves the gamer scratching his butt. Once the sequence ends you simply have to rinse and repeat to beat just about any character in the game.
Like I said earlier, boss battles are different. These rely on quicktime events. The first boss you will face is Vegeta in his giant ape form. Press the buttons in the right order and you will be treated to a visually stunning in game sequence of Goku doing his best to damage Vegeta. Eventually you will get to a point that requires you to hit the same button repeatedly, the kind where you have to hammer on your controller as fast as possible with failure resulting in you having to restart the entire battle. Now maybe I’m getting old and my reflexes aren’t what they used to be. But I have been playing video games for almost 30 years now and I swear that I have never come across quicktime events as brutally difficult as the ones in this game can be. Beating them will be impossible for some gamers without resorting to turbo buttons. It’s odd too because it seems like some sequences are easier than others, almost as if the number of times you have to hammer on the button varies depending on the some unknown factor. Even if you have the speed to beat these sequences shouldn’t we expect more out of a modern video game?
If you can somehow manage to beat the quicktime boss fights then you will be treated to a healthy dose of the DBZ saga. The main story mode starts with Bardock discovering Frieza’s plan to destroy planet Vegeta and then moves into the Saiyan Saga, moving from there through the Frieza, Cell and Buu sagas. The key fights from the show are thrown in, with some notable cuts being made. The story itself is told through a mix of in game cutscenes, remastered clips from the animated series, as well as plain old scrolling text. If you aren’t familiar with Dragon Ball cannon then this game will no doubt leave you scratching your head more often than not, as a lot of the details are cut out. But series veterans should be able to look past everything that is absent and enjoy the storyline.
Create a Character Alternate Universe
In a new twist for a DBZ game, Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi features a second all new storyline with the create a character mode. This mode allows you to create your own character from scratch with an assortment of different character model options. Once you create your fighter you are placed in an alternate universe with its own DBZ storyline. This one has familiar faces, but gives fan service to Dragon Ball GT by throwing in Omega Shenron as a notable character. Another cool aspect about this mode is that your character levels up and progresses the more he fights. So if you run into a fight you can’t win you can wander around the overworld map looking for lesser fights to level up with. Still, this mode has the same fighting engine as the story mode, so the experience is marred by a lackluster fighting engine.
Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi does have local and online multiplayer options. You can setup online and local tournaments or participate in one time matches against other people. My online experience was less than stellar due to constant disconnects during matches. I don’t know if this is a server problem or some other technical difficulty, so your mileage may vary. Still at the end of the day, matches against human opponents aren’t that great due to the poor fighting engine.
DBZ Ultimate Disappointment
Having covered this game since it was announced I was really hoping to find a great DBZ game. After all, the graphics look great and the presentation during the fight scenes is top notch. The problem is that the actual gameplay is so bad that I can’t recommend Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi to even the most hard core of DBZ fans. You know it’s bad when one simple strategy will allow you to defeat every single enemy, until you are stopped flat by a quick time event. You try pressing the square button 15 times in one second and tell me if you can do it. I know I can, but that doesn’t mean I want to. I love you Goku but Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi is the Yamcha of DBZ games.