Dragon Ball Z: Shin Budokai 2
Well, here's the thing, short and sweet, are you a Dragon Ball Z fan in any way? If you answered 'No' then you can move along, there's really nothing in this thoroughly average fighter to interest you, in fact the Dragon Ball Z licence and all the daft hokum that entails is probably enough to put you off on its own. However, if you answered 'Yes' then it's instantly not just any middle of the road beat-em-up, it's a middle of the road beat-em-up covered with enough DBZ bits and bobs to sink a large ship, which is probably enough for you to blindly ignore the negative parts of that description altogether and rush out to buy it.
Dragon Ball Z (along with the earlier Dragon Ball GT) comes from the long tradition of taking Japanese children's anime and re-dubbing it for a western audience that's been going on for years, from shows like Battle of the Planets, The Mysterious Cities of Gold and Hercules 31 (now that was a theme tune) etc., that hold a special place in the hearts of many a child of the 80's like myself to more recent fare like the cult of Pokemon and its menagerie of imitators that continue to ensnare school children the world over with their 'Gotta catch em all!' mentality. Based around the story of Goku and the Z Warriors, the Dragon Ball Z series has spawned over two hundred and ninety episodes not to mention another thirteen movies and even a few TV specials to boot. With such success games are a natural extension of the franchise and with over fifty having been released across the world to date they must be doing something right. Somewhere.
This latest release, Dragon Ball Z: Shin Budokai 2 on the PSP sits itself firmly in the beat-em-up genre offering gamers the chance to fight as any one of a long list of regular characters both good and evil each with their own signature energy attacks as well as more conventional moves. Unfortunately, such choice is rendered a tad pointless when you soon discover each fighter handles largely the same, making it a case of learn one and you've leant them all which doesn't exactly aid longevity. The gameplay modes are pretty much what you'd expect from a beat-em-up these days with a traditional arcade mode as well as survival, time trial, and challenge modes. There's even Ad-hoc wireless two-player as well, however clearly Infrastructure was too much to hope for again. The most interesting mode for fans however will be the single player story; this takes the fairly unusual step of offering a hypothetical 'what if' scenario to the player rather than fitting in with the existing continuity of the series. Set in a version of the world where series hero Goku died from a heart condition (bleak or what....) leaving the amusingly named Trunks as the only fighter able to protect mankind from the approaching evil the story makes no bones about expecting more than a degree of familiarity with proceedings making no attempt at all to bring newcomers up to speed. The adventure itself plays over a series of bouts interspersed with increasingly convoluted and bizarre narrative twists and turns. In a nice touch your performance regularly causes the story to branch off and take a different path which at least gives the feeling of having some control on events. All the possible branches are shown on a large storyboard which lets you see where your path could have taken you and allowing you to go back and play through the other branches if you want to see all there is to see.
I remain to be convinced about fighting games on the PSP generally, its fiddly analogue nub never seeming precise enough for the job and DBX does nothing to change that view. Credit where it's due, fights look lovely with brightly coloured well realised characters, impressive special effects and a smooth well thought out camera, but the action itself feels unresponsive and lacking in any real complexity making the whole thing feel rather un-engaging. In an attempt to beef things up with a level of customisation you're able to upgrade your characters abilities using cards that can be either won or bought from the in game shop as you progress through the game. These cards are then arranged on a three by three grid to provide the desired combination of health boosts, improved attack powers, etc. It's by no means the most complex system in the world but it does add a welcome degree of strategy to things and has a noticeable effect when back in the heat of battle.
There's not a huge amount left to say about Dragon Ball Z: Shin Budokai 2, it's an average at best fighting game hiding behind a love or hate it licence marketed firmly at children. If you're a fan of the series, or young enough to be able to buy into the madcap nonsense that passes for a story, then the rest of the game is competent enough to pass the time for a while but it lacks any real depth and despite looking nice is let down by overly simplistic controls. However, if you're not one of those people then there's simply not a good enough game underneath the overpowering silliness of it all to make it worth gritting your teeth through.