Recently, we got some hands-on time with the latest offering in the Dragon Ball Z game franchise--Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3--the third in the Budokai Tenkaichi series being published by Namco Bandai for the PlayStation 2.
Our last look at Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3 was at this year's Leipzig Games Convention, and while that taste focused largely around the playable character selection and controller gesturing for the Wii version of the game, this time around we'll be looking specifically at the gameplay, some of the characters, and what they can do.
Atari Australia also tells us that Tenkaichi 3 will be the last instalment on the PlayStation 2 platform, and as a result rolls all the features of the previous games into "one ultimate DBZ fighting package".
So what can Dragon Ball fans look forward to in this version? Plenty from the looks of it, with over 40 hours of gameplay, 10 game modes that relive the original Dragon Ball saga, and original Japanese voiceover work. Developer Spike has also thrown in more than 90 unique characters for a total of over 150 forms, playable on more than 20 battle stages. Unfortunately, since our preview code was a work in progress, we were limited to a handful of each.
The game's opening cinematic, character models, and environments look great on the aging PlayStation 2 hardware. A lot of work has obviously gone into the game's creative assets, leaving the cel-shaded art style and lighting effects looking fresh and crisp. Outdoor grassy environments are lush and green, while desert areas are sparse and rock laden. Audio hasn't been skipped in the process, with our copy offering 21 battle-themed tracks with names like "Caution!", "Shootout in Meteor", "High and Scream", and "Heat Capacity".
Our playable character list consisted of: Goku, Piccolo, Nail, Goku (GT), Vegeta (Second Form), Future Gohan, King Vegeta, King Cold, Babidi, Demon King Dabura, Kid Buu, Android 13, Broly, Bojack, Nuova Shenron, and Spopovich. Once you've selected your base character, there's an additional level of customisation, with Goku available in GT, GT Super Saiyan, GT Super Saiyan 3, GT Super Saiyan 4, or Gogeta form following the various series and movies. Not all characters had forms in our code, although they may appear in a later build, or as unlockable characters through the story mode. Character models also offer between one and four colour variations, so you'll be able to tell who's who in two-player battle.
Even with all the story modes, Budokai Tenkaichi 3 and indeed the Dragon Ball Z that spawned it is obviously rooted in fighting, so how does it handle? Fans of the series shouldn't encounter any major surprises picking this one up, and all the frantic mid-air thrashing you've come to love is still here. Fifty-hit combos are par for the course, but there's plenty of other ways to dispatch your enemy, and using the skills list menu, you can plot out and learn your special attack, signature and rushing techniques, and their associated button presses.
This is one for the button mashers, even if you can't string together advanced combos, you'll have fun with Tenkaichi 3 by repeatedly pressing the square button to punch when your target is in range. Pressing X will make your player dash towards your opponent--useful for after you've dealt a devastating knock back blow and want to get another one in. Triangle fires your ranged weapon, dealing a moderate amount of damage, but using up your energy which you'll want to save for combos. Holding and releasing either the melee or ranged attack buttons will charge up a more powerful attack. R1 and the right shoulder trigger are assigned to flying, and will make your character either zoom into the air or descend back to earth.
Auto lock makes a return in this game, and so far seems to be plagued by the same issues found in Tenkaichi 2. Once players leave your field of vision, usually by flying above you, although still locked on, you won't know where they are without either backing off or flying to meet them.
Vertical split-screen multiplayer too is back in Tenkaichi 3, and unfortunately even on a large television set simply doesn't offer enough visual context per player with the locked shoulder camera. With such expansive environments, we understand why they've done it this way, but the problem is only compounded further by the height field of vision issue.
The game still has development time before it ships in November this year, and we're hoping that what has been such a solid series until now can go out with a bang with a few minor tweaks.