"Long in the Tooth"
Sometimes stories become so popular and so memorable that they endure in merchandising long after their end. In the West, Star Wars continues to be a staple of department stores everywhere, despite the main trilogy having ended nearly three decades ago. And in the East, there's Dragon Ball, the most memorable creation of Akira Toriyama and a continuing influence on manga artists everywhere. But this timelessness does not extend to its adaptations, which need to offer a unique take in order to succeed on their own merits. In the case of Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi, this take is the same derivative fighting game we've seen from many years ago.
Like the Budokai Tenkaichi games from the last generation of gaming, Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi is a fighting game based on flash over technique. The moves are fairly easy to pull off, but the stage is larger than most fighting games, with characters able to fly in three dimensions and use ranged attacks as well as fisticuffs. In traditional Dragon Ball fashion, characters have extremely over-the-top special moves that shoot enough mystical energy to power the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, though building up this level of power takes time that an opponent can exploit. This adds a nice tactical element, requiring players to know when to charge up a special move of extreme destructive force, and when to stay on their toes and stick to lighter, briefer attacks.
Unfortunately, in the midst of this flash is a lack of substance. While these epic battles of energy-shooting, crazy-haired musclemen progress on screen, the actual gameplay found in DBZ: Ultimate Tenkaichi is limited. During the close-quarters fights, player input is limited to pushing the right button at the right time for a counter-attack, reducing the gameplay to the level of "Simon Says". The characters may be visually diverse, but in the field they operate almost identically. Despite its elaborate moves and three-dimensional field, success in Tenkaichi boils down to mashing buttons at the right moment.
This formula has proven successful in the past, when the Tenkaichi fighting games proliferated on the PlayStation 2 and the GameCube. Unfortunately, the series' revival on the current generation of consoles hasn't shown much progress. The series doesn't take advantage of the enhanced processing power of the PS3 and the Xbox 360, and while the look is faithful to the Dragon Ball Z manga and anime, it's extremely simplistic by modern standards. If this were an HD remake of the previous Tenkaichi titles, this would be forgivable, but this is a brand new game, and it's still telling the same story with the same moves, when the rest of the video game industry has moved on.
Fans of previous Dragon Ball Z: Tenkaichi games will likely want to play the new version, and they will appreciate even the little improvements like the create-a-character mode (where players train and tweak their own anime hero in an RPG-style fashion). However, the hardcore fans will likely buy Dragon Ball games with little regard for their actual quality. Everyone else need not bother with this shallow fighting game, which hides a rudimentary button-mashing design behind the nostalgia so many have for Toriyama's most famous work.
GameDynamo's Score for Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi (PS3)
Neil Kapit is a freelance writer, cartoonist, and "La Li Lu Le Lo" agent based in Los Angeles. His work can be seen on www.therubynation.com.
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