Let me take you back to the Super Famicom days in 1990s Japanâ€¦
For many years, Dragon Ball Z games were notorious for being, well, horrible. Thankfully, most of those games were never released outside of their homeland. Then Infogrames (now Atari) acquired the rights to create their own games for other markets, starting with the North American release of Budokai and Legacy of Goku in the past few years. Although these games werenâ€™t fantastic, they were still a giant leap in quality over previous attempts to turn the beloved anime series into games. Dragon Ball Z: Taiketsu is the first American-produced game in the series to markedly reverse that trend.
Taiketsu is the first DBZ fighting game for the GBA. It looks and plays not unlike the original Mortal Kombat game, now over a decade old. Unfortunately, it imitates the grainy digitized graphics and jerky controls of Mortal Kombat while failing to offer any features as interesting as Fatalities or arena over-kills. Taiketsu is a by-the-numbers fighting game in serious need of variety and balance.
The main draw of the game is, of course, its license. Most of the Dragon Ball Z gang is playable, including both heroes and villains. Anyone who has seen the anime will understand the appeal of staging fights among this crazy cast of characters. All of them are incredibly powerful, and their battles tend to be epic and visually exciting. Itâ€™s not uncommon for Goku to spend two whole episodes charging up a special attack, or for contestants to launch high into the air and speed around each other faster than the eye can see. If youâ€™re lucky, one of the main characters will go â€śSuper Saiyanâ€ť and shift into a more powerful form. All of these classic DBZ fighting elements are offered in Taiketsu, but none of them are implemented in a satisfactory manner.
Instead, very large character sprites walk and jump around on the ground, throwing punches and kicks at each other. If youâ€™re lucky, hitting the opponent will register damage. Sometimes missing the opponent will still register damage. Iâ€™ve seen an uppercut damage an opponent on the other side of the screen. Obviously, the hit detection is way off the mark, and thatâ€™s one little detail that you probably want to get right in a fighting game. Each character has the standard â€śHa Do Kenâ€ť projectile and three special moves, all of which feed on energy from your super meter. Unfortunately, this meter only fills up when you stand still and hold down both shoulder buttons to charge up energy. The choice is between fighting only with paltry physical attacks or spending half the match charging up energy to do something a bit flashier. Neither option has any particular strategic advantage, because this game is completely lacking in strategy, but going with the special moves will at least make the battles end sooner.
Most of the characters are essentially the same, and many even share special moves. The only way youâ€™ll make it through the main mode with each character (in order to unlock things) is if you can draw some kind of thrill out of controlling these characters for the sake of their affiliation with the anime. Thatâ€™s hard to do though, because the character sprites look really bad. Rather than take the obvious route and make them look hand-drawn, the developer has rendered the DBZ characters in a strange and ugly â€śACMâ€ť style, a la Donkey Kong Country. I get the impression that the art looks great in its original size, but shrinking it down to just a few pixels and colors leaves devastating results. Some of the characters are barely recognizable, theyâ€™re so grainy and pixelated.
The animation also has serious problems. There arenâ€™t enough key frames within the physical attacks, so itâ€™s practically impossible to read the opponentâ€™s next move and be able to react. Some moves have just a single frame of animation: the character is standing still, then has a fist extended, then is standing still again. There are numerous animation bugs, particularly relating to the special moves. Itâ€™s entirely common to see your opponent knocked down lifeless by a big energy wave, then get back up and start hopping around until your super move is completely finished, at which point the opponent will fall down again and the match will end.
The only notable gameplay feature is Sky Battle, wherein both characters launch up into the air to duke it out at altitude. This part of the fight throws out the normal mechanics and instead simply asks you to mash on buttons as fast as possible. Whichever fighter has superior mashing abilities will win the Sky Battle, and the loser will fall down and take some damage. Upon unlocking the â€śSky Battle 2â€ť bonus mode, these sequences instead ask you to press various buttons on the GBA in a never-ending pattern. Unlike the normal version, Sky Battle 2 rages on until one of the fighters runs out of health completely. Because following the commands faster than the computer is so easy to do, Sky Battle 2 lets you launch up immediately at the start of a fight and then pound away until itâ€™s over. Despite being sort of ridiculous and completely upsetting any balance the gameplay may have had, this little mini-game is easily the most entertaining thing to do in Taiketsu.
The one thing the game gets right is unlockables. Every battle won earns you Z-points, which can be used to buy all kinds of stuff. You can build up a small gallery of artwork from the show, songs from the game, character bios, and minor bonus features. There are also eight unlockable characters, for a total of fifteen overall. Sure, the guys you unlock play just like every other character, but dedicated fans of the show will no doubt trudge through the Tournament mode again and again to unlock such favorites as Buu and Broly.
Itâ€™s hard to call Taiketsu even good fan service because Atariâ€™s other DBZ games all do a better job of presenting the license and making the characters look good. But since this is not even close to a polished fighting game, letâ€™s stick with the â€śfan serviceâ€ť label. Itâ€™s at least passable in that regard. If youâ€™re such a deluded DBZ fan that you have to buy every new game just to complete the collection, thereâ€™s nothing I can do to stop you. Everyone else has been duly warned.Pros:
- Lots of unlockable stuff
- Sky Battle 2 would make a good Atari 2600 game
- Broken, shallow fighting
- Dull controls and inadequate animations
- Horrible character graphics
The backgrounds are pretty nice, and the characters are large. Thereâ€™s nothing else good to say. The character art has been mangled through digitization, and it doesnâ€™t look like it was that great to begin with. The animations are very sparse and not nearly fluid enough for a fighting game. Even the super moves look bland. Sound: 7.0
The music sounds fine and is either used or adapted from the show. Sound effects donâ€™t quite capture the breadth of impacts you might hope to hear in one of these battles, but they are competent. There is no voice, which may be for the best, considering the lame text monologues. Control: 3.0
The two most important things in a fighting game are button responsiveness and precise hit detection. Taiketsu doesnâ€™t get either one right. Pulling off a super move feels random and sloppy. The lack of readable animation makes it impossible to play this game like a real fighter.Gameplay: 3.0
Itâ€™s playable, in a mindless sort of way. You can try out all the super moves, but there isnâ€™t much to see. The game is rather easy even on the highest difficulty level, primarily because a few simple moves can be abused against computer opponents. The fighting just isnâ€™t any fun on a basic level, and none of the extra gameplay elements are done well enough to help salvage it. Lastability: 7.0
The three or four different modes are really all the same thing, though there is link cable support if you can find someone else who owns the game. If the dumb gameplay doesnâ€™t bother you, there is a lot of stuff to unlock, including more playable characters and some gimmicky bonus settings. Final Score (Not an average): 3.5
Even on Game Boy Advance, there are much better fighting games and much better Dragon Ball Z games available. Taiketsuâ€™s marred design shows a blatant ignorance, or possibly disregard, of what makes fighting games fun and challenging to play.
Jonathan Metts, Director