Legacy of Goku II rises above the mediocrity for a sequel worthy of the license.
Legacy of Goku II, the follow-up to last year's highly successful GBA adventure, has a lot going for it. The license couldn't be stronger, and it lends a wealth of story and style to the underlying game structure. The graphics are bright and colorful, the gameplay is simple but addictive, and the quest is long and full of things to do.
The game's design is similar to the first LoG, which was based on Zelda and other archetypal adventure classics. Now with five playable characters (Gohan, Piccolo, Vegeta, Trunks, and Goku), you roam the world battling the forces of evil. The different characters play about the same, but you have to keep them all leveled up in order to progress. It's not bad though, since level-ups come frequently and combat is fairly engaging. That is to say, it's important to maintain good timing of your button presses, because winning every battle, including the final boss battle, is just a matter of punching and moving forward in a solid rhythm. The enemy AI is pitiful, and it hardly varies from rabid wolves to deranged self-destructing robots to Cell himself. They can all be defeated with the same dumb pattern, though if you do make a mistake, Cell will certainly put a good wallop to your head. Fighting can still be satisfying though, mainly when you approach a particularly fast enemy or a large group of crocodiles. (I'm picking on it a bit, but it has to be said that LoG II does cut down on how much time you spend fighting random wildlife. Usually it's robots or ninjas or something like that.) Though they're all but unnecessary, each character's energy attacks can also help spice up combat.
Developer Webfoot Technologies clearly heard the criticism last time, because they have polished up the sequel's gameplay very nicely. Characters can now move diagonally, the hit detection is more forgiving, and the confusing flying element has been ditched altogether. Now you only fly when moving around on the Mode-7 world map, which brings up another improvement -- the game is much more open and designed to encourage exploration. Yet for all this attention to polish, the gameplay still lacks real substance. Eighty percent of your time is spent fighting, which is pretty mindless as I've already explained. Otherwise you're reading story text or simply traveling from place to place. There are only a handful of puzzles in the game, and all of them are either insultingly simple or so vague that you're left to find the solution by trial and error. There’s not much to explore, as the maps tend to be straightforward (though quite large), and there are no secret places on the similarly huge-but-empty world map.
In fact, Legacy of Goku II's idea of game progression is blocking your passage with a door that has to be opened by a certain character at a certain experience level. Why not instead use a boulder that has to be pushed aside with a certain attack? Or perhaps a gap that requires some special equipment or move to cross? This game should have taken a cue from Zelda and built these doorways into the game world. As it is, they stick out like neon signs reading, "Warning! Poor design decision ahead!"
But of course, there is a saving grace amidst all this lost opportunity and mediocre gameplay. This game has a great story to carry it, and carry it the story does. Dozens of episodes from the anime series have been condensed into a few hundred lines of text with some visual aids, and it all works amazingly well. I personally lost track of the series after the Frieza saga, but LoG II did a great job of filling me in on the next few sagas. And unlike the first game, the plot progression is now slow and detailed enough to serve as a replacement for all those episodes, rather than just being a meager summary.
Atari's second Dragon Ball Z game for GBA is a great improvement upon its inept predecessor. The controls and interface have been streamlined and upgraded, while the scope and execution of the storytelling are also much better. Yet, the series still has a long way to go before competing with the best of the adventure genre. Without the appeal and charm of its license, this would be little more than an average quest with an oversimplified combat system. Luckily, the great license fits perfectly with the game's design, lifting Legacy of Goku II out of the muck of mediocrity. Any DBZ fan will love this chance to interact with the series.