As the very first fighting game on the Nintendo Wii, Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 2 has a lot to prove. While we know that the Wii's motion sensing remote control is good for sports games and adventure titles, it's still up in the air about how much fun it will be to play a traditional fighter with this new style of control. Will it be difficult to perform your special moves? Will it take much time before veterans of the genre feel right at home? And most importantly, will it actually improve the way we play fighting games?
The truth is that for all its faults, Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 2 is actually a pretty solid game. I do have some problems with the control scheme (which certainly takes awhile to get used to) and the game's combat is more than a little shallow, but fans of the TV show will no doubt be happy with the number of characters, the great graphics and the authentic voice acting. While this isn't a must-own game for the Wii, you certainly could do a whole lot worse.
Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 2 is split up into a bunch of different stories, most of which involve you flying from one point of the map to another and then fighting some crazy character that has some sort of grudge against you. Like the show it’s based on, the story telling in Budokai Tenkaichi 2 is pretty shallow and ultimately forgettable. If you’re the type of person that follows the Dragon Ball Z story then you’ll be happy to learn that this game actually covers a lot of ground and does a relatively good job of filling in the TV show’s mythology.
Over the course of the many different stories you will run into all types of characters, including some you’ve never seen in a game before. In total there are around 120 playable characters. Well, that’s not entirely true; the game gives you 70 different characters and a few different variations on certain fighters. Regardless of how you count the roster, there’s no denying that this game is loaded with playable characters, which is generally a pretty good thing for a fighting game.
The stories play out much like they do in television show; you’ll get a few characters together and have to meet up with some strong opponent, together you will talk it out and everybody will come to an understanding and walk away satisfied. No, I’m kidding … you don’t talk it out, you fight! And once you’ve completed your fight you will move on to the next battle, which will give you another cinema and fill in more of the story. Do enough of these battles and you will have finished the story and you can move on to the next adventure.
While there are a few variations to the rules, most of the battles are just about beating you opponent. From time to time you will run into a tag team match or a battle where all you need to do is survive for a certain amount of time, but the normal mission has you going one on one with some enemy with a higher experience level. While it’s nice to see the developers adding some variety to the missions, I only wish there was more of it. Especially annoying are the missions where you're supposed to lose, while it makes sense from a story perspective, the idea of going into a match and purposely losing feels wrong to me. It would have felt more natural if those missions were part of a cinema or something, that way you would only have to pick up the control when you were actually trying to win a match.
If there’s one thing that Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 2 has going for it it’s the fact that it doesn’t play like any other fighting game you have ever seen. While most fighting games have the camera fixed on the side of the characters to allow you to see both combatants at once, Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 2 puts the camera behind your character. This means that you will not always be able to see your opponent, something that can take a little getting used to. The idea of changing up the way you play a fighting game is not a terrible idea, but there needs to be a lot more work done to the execution in order for it to be as much fun as it is original.
True to the TV show, Budokai Tenkaichi 2 allows you to not only fight on the ground but also fly up into the air and take the battle to the sky. Thankfully the environments are large enough to facilitate these battles. The levels themselves are probably the highlight of the game, they feature plenty of hills and rocks to hide behind, water to jump into and all kinds of destructible objects. There’s just something satisfying about kicking your opponent through a building and watching the debris crumble around him. Best of all Budokai Tenkaichi 2 has a lot of great levels to fight in, so even though you may grow tired of the constant battles you’ll still be entertained by the great looking arenas.
Unfortunately the fights themselves aren’t nearly as interesting as the environments they take place in. You controls are reduced to one button for melee, one for a ki blast (a long-range projectile attack), one to block and one to dash. Along with those basic moves you will also be able to ascend and descend, as well as lock on to your enemy and charge up your Ki.
As you might imagine Atari had to be a little creative when mapping everything out for the Nintendo Wii's control. Because the remote control (and nunchuk attachment) have a limited amount of buttons, certain things had to be done with button combinations and control movements. At first this will seem strange (especially for a fighting game), but there are a few rather inspired control decisions. For example, if you want to fly into the air what you have to do is hold the C button and swing the nunchuk up. Ki attacks are performed by pulling the control back and then pushing it forward, similar to how the characters perform their fireball attacks in the show. And you can swing your nunchuk around to evade attacks.
But not every choice in the controls works flawlessly. Blocking tends to be a pain, since you have to either hold the down button on the D-pad or pointing the Wii's control above the TV screen. Neither of these choices are very good, you either have to always keep track of where you're Wii's control is aimed or you have to push a small button on the D-pad, something that isn't as accessible as the big attack button below it. I also found that the Dragon Dash, while easy to perform, often bordered on the unruly side.
Ultimately these new controls work fine for this simplistic fighting game, but I wouldn't say that they improve the experience any. I found the game just as much fun (if not a whole lot more reliable) with the GameCube control plugged in. It's definitely too early to write off fighting games for this new motion sensing control, Budokai Tenkaichi 2 wasn't the strongest fighting game even with a traditional game control, so I'll hold out judgment until a game like Mortal Kombat Armageddon is released.
The problem I have with the fighting system is that it’s not very deep. Most battles seem to devolve into nothing more than button mashing, something that is simply unacceptable in a new fighting game. Even with the addition of projectile attacks, Budokai Tenkaichi 2 just doesn’t offer a lot for your character to do. Another problem is that the same special moves seem to work for all characters, which means that you won’t be doing a lot of memorizing as you play the game. The battles themselves may look a lot like they do in the TV series, but they aren’t as much fun as I would like them to be.
Perhaps even more distressing is that most of the computer opponents can be defeated by simply knocking them down and then bombarding them with non-stop ki blasts. Whenever a fight gets tough it’s just a little too easy to resort to these cheap tactics, and unfortunately it seems to work nearly every time. It’s also worth mentioning that the computer opponents are extremely predictable, which ended up boring me as I went through the numerous stories.
The real charm of any fighting game is the multiplayer mode, and Budokai Tenkaichi 2 delivers … for the most part. With its huge roster and large environments, this game certainly has the makings for a great two-player battle, but again the camera rears its ugly head and makes everything a lot more difficult than it needs to be. Since the game camera is positioned behind your character the screen has to be split into two when you’re playing a two-player match. Losing 50% of the screen is kind of hard to deal with, especially when you’re trying to keep track of where your opponent is at all times. Those that can get past this technical hindrance will probably have fun kicking your friends hundreds of feet into the air and beating the snot out of the large cast of characters, but since the game’s controls are not very deep you’ll probably end up getting bored and wish the Wii had a bigger library of fighting games.
The good news is that the game looks pretty solid most of the time. Even with so many different characters, Spike has been able to do a good job of recreating them for this fighting game. Each of the characters is presented with a cel-shaded finish, which tends to make them look much like they did in the cartoon. The character animations probably won’t blow you away, but they are no worse than what you would see in the popular TV show. In all the game looks pretty good, if you’re a Dragon Ball Z fan you probably won’t have any problems with the overall presentation.
Budokai Tenkaichi 2 not only features graphics that look just like the cartoon, but it also snags a lot of the same voice actors from the English-dubbed TV show. I’ve never been a fan of the voice acting in the Dragon Ball Z series, but the work done in Budokai Tenkaichi 2 seems especially bad. Part of the problem is that the actors don’t sound very excited to be doing yet another video game based on this cast of characters. With the corny dialog and silly characters I can’t blame them, but I found some of the voice acting to be a bit distracting.
The box promises that Budokai Tenkaichi 2 offers sixty hours of game play that fills in the Dragon Ball Z mythology, unfortunately most gamers will grow bored of the game long before they see the sixty hour mark. Throughout the course of this fighting game there are glimpses of potential, but somehow it is all wasted with shallow controls and boring game play. Dragon Ball Z fanatics will no doubt get a kick out of seeing so many of their favorite characters in one game, it’s just a shame that Spike wasn’t able to create a more compelling reason to bring them together.
While it's certainly not the worst game on the Nintendo Wii, Dragon Ball Z Budokai Tenkaichi 2 doesn't quite live up to the system's potential. The game does prove that a 3D fighting game can be done with the Wii's limited buttons … but only if the game is very simple with only one or two attack buttons.