Talk about truth in advertising - check out the slogan adorning the print campaign for Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3: "Introducing, among other things, some people you haven't had a chance to punch in the face yet."
That's the long and short of it in the third iteration of the Budokai Tenkaichi fighting franchise, and the sixth such title based on the immensely popular Dragon Ball Z anime series to bear the Budokai brand on the PlayStation 2. As is often the case with yearly, numbered iterations in any franchise, Budokai Tenkaichi 3 doesn't deviate significantly from its immediate predecessor, simply adding onto the formula with more playable characters (up from 130 in BT2 to about 160 in total), stages, and ways to duke it out than ever before.
But on the battlefield, casual observers will wonder if anything has changed at all. Like last year's game, Budokai Tenkaichi 3 strikes a curious balance between moderate depth (in the form of character customization and transformations) and mind-numbing repetition. Sure, the grunting, pointy-haired fighters can hover freely around the massive, vertical worlds and pull off a wide variety of spectacular moves, but the most effective plan of attack typically revolves around endless button-mashing and 70-hit combos. Despite the repetition, Budokai Tenkaichi 3 admirably represents the chaos of the source material, even if that sometimes makes it feel like you're going through the motions.
Though the character selection screen scrolls on for pages, the combatants are nearly indistinguishable from each other in play style, with altered animations and projectile types subbed in for sheer variety. Can't tell your Android #19 from Garlic Jr? Neither can the game engine, apparently. Luckily for series devotees, Budokai Tenkaichi 3 is noticeably more challenging from the outset than its predecessors, with more aggressive and intelligent A.I. competitors even across all difficulty levels. Those unfamiliar with the franchise or unwilling to drop a couple hours learning the ins and outs of the battle system need not apply.
Above: Pop quiz - who's this?
So aside from the new fighters and light adjustments to the fighting engine, what are the "other things" added to Budokai Tenkaichi 3? Dragon History mode plays like a condensed, yet still familiar version of last year's extensive Dragon Adventure mode, tossing players both into battles from the entire anime series and special game-specific scenarios.
While the forthcoming Wii version sports online play - a first for the franchise - PlayStation 2 owners are thrown a very minor bone in the form of the Disc Fusion mode, which utilizes the Budokai Tenkaichi and Budokai Tenkaichi 2 game discs to unlock a pair of Ultimate Battle modes. It's a nice tip of the hat to those who own the previous games, but it hardly matches the prospect of wild, online battles.
With all its modes, settings, and extensive fan service, Budokai Tenkaichi 3 is the ultimate Dragon Ball Z love fest to date, but with online play relegated solely to the Wii iteration, the PlayStation 2 edition comes across as a refined version of last year's game - not a fully fleshed-out sequel. It still looks great on the aging hardware and accurately represents the popular anime/manga series, but the statute of limitations for similar last-gen sequels expires now - it's time for Atari to take this franchise to next-gen consoles and put some real force behind these extraordinary characters and settings.
Feb 29, 2008