If you have no idea which purple alien destroyed the planet Namek, and "Spopovitch" sounds like a type of Norwegian breakfast sausage, don't worry. Super Dragon Ball Z isn't really about Dragon Ball Z; it's about smashing that purple alien through brick walls.
Of course, fans will still be treated to a healthy dose of authentic DBZ flair. The environments are nicely detailed, replicating the look of the original manga surprisingly well, and DBZ creator Akira Toriyama personally designed the new, unlockable supervillain, Mecha Frieza. Another nice touch is the inclusion of Chi-Chi (wife and mother to several of the main characters) for the first time in a DBZ fighter.
Even so, the fighting is far less over-the-top than what's found in any of the previous DBZ installments, especially the button-mashing Budokai games. That's because there are some serious developers behind it: the creators of Street Fighter II. They've given us multi-layered destroyable arenas, a large arsenal of "ki" attacks (read: giant fireballs) and an abundance of kicks, punches, throws and combos. The controls are relatively simple and universal, so once you've mastered one character's special attacks, you've mastered all of them.
The new fighting system definitely has a Street Fighter feel to it, and the combination of flying, teleporting, powered-up Super Saiyan action and old-school game mechanics makes the first hour or two a blast. After that, however, things start falling flat.
The more "serious" arcade-style approach effectively drains the game of all that over-the-top, high-energy DBZ action we're used to. Attacks that once devastated entire planets now amount to little more than glorified hadoukens, and are easily blocked.
Although the combat is certainly different, it hasn't necessarily increased in depth. The easier computer opponents can be defeated nearly every time by repeatedly performing a one-button "homing attack" that sends you hurtling into your foe. The harder enemies are better at blocking, which tends to turn battles into long distance energy-attack contests that test your ability to repeatedly press down, down-forward, forward and Triangle.
Two single-player modes are available in the game, but neither are very redeeming. Original mode is a direct port of the arcade game; you'll battle a series of random competitors, three rounds each, with unlimited continues, until you reach Cell. Your reward for beating Cell is a short, uninspired cutscene followed by the credits.
The second mode, ZSurvivor, doesn't do much to improve the situation. You must battle nine competitors consecutively with increasing difficulty, one round each, with one health bar. Between each match, you have a chance to gain bonuses, some of which will increase your health, attack power or defense, keeping you on your feet round after round.
Patched over the shallow single player modes is an experience and leveling system based around "Character Cards," profiles that allow you to customize and upgrade specific characters. As you play either Original Mode or ZSurvivor using a Character Card, you'll rack up Battle Points and collect Dragon Balls. Battle Points are used to learn new skills and attacks, while collecting seven Dragon Balls enables you to summon the magical dragon Shenron and wish for new abilities, attacks, characters, and extras.
Unfortunately, many of the "skills" you unlock are simply dull stat upgrades. As is the case with many fighters, the replay value rests entirely on the two-player versus mode. Once you've unlocked Mecha Frieza and have maxed out the skills of your favorite characters, the single-player modes are pure tedium. Things only really become fun again when you try out your skills and custom characters on your friends.