It's one of the most searched Internet terms, one of the most popular animated series, and one of the most popular Japanese comics of all time. It's Dragon Ball Z--a series that has enjoyed unprecedented popularity for almost 20 years now. Akira Toriyama, the creator of Dragon Ball Z, has had past success in the field of video games as the character designer for such landmark RPGs as Enix's Dragon Warrior series and Square's Chrono Trigger, but, curiously, Dragon Ball Z games themselves have never amounted to much more than bad cash-ins on this huge property. That was until last year, when Infogrames released Dragon Ball Z: Budokai for the PlayStation 2. It was a pretty basic fighting game that didn't offer anything that was too outstanding, but its production values were good, and, most importantly, it made excellent use of the Dragon Ball Z license. Now, a little less than a year later, Budokai has been ported to the GameCube, gaining a little extra graphical polish in the transition. It's a game that only a DBZ fan could love, but it's a proficient enough fighting game that others might like it.
Few cartoons, outside of Dragon Ball Z, have begged to be translated into fighting games.
In case you've been a recluse for the past few years, Dragon Ball Z follows the adventures of a group of superpowered fighters from across the universe, most of whom want nothing more than to be the single most powerful fighter anywhere. The titular dragon balls are a set of powerful orbs scattered across the globe that, when united, can summon a giant supernatural dragon who has the power to grant wishes. This is, admittedly, a pretty simple explanation of the series. Truthfully, though, unless you're already steeped in Dragon Ball Z lore, suffice it to say it's a cartoon soap opera that tends to cater to boys with power fantasies. There have been few cartoons that have begged to be translated into a fighting game, and Dragon Ball Z is one of them.
While most fighting games tend to offer a single-player game that essentially mirrors what you'd experience in head-to-head competition, such is not the case with Budokai. The primary single-player mode plays like a Reader's Digest version of some of the more significant portions of the Dragon Ball Z cartoon series. You'll start off with the Saiyan saga, which is the beginning of the series, jump to the Namekian saga, and end it with the Android saga, which culminates with the Cell Games. The story mode is, for the most part, just a series of increasingly difficult one-on-one battles, but it's sprinkled with lots of real-time cutscenes to move the story along, as well as an occasional minigame, both of which do an impressive job of faithfully re-creating some of the more famous moments from the show. It took years and years for the Dragon Ball Z cartoon to work through all of the story presented in Budokai, but the game's story mode is over in just a couple of hours at most, and it makes a lot of assumptions about how familiar the player actually is with Dragon Ball Z. If you don't already know the ins and outs of DBZ, the story mode may come off as somewhat disjointed, but if you do, it can be really exciting and fun to watch the story play out again, this time in full 3D.
Hardcore fighting game aficionados may find the fighting system in Budokai overly simple.
But there's much more to Budokai than just the story mode. Completing the story mode will unlock many of the fighters in the duel mode, which is basically the game's multiplayer mode. More goodies can be unlocked in the ladder-style world tournament mode, including more hidden characters and arenas, as well as cold hard cash, which can be used in the edit mode to purchase more fighting moves to customize your fighters with. You can hone your skills in the game's practice mode, which functions much like the practice modes found in recent Tekken and Virtua Fighter games. Finally, there's the game's survival mode, the "Legend of Hercule," which follows the misadventures of the most egomaniacal and least powerful character in the DBZ universe as he attempts to hog the spotlight and glory in the Cell Games. All said, Budokai features 23 different fighters, including all the important players from the Saiyan, Namekian, and Android sagas, and one hidden fighter from a post-Android saga storyline. There are nine different locales to fight in, including such recognizables as the world tournament and Cell Games arenas, the Hyperbolic Time Chamber, Kami's Lookout, and those endless expanses of rocky desert where so much of the action in the Dragon Ball Z cartoon has taken place.