The Budokai series has always done a solid job of translating the flashy Dragon Ball Z aesthetic into a 3D fighter, and Shin Budokai bucks no trends in this regard. Using a nice, clean cel-shading effect helps make the characters look all the more like their two-dimensional counterparts, and the animations, which are presumably lifted from Budokai 3, are fast and powerful. The game also uses a dazzling color palette that helps make the action stand out, but it's the special-effects overkill that really makes Shin Budokai great to look at. You can expect to see lots of small, anime-style motion lines all over the place. Even when characters are standing still, energy will crackle and swirl around them, and when they start throwing attacks, intense and colorful light and particles bombard the screen. Not as much work went into the game's sound design, but it didn't really need to, since it's easy enough to lift most of the sounds from the DBZ cartoon. It's a little disappointing that the game doesn't feature much voice acting, but as a minor consolation, you can choose to switch between the English or Japanese voice acting.
While the game is fun to play and great to look at, the modes of play in Shin Budokai are less inspired. There's a main story mode called Dragon Road, which models itself after the plot of the Dragon Ball Z movie Fusion Reborn (or Rebirth of Fusion, depending on your region), and it's basically a long, long series of fights punctuated with expository scenes composed of still shots of the characters. The dialogue is wincingly bad, and the story doesn't make a great deal of sense, but luckily the story sequences are easily skipped. It's a pretty half-baked mode, but it's worth playing through since you can unlock a ton of characters on top of the 13 you start with. The other modes are just as bland, including a standard one-on-one arcade mode, a time-attack mode, a survival mode, a stripped-down ad hoc multiplayer mode, and a training mode.
Battle the universe's most powerful fighters. Your reward? Stamps!
After you win a fight in any of the above-mentioned modes, you get your performance rated based on how much life you lost, how long it took you to win, and the overall technicality of the fight, and you are awarded a number of points for your efforts. Rather than using these points to buy cool, powerful enhancements for characters, you can buy a variety of "stamps," which feature lots of recognizable DBZ characters, locales, and items. You can combine purchased stamps to create your own custom "profile card," which you can then share with other players. It's all exceptionally lame, like some kind of anime scrapbooking thing, and it doesn't add to the overall package.
Despite its rather paltry set of features, the absence of some of the coolest action from Budokai 3, and the almost criminally lame profile card system, Shin Budokai is still a solid 3D fighter, thanks to some great visuals and action that's easy to pick up and play. Those looking for a hardcore, highly technical fighter aren't going to find what they need here, but DBZ fans are sure to eat it up. As long as you're not expecting the next Tekken, Shin Budokai can prove to be a manic fighter with its own style.