Dragon Ball Z: Shin Budokai brings Atari and Dimps' successful anime-inspired fighting series to the PlayStation Portable in a package that isn't particularly ambitious but is still well-executed enough to make it worthwhile. The simple, fast-paced action of the Budokai series translates well onto the PSP, and the presentation is both eye-catchingly vibrant and technically flashy. Shin Budokai's bare-bones set of features is in stark relief against the game's solid core and is a little disappointing.
Ryu's fireballs have nothing on Goku's kamehameha wave.
That Shin Budokai takes its cues from the first three Budokai games, and not Budokai Tenkaichi, should be a great relief to fans. Like its predecessors, Shin Budokai takes a basic 3D fighting game model and imbues it with the hyperkinetic energy synonymous with Dragon Ball Z. The game's controls map easily onto the PSP, using two of the face buttons for melee attacks, one for blocking attacks, and one for firing off ranged energy attacks. As you might expect, melee attacks can be easily strung into combos, and pressing both at once lets you throw your opponent. Holding down the block button puts your character's guard up, though well-timed taps on the block button can dodge an attack entirely or even throw an energy attack right back at your opponent.
It's the ranged energy attacks that give Shin Budokai's gameplay such a distinctive flair. In addition to your standard life bar, there's a ki meter, which dictates what kinds of energy attacks you can throw. Your ki will increase naturally over the course of a fight, but you can also hold down the L button to quickly charge up, though this will leave you extremely vulnerable to attacks. Depending on how much ki you have charged up, your energy attacks can range from a puny yellow fireball to a time-stopping, screen-filling nightmare. Fully charged ki attacks aren't unbeatable, since a well-timed punch can cancel out the whole thing, but they're impressive looking and completely devastating when they land. Certain characters, such as the Saiyans, can use the ki energy to turn into more powerful forms, too.
Instant teleportation can also have a significant impact on the momentum of the game. With this simply executed move, you can instantly appear right behind your opponents just as they're about to throw a punch, giving you the upper hand. You can also use this to ping-pong enemies back and forth after an initial attack launches them into the air. Things get really interesting when both players use the instant teleportation back and forth several times in a row, making for a fun tug-of-war dynamic. There are some cool gameplay elements introduced in Budokai 3 that didn't make it into Shin Budokai. The dragon rush attacks, which introduced a fun little rock-paper-scissors mechanic along with some amazing cinematic camera angles, is the most unfortunate omission, though it's also disappointing that power struggles, where two characters throw massive energy attacks at each other at once, resolve themselves without any additional input from the players. Overall, the gameplay is still fast and furious, and the game's artificial intelligence can put up a pretty wicked fight.