Ah, Dragonball Z. It’s the topic of multiple evening and weekend conversations between my friends and me. My 8-year-old and I usually plop our hind ends on the couch anytime the cartoon is on TV and watch X amount of episodes until it finally drives my wife nuts and she asks to PLEASE change the channel. She doesn’t understand what makes this a great show, and that’s OK. It’s not for everyone. Anyway, I was absolutely ecstatic when I heard that Infogrames was releasing DBZ for PS2, and for the most part I was pleased.

DBZ opens up with 6 modes to play with up front, one of which being options and each represented by one of the Dragonballs (and a seventh which can be bought or unlocked later on). The first is the Practice mode, where you can go in and hone your skills prior to stepping in the ring. Each character that you can play with has a number of “skill capsules” that can be bought or acquired as you progress through the game, and each capsule is a special move for that person in particular … like Piccolo’s Light Grenade or Goku’s Dragon Throw for example. In addition, there are multiple ways that your AI opponent can be set up to move or react, so that you can get good at when to use the moves. Once you’re done, step into duel mode, where you select your fighter and the computer opponent (or the 2nd player) and duke it out.

One really cool thing that I thought was done here is the Skill Edit mode that has been added in. This allows you to interchange and build up to 60 skills for fighters based on what you think will work best, but also allows you to build up the damage of moves as well. For example, Goku’s Kamehameha move. Building it up to three times will do X amount of damage the first time, a greater amount the second time, and an even greater amount the third time that it is used. Each capsule that you unlock or purchase will have a number of values attached to it which tell you whether or not it is specific for one character only, whether it can or cannot be powered up, and so on.

The World Tournament mode is the fourth mode to play in, and is where you pick one character from a list that you have unlocked and put him up against other fighters in a ladder style competition. There are three different difficulty levels to choose from, and winning or placing as runner-up will award a certain amount of money for you to use and unlock new capsules for fighters or some secret stuff as well, like the seventh mode.

Lastly and my personal favorite of the game modes is Story mode. This goes through the TV episodes, starting with the Saiyan Saga and moving all the way up through the Cell Games. You get to play as some of your favorite characters, like Goku and Gohan, and as you progress you will unlock fighters that you have defeated to use in World Tournament, Practice, or Duel modes like Vegeta, Nappa, Frieza, and Raditz. In addition, the scenes and stories are taken directly from the TV show, so you will sit through things like a narrated conversation between Goku and King Kai and go “Oh yeah, I remember when this happened”. It’s really cool, and kept me playing it just to see which episode would pop up next.

OK, I love DBZ, and I know that a lot of you do too. Let’s take the name and the cool packaging away though and see what lies underneath. When you do this, you will find a couple of areas that probably could have been done better and ultimately will make this rather mediocre for someone who is not a big fan. First off, the Story mode part of the game, while neat, can be blown through in only a matter of a couple of hours. Since none of us like to buy a game and then beat it that quick, this can be a little annoying and not worth it for a lot of gamers. The World Championship, Skill Edit, and Duel modes combined make up for this a lot, but it won’t matter much to someone who really doesn’t care to get that involved in DBZ.

Secondly, the combo system itself seems too overly simple and a dull, utilizing button presses like “punch, punch, punch, punch, ki” buttons to pull off five hit combos and special moves. Doing things like powering up the King Kai fist or turning into a Super Saiyan usually requires hitting the punch, kick, and guard buttons simultaneously, which can get confusing since the effect will vary depending on where the character’s Ki Gauge is at the time … so there is room for error. On a plus side, younger fans of the show or those fighting game fans that aren’t big into Tekken or MK Deadly Alliance complicated combos will feel more at home with this one.

The last (and probably my biggest) issue is in the overall presentation of the game style. The game really struggles to make you believe that it is a 3-D fighter, and getting an uppercut or hard upward kick will send you up into the sky. Rather than crashing to the ground, the fight continues in the air. That’s good, but you can’t just leave the ground at will, nor can you jump when you want to either. Secondly, getting a hit from the side that rolls you or knocks you over will cause the positioning of the characters to change and again, give a 3-D feel. The problem is that you cannot sidestep or change left/right positioning as you feel that you should, and this creates some frustrations during matches like the World Tournament where you can lose due to a ring out easier than getting K.O.’d. Get to the edge of the field, and it’s pretty much over at that point.

Graphically, DBZ looks great … if you compare it to the TV show. The characters look identical to their cartoon likenesses, and the presentation of the different stages is done through the opening screens from the show. Things like the anime “speed lines” when someone is flying or quick slow-motion cut ins after a hit has taken place are here also, and will have you excited to see that the developers left nothing behind in making this as close to watching the cartoon as possible. For you non DBZ folks out there though, the backgrounds and character’s coloring might look bland compared to some other games out on the market, and definitely don’t contain any of the top lighting and effects found in other 3-D fighters out there. It’s weird, since it’s an “awesome for some, average for others” thing again.

The sound to DBZ is top quality, and all of the music, narration, and voiceovers are directly taken from the cartoon as well. I was really impressed at how much I just watched and absorbed everything during the cutscenes and in gameplay and went “Wow, this is as good as watching the show”.

Basically, I was really impressed at how the developers FINALLY brought out a DBZ title truly worthy of the name for someone like me who is a big fan of the series. If you are into DBZ and haven’t picked this game up yet … do so immediately. If you are into fighters but don’t really get into the cartoon, I would recommend that you probably rent this one first if you plan on checking it out, since there are other 3-D fighters out there that would provide more bang for your buck.