Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3
Curious about DBZ?For more information on the previous games in this franchise, check out Justin Boot’s excellent reviews of Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi and Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 2.The party’s over, folks. Evil aliens are going destroy the world in a few minutes. There’s nothing we can do; the forces at work here are beyond the likes of you and I. How are you going to spend your last few moments of your existence? Are you going to call your loved ones? How about a pointless looting spree? If you’re going to die, you might as well go out with a smile, right? Or maybe you’re going to collapse where you stand, shedding buckets of tears and begging whichever God you worship for salvation. Such reactions are understandable. But let me clue you in on a little secret: there’s someone up there fighting for us all right now. His name is Goku, and he’s going to use his mystical powers to save the world. So if you want to do something, then believe in him.
…What? I’m not crazy.
One man saving the world is what the Dragon Ball Z series is all about. There’s always some psychotic alien or super-powered monstrosity threatening to eradicate mankind. It’ll usually kick everyone’s ass, blow a few cities away with a few flashy laser beams, or smugly proclaim its dominance over the planet. It’s so utterly predictable, but the awesome characters and dramatic presentation can win over the most jaded anime enthusiast. The series itself may have ended over a decade ago, but the exploits of Goku, Gohan, Vegeta, Piccolo, and the rest of the huge ensemble cast remain memorable to this day. That’s really the purpose of Dragon Ball Z: Tenkaichi 3 and other games based on the anime: to relive the awesome battles that defined the series.
Too bad you won’t get to experience much of them, though. Dragon Ball Z has plenty of amazing fights, yet so few of them made the cut for Tenkaichi 3’s Dragon History story mode. Sure, you’ll get to kick Frieza’s ass with Super Saiyan Goku. Yes, Gohan and Cell’s Kamehameha Wave exchange and Vegeta’s stand against Majin Buu are still present and accounted for. But such battles only make up a fraction of the overall story; the minor battles have been swept away for the sake of the cinematic storytelling. This is a step back from Tenkaichi 2, which allowed you to experience nearly every battle, important or not, throughout each saga. The character’s fights have been have been combined into longer, sectioned struggles. It usually involves your character pummeling his or her opponent and staying alive until you get the on-screen button command to activate the next cutscene. While such a concept follows the plot fairly well, it stumbles a bit in its presentation. Since only two characters can be on the screen at once, you’re going to have to endure pointless character swapping and tons of scripted off-screen dialogue. Since the game doesn’t explain much outside of these scenes, newcomers to the series are going to be left in the dark.
Ironically, the game also boasts the most characters. Over 150 fighters are at your disposal, each of which has their own importance in the anime’s canon. If you’ve played the previous game, you’ll recognize the vast majority of the roster. Many of the newcomers play secondary (but still significant) roles in the story. You’ll get to have Arale and General Blue duking it out, dish out some punishment with Devilman, and even relive the first Martial Arts Championship with Nam. The returning characters have been balanced out with a few subtle gameplay tweaks. Every fighter comes with his or her own set of techniques, attack powers, and health levels. Aside from the usual laser beams, aerial assaults, and in-battle transformations, you’ll be able to pull off new moves depending on the characters backing you up and the conditions of the battleground, like Fusions or Oozaru. The differences between a character’s different forms may not seem very important at first glance, but they can end up saving you from defeat.
To the veterans of the previous Tenkaichi games, all of this should sound pretty familiar. At first glance, Tenkaichi 3 looks like its predecessor with counterattacks, more fluid animations, and other minor improvements. While the fighting mechanics haven’t been changed drastically, the control scheme has undergone a massive overhaul. Gone are the useless terminology and awkward button commands; the default WiiMote and Nunchuck controls have been streamlined to work better with the fast-paced combat. The game also supports the Classic and Gamecube Controller setups, but the button layout can make performing some of the moves tedious. Pummeling someone involves mashing the A button, but stronger, slower moves can executed by waving the WiiMote in the desired direction. If you prefer something a little more flashy, you can always pull the B button and let loose a few heat-seeking energy beams. Performing super-moves has also been simplified; you just hold down one area of the directional pad to charge up enough energy, and then follow the onscreen prompt to perform the correct moves. It’s fast, easy to understand, and far less annoying than what previous Tenkaichi games had to offer.
The other significant change – arguably the most important of them all – is the inclusion of online gameplay. Considering the brevity of the single-player story mode, it’s little wonder that the game places so much emphasis on the multiplayer experience. You’ll be able to take on both friends (be prepared to make another list of Friend Codes) and random foes across the globe. The game keeps track of your victories and losses, thus allowing for some serious ranking competition. There is just one huge, terrible flaw: the lag. The gameplay is horrendously slow. There’s no point in trying to outwit your opponent if he or she can see your character stuck in the same animation frame a three-second intervals. The responsive controls are useless when your fighter can’t keep up with your commands. The deep combat tactics are replaced with players trying to see who can charge up and spam the most damage moves the quickest. For a game that thrives on fast pacing and fluid movements, such problems are inexcusable.
The game includes a handful of other modes to make up for its online shortcomings. With so many characters and stages to choose from, you’re probably going to spend most of your time in the Duel Mode against your friends or the computer. The Ultimate Battle challenge grants you access to a series of graded missions to test your fighting skills. Veterans of the last Tenkaichi game will be glad to see that the Cell Games, the World Martial Arts Tournament, and other competitions are back and tougher than ever. They’ll also be happy to see that Evolution Z options have been redone as well. No longer must you collect random items to create characters; instead, you can purchase power-ups and stat boosts with your hard earned tournament prize money and use them to make your characters even stronger. But for uninitiated gamers (not to mention fans that were ticked off at the stunted story mode), there’s also a Character Reference menu that explains the basics of each fighter, their 3D models, voice playback, and some useless commentary from Goku’s wife. It may not be quite as awesome as seeing them in action, but it works.
Of course, diehard Dragon Ball Z probably won’t even bother looking through that character encyclopedia. They’ll be too busy soaking every moment of the battles and comparing them with the fights from the anime. Like its predecessors, Tenkaichi 3 strives to recreate its parent series as accurately as possible. Unlike other 3D warriors, these characters are not limited to fighting up close and personal. Their battlegrounds are huge, taking up the space of entire islands, city blocks, and other massive locales. Since the characters can fly, attacks can come from nearly any angle or direction. They can soar into battle, zigzag to avoid enemy fire, and even hide behind walls and other obstructions. You can send your foe crashing through buildings, blast away rocky outcroppings, and destroy nearly anything that gets in your way. However, it’s the little details that’ll make the fans squeal; the cel-shaded costumes can be reduced to tatters if they take enough damage, many of the Dragon Ball characters can’t fly as well as their Z counterparts, and all of the attack animations remain as smooth and true to anime as ever.
That doesn’t mean that you have to be obsessed with the series to enjoy this game. Tenkaichi 3 features some of the most intense and competitive combat on the Wii. There’s nothing quite as awesome as annihilating your foe with some flashy Laser Beams of Death. The control scheme is vastly improved and easy to pick up, thus making it ideal for both seasoned gamers and newcomers alike. The sheer amount of playable characters and arenas offer plenty of variety. Unfortunately, the story mode has taken a step back; owners of the previous game will be disappointed with its brevity and lack of challenge. The online multiplayer is a great idea, but its laggy gameplay utterly ruins it. Should the problems be fixed, Tenkaichi 3 would be one of the best multiplayer games on the system. But until that happens, this game is essentially its predecessor with more characters, more challenging content, minor gameplay tweaks, and better controls. That’s definitely worth something.