Dragon Ball Z : Ultimate Battle 22
And so it did come to pass in the early days of the PlayStation’s existence in the United Kingdom (1996) that two fighting games based on the obscure Japanese cartoon Dragon Ball were released. And lo due to the fact no one in the UK had heard of Dragon Ball they didst sinketh without trace. But now fast forward six years to 2002 and we find that Dragon Ball Z has become a cult favourite on various UK satellite channels and those once forgotten games are now changing hands on eBay for upwards of £50. And then came a cunning marketing person who did survey the UK games market and discovered that Psone titles were second only to PS2 titles in terms of sales and they did have a flash of inspiration. And so it came to pass that the two Dragon Ball PlayStation games were reissued for a budget price. And there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth from those who had just paid £80 for them on internet auctions. Here endeth the history lesson.
There’s always lots of charging energy balls in Dragon Ball Z
The two games I am referring to are Dragon Ball: Final Bout and Dragon Ball Z Ultimate Battle 22 (or DBZUB22 for short). Of the two, this one - DBZUB22 is by far and away the superior title, boasting a massive twenty-seven characters from Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z. Unlike Final Bout which used polygonal characters to no great effect and was crippled by terrible control response and gameplay speed, DBZUB22 sticks to traditional 2D representation and runs quickly and smoothly making it far more authentic to the cartoon. The main appeal and probably also the main weakness of Dragon Ball games is they rely very heavily on knowledge of the cartoon series upon which they are based. The fact the cartoon was not airing in the UK when both games were first released explains why initially they flopped.
The cartoon began life in the eighties as a strip featured in the Japanese Shonen Jump magazine. It told the story of a little boy called Goku who has a monkey tail and great martial arts prowess. He teams up with a girl called Bulma who is searching for seven spheres called Dragon Balls which when bought together can grant any wish. The series took an interesting turn when it became Dragon Ball Z, now Goku had grown up and had a son called Gohan and discovered he was actually an alien from a race called the Saiyens. He has been sent to earth to destroy it but had instead become a good person. When his brother Raditz and an evil Saiyen Prince called Vegeta arrive to destroy earth Goku and Gohan discover they can transform into Super Saiyens, powerful blonde haired beings with enormous reserves of energy. Dragon Ball Z stretched to nearly 300 television episodes and saw the Saiyens unite to fight off various super foes, like Freiza, Cell and Majin Buu. Although the series finished in the mid-nineties in Japan, it had only recently come to UK TV screens thanks to the US dubbed versions showing on Cartoon Network, CNX and now Toonami.
Son Gohan needs to discover air-blocking fast.
Strangely DBZUB22 did not get a USA release at the time (it has now since been released in the USA), and so this UK release is basically a straight port of the Japanese version. This was not rectified upon rerelease. All the voices are taken from the Japanese cartoon rather than the USA versions Toonami are more familiar with. Also to add more confusion, the UK game retains the original Japanese character names. So Hercule becomes Mr. Satan, Supreme Kai becomes Kaiohshin and Vegetto becomes Gogeto. In this vein the games manual is an utter joy to read for all us lovers of “japlish” containing as it does such descriptions as “A true double of the child super Goku, happy, lively and dynamic… You really are full of energy!” (Goten) and “Your entire body made of revolutionary technology” (Android 16).
But how does it play I hear you all cry? Well it plays pretty well. The fights are only one round each, but the health bar is huge and needs to be depleted twice for a win. In addition to the health bar you’ll notice a red bar underneath. This is a power bar and is used to perform each characters special attack. You will drain energy each time you use fireballs or a “kamehameha” type attack and if you run out completely your character will stop responding to your commands and stand panting and swaying until a little power returns. During this time you are extremely vulnerable. You can however boost your energy back up by holding one of the attack buttons down, this will fill your red power up again, but also leave you vulnerable while charging. So a lot of the fighting strategy occurs in timing you use of large power draining attacks and calculating when you can safely recharge. Staying true to the cartoon, non super powered characters like Hercule cannot use energy based attacks and so the red bar does not come into play for them (Hercule has other tricks up his sleeve, ie a MASSIVE bazooka!).
Characters pull some right funny faces when they get hit.
The fighting system is what I would refer to as the “Capcom” style. Special moves are pulled off via the rotation of the d-pad in quarter or half-circle motions followed by a kick or punch. The four main buttons are assigned to kick, punch, take off/touch down and energy ball. With a couple of exceptions, all characters can fly up in the air and battle above ground. Luckily there is some degree of homing to the energy attacks so otherwise hitting an airborne opponent would be almost impossible (stand up and take a bow DB: Final Bout!). The 2D fighters are super imposed onto 3D backgrounds, but the fighting is always toe-to-toe.
Options wise the game is fairly sparse. There is the obligatory Arcade Mode, Vs. Mode and an 8 player Championship mode. Although players only fight two at a time. There is also a Build Up mode where you can pit a character against a series of increasingly difficult CPU opponents to build up its various attacks. You can then pit these against a friends Built-Up fighter or transfer them into Dragon Ball Final Bout if you have it. In practice though you are limited to characters that appear in Final Bout to transfer over, so if you spent time building up Android 18, forget that option.
Visually the game is decent considering its age. Remember this was one of the earliest games out on the PlayStation. The fighters are rendered 2-Dimensionally and look very good. Identical in fact to their comic book and screen incarnations. The animations are smooth and the effects and collision detection are superb. There are lots of nice graphic touches, such as Majin Buu going all pop-eyed when you hit him hard. All the characters have some kind of taunt as well to add to the fun. The voices are good to, its all Japanese but it never gets to repetitive to listen to. The background themes are recognsiable from the cartoon show as are the various stages you fight across.
There’s always a lot of charging up in Dragon Ball Z.
Probably the games biggest plus is the number of fighters you can choose from. Initially you are faced with 22 with another 5 to be unlocked using a code helpfully provided in the manual. So if you are thinking of getting this game and want to know if your fave character is included, here is that list in full! Super Saiyen Goku, Super Saiyan Gohan, Super Saiyen Goten, Super Saiyen Trunks, Super Saiyan Gotenks, Super Saiyen Future Trunks, Piccolo, Krillin, Ten Chin Han, Great Saiyaman, Supreme Kai, Majin Vegeta, Zarbon, Likum, Genious, Freiza, Android 18, Android 16, Perfect Cell, Dabura, Majin Buu, Super Majin Buu… plus five extra ones who are: Genius Turtle, Child Goku (with his monkey tail!), Super Saiyen 3 Goku, Vegetto and Hercule! Phew that’s quite a line up.
Rating this game proved a little tricky. Measured purely a fighting game against the likes of Tekken 3 or Street Fighter Alpha 3 it is extremely average, a 6 at best. Although it plays smoothly and looks decent it hasn’t the long term depth of a truly great fighting game. However, if you buy this game it is likely that you will a fanatical about Dragon Ball and that has to play a part in judging its overall worth. I have played quite a few Dragon Ball games now and this is by far and away the best one up to Dragonball Budokai 2 on the PS2 which is probably the best overall DBZ game I have ever played. This comes an honourable second to it.
See what I mean?
As a fighting game it’s worth maybe 6/10 but as a Dragon Ball game its rates around 9/10 so erring on the side of caution I rate it 7/10. Fans only need apply here, if you have been stung by the lameness of Final Bout or even Legacy of Goku on the GBA this should restore your faith somewhat so long as you are realistic about what a six-year-old Playstation game can offer you.
Seven out of ten