Dragon Ball Z has a large catalog of titles that are best described as a mixed bag of rehashed stories, gameplay, and characters that fans can't seem to get enough of. So when Battle of Z was announced, a fully four player co-op 3D fighter that even includes the most recent of movies, it seemed that Namco Bandai was ready to breathe some new life into a tired catalog of games.
It's very noticeable how far the cel-shaded graphics have come, as Battle of Z is simply the best looking game they've made to-date. It looks just like the most recent movie, Super Saiyan God, with a great amount of attention given to animations and fine details, such as realistic hair and clothing movement throughout gameplay, and not just cutscenes. Lighting is well done, with power bursts and ki charging casting deep and flickering shadows, bringing each character further to life, as well as making the vibrant and beautiful surroundings vigorously pop off the screen. Sound work is also top notch, as it is with most DBZ games, featuring all of the wonderful English dub actors, as well as all the iconic energy blasts and Kamehamehas booming from the speakers with force. Yet, where nearly every recent release is able to create the spectacle that is Dragon Ball Z, the gameplay tends to get stale rather quickly, and right now, it looks like Battle of Z is no exception.
As soon as I jumped into the demo, playing as Super Sayian Trunks and supported by the super Sayian versions of Goku and Vegeta, as well as Piccolo, I could tell there were still a lot of kinks that need to be worked out. The camera was pretty egregious, for I could only really tell what was happening about two thirds of the time. Shooting across the screen at high speeds jostles the camera into multiple positions. While you can target enemies, the camera doesn't operate well with it, sometimes making it impossible to follow. Opponents can move with the same speed as you can, and when both I and the enemy were racing around the level, I saw more invisible and transparent characters than should be allowed. Gameplay suffers because of this, as well as due to repetitive use of the same basic melee and energy blast attacks.
The more unique special abilities, like Vegetas Big Bang Attack and Goku's normal Kamehamehas, and flashy super attacks Final Flash and Super Kamehameha, are much more useful and require Ki to perform, which one would think would require reserved use of the meter. Yet, complete bull rushing with normal attacks and using special and super abilities freely seems to be the driving force behind gameplay, which technically suits the series just fine, but makes for a boring game. There are team abilities, and you can issue commands to your team in single player with the dpad, though it's limited to all out attack, defense, charging Ki, or performing team attacks. While team attacks are definitely the more interesting parts of gameplay, it's difficult to be in the right place at the right time due to the high speed and hectic nature of the fighter, and the shoddy camera doesn't help at all.
While co-op or versus weren't available to try out, it's safe to assume that more players would result in a more enjoyable experience, yet also more chaos if it can't be more finely tuned before release. There's a lot of promise and plenty of great ideas in Battle of Z, it just needs some tweaks to its camerawork to keep the action more focused, as well as more varied basic attacks that don't become repetitive within the time limits of a couple of 10 minute demo sessions. No matter what, DBZ fans should be excited for the early 2014 release, as it's one of the most ambitious Dragon Ball Z games to-date.