Dragon Ball Z: Budokai

Dragon Ball Z: Budokai
Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Cover
Platforms GameCube, PlayStation 2
Genre Enjoyable Licensed Fighter
MtAMinutes to Action 6
Keep Playing? For a bit longer
Buy from Amazon

Everyone should have heard of Dragon Ball Z, the famous anime based on the manga by Akira Toriyama. It's the second part of the series (preceded by Dragon Ball), and the most famous. It follows the adult life of Goku as he grows more powerful and gets in fights with aliens.

Dragon Ball Z has such loyal fans that any game with the Dragon Ball Z moniker automatically sells well, no matter how bad. This is what licensed games are all about: making money on the strength of the brand instead of the strength of the game.

Then along came Dragon Ball Z: Budokai (which basically means "tournament") for the Playstation 2. It sold exceptionally well, even for DBZ, so Atari decided to update the graphics and release it on the Nintendo GameCube, where it went on to sell over a million copies and become Player's Choice.

The GameCube version is the preferred release, as the developer Dimps took the opportunity to implement cel-shading, making the game look more like the anime than the Playstation 2 version. I will be playing the GameCube version.

What I want to know is this: is this game worthy of its Player's Choice status, or did DBZ just have a million fans ready to pay for anything with Goku on the front? Will this game be fun for those without prior knowledge of the story, or will you have to be a devoted fan to get anything out of it?

Minute by Minute

(minutes are in bold)
00 - I select New Game and the first hour of Dragon Ball Z: Budokai begins. First I create a memory card file, then I get to the main menu. There are several options, I go with "Story" as it sounds like main single player mode.

01 - A cutscene plays, featuring a bunch of characters flying around, stuff breaking, fire, someone being chased by a dinosaur, a giant explosion in space, a giant dancing ape, a woman on a motor cycle fleeing a dinosaur; all backed by a terrible, terrible song.

02 - A gigantic dragon, a kid with a sword and a tail is caught by a guy flying on a cloud. Meteors strike the earth. A bunch of weird looking people standing around in orange jumpsuits. I'm a little worried now. Now a narrator is giving me some background.

Dragon Ball Z Budokai Raditz

03 - Raditz comes and talks to Goku, calling him his brother. Raditz kidnaps Goku's son Gohan, and Goku chases after him.

04 - Goku demands Raditz give back his son, Raditz says no and they get in a fight.

05 - The pre-fight screen shows me the basic controls: A punches, Y kicks, X is "Ki blast wave" (ooh, aah!) B guards. I'm glad it told me this before the fight. Then I get a screen that shows me special moves. The Zanku fist is Y, Y, -> Y, X, and pressing A, A, A, A, X will do the Kamehameha.

06 – The fight commences and my opponent lands the first blow. I manage to use the Kamehameha a couple of times, it looks cool enough: that action pauses for a second while the move charges up, then unleashes, and it's decently powerful. If I attack right after blocking I do a counter, it must do more damage or something. I finally finished the battle with the Kamehameha. I used it several times, it's powerful but it's appropriately difficult to trigger.

07 - Goku has Raditz pinned, Raditz convinces Goku to let him go, which he does, and Raditz elbows him in the face.

08 - There's lots of exposition before and after battles. It's been 8 minutes and I've played for only one of those.

Dragon Ball Z Budokai Goku Piccolo

09 - I'm in a mini-game, I have to hold Raditz so Piccolo can zap him. I have to rotate the control stick toward the middle, while Raditz pulls away from it. I have to hold him there at the end of the timer (fifteen seconds), but I fail the first time. I succeed on the second try, which triggers another cutscene.

10 - It sure took Piccolo long enough to charge up the Special Beam Cannon. He finally fires, and it cuts straight through Raditz and Goku. It shows a rather graphic cartoon hole through them both. It appears that Goku and Raditz are both dead.

11 - A card tells me I can now use Raditz in Vs. Mode. So now that he's dead, I can play as him? That works, I guess. Another cutscene confirms that Goku is indeed dead, and in the Other World.

12 - As best I can tell, this is just telling the story of Dragon Ball Z, and it's letting me play out every fight from the series and showing me the rest in cutscenes. Except very compressed. It kind of makes sense, because from what I know Dragon Ball Z does have a lot of one-on-one fights.

13 - Needless to say Goku doesn't stay dead. He trains in the Other World and comes back even stronger. He's learned a new move, the King Kai Fist x2, which is A, Y, B together.

14 - I'm in a fight, this time with someone called Nappa. I hit him with a powerful uppercut which knocks him into the air, and as I move toward him Goku rises up and we continue the fight in the air. This is what I've been waiting for. Then I finish him off. In the post-battle cutscene Vegeta appears, complete with his Scouter. I really want to know what it says about his power level, but I think I already know the answer (it's over 9000 [ed. note: ugh]).

Dragon Ball Z Budokai Goku Nappa

15 - Vegeta kills Nappa for being a disgrace to Saiyans, and this next battle is called Super-Duel.

16 - I have a new special move called the Continuous Kamehameha, I pull it off and it's really cool: Goku uppercuts Vegeta into the air, jumps up after him and slams him back down onto the ground, then fires four bolts of ki energy at him.

17 - We were near the edge of the stage and Vegeta kicked me and sent me smashing straight through a mesa and onto a field on the other side. Vegeta then jumps over and we continue the fight. Very dramatic.

18 - I beat Vegeta.

19 - Vegeta is now a gigantic ape.

20 - Gohan and Krillin appear.

Dragon Ball Z Budokai Goku Vegeta Kamehameha

21 - Krillin just cut off Vegeta's tail and he shrank back down to his normal size.

22 - Now I'm fighting as Gohan. He has similar moves to Goku, his Continuous Ki Blast Wave does good damage. I finish Vegeta with a Kamehameha.

23 - I can now play as Vegeta. Another cutscene has Vegeta nearly dying.

24 - Krillin is about to kill Vegeta, but Goku tells him not to because he wants to fight him another day to prove to himself that he can beat Vegeta.

26 - We're going to Namek to find the Dragon Balls so we can wish all of our dead friends back to life. That's the end of the first episode. Now it shows the same intro cutscene I saw before, with all the weird stuff and the terrible song.

28 - Goku is training to be ready to fight Vegeta. The first stage has me pressing guard just in time against incoming Ki Blast Waves. If I press it just right, it will bounce back and hit him. I have to do this a number of times.

Dragon Ball Z Budokai Super Saiyan Goku Vegeta

29 - I get the King Kai Fist x5, I figured out that these are transformations. Using the move puts you in a more powerful state but makes your Spirit gauge constantly go down. If your Spirit gauge goes too low and you get knocked down, you lose that mode. Blocking also reduces the Spirit gauge, but landing blows and deflecting Ki blast waves raises it.

30 - They warn me about Frieza, a male alien with a female voice.

31 - Next training stage: if both opponents use certain powerful attacks at the same time, Burst Mode is activated. In this mode, a cutscene plays of the two fighters pummeling each other with dramatic effects in the background. During this time, it is the player's job to mash as many buttons as possible while twirling the control stick. Whoever is more spastic wins, and damages their opponent.

32 - I feel like I'm damaging my controller more than my opponent. I have to activate Burst Mode several times to finish this stage.

34 - After that stage I get the King Kai Fist x10, I guess that's like the previous only makes me more powerful. I also get the Dragon Throw, which is a special throw that doesn't use any Spirit power.

35 - The fighting is actually kind of fun.

Dragon Ball Z Budokai Gohan

36 - I acquired an item, apparently: the Senzu bean, which can bring me back to life when my health bar depletes all the way. I'm not sure how to equip it. More cutscene.

39 - I'm fighting Ricoone now, he's blocking a lot.

40 - He almost beat me but in the end I got him.

41 - Vegeta thinks Goku might be the Super Saiyan. Which is like a Saiyan only better.

42 - Vegeta is now helping me fight these guys... except that he's not. He just bugged out on me. I'm now fighting Captain Ginyu. I barely beat the last guy, so hopefully I'll be able to step my game up.

43 - The Kamehameha is pretty powerful, but it's hard to pull off against these guys that block a lot. I've got his health down to nothing but I can't get the last hit in. I finally get him, he was actually easier than the last guy. He didn't use any special moves.

Dragon Ball Z Budokai Gohan Vegeta

44 - Goku says he's tired of senseless fighting. I guess that's the end of the game!

45 - Ginyu just swapped bodies with me, so now I have to fight in Ginyu's body against Ginyu in Goku's body. The most intriguing thing about this setup is that one of Ginyu's body's moves is called the Parmesan Shower. Sounds like something from Olive Garden.

46 - I pull off a Parmesan Shower, and sadly it looks the same as the Continuous Kamehameha. I was really hoping there'd be cheese.

47 - I KO'd Goku with Ginyu. Or... however that works. Goku gets put back into his own body, but because he just beat himself up with Ginyu's body, he's badly wounded. I knew that wasn't a good idea.

48 - Now Goku is in something like a bacta tank healing from his self-inflicted wounds. Krillin and Gohan seem to have acquired the Dragon Balls and wished Piccolo back to life. But then Frieza comes along and kills them all. I use the word "kill" lightly, because it's nearly impossible to tell when anyone's actually dead here.

49 - Goku is now much stronger. Again. I now have to fight Frieza.

Dragon Ball Z Budokai Krillin Piccolo

50 - I'm not sure how to obtain Spirit power to activate the King Kai Fist, and I think that's kind of important. I do manage to activate some level of it, and it does indeed make Goku's attack do much more damage. I get knocked down and it lowers one level.

51 - Hey, Burst Mode just accidentally got activated! I do a considerable amount of damage to my controller and come out victorious, KO'ing Frieza in the process. That was kind of cool.

52 - I got the Spirit Bomb move, I have to be in King Kai Fist mode to use it. According to what's shown in the cutscene, it should end the fight in one move, after charging for about an hour.

53 - See what I mean, they're not dead! I never can tell. Krillin, Gohan and Piccolo are alive, but so is Frieza, missing an eye it looks like. Frieza just exploded Krillin with mind powers or something. I wonder why he didn't just do that to Goku during our last battle.

54 - Goku's hair just turned yellow! I'm not sure exactly, but I'm guessing that means he just got a lot more powerful. Apparently it means he's Super Saiyan.

Dragon Ball Z Budokai Goku Frieza

55 - Goku is really, really angry at Frieza for killing Krillin and he expresses this by yelling really, really loudly.

56 - Super Saiyan mode can now be activated with 5 or more Spirit gauges, but this battle starts with me in said mode. Even so, Frieza owns me before I can get very many hits in. I choose to restart the battle, and we go at it again.

57 - Frieza is blocking almost every move I make. I finally beat him, just barely.

58 - Frieza is really upset now because Goku is the Super Saiyan.

59 - Frieza beats me without much of a fight. Even blocking wasn't very effective.

60 - We go into Burst Mode but he won and defeated me. How depressing for the end of the hour.

Dragon Ball Z Budokai Goku Gohan

First Hour Summary

Minutes to Action: 6

Favorite Thing: The Dragon Ball Z fighting style makes an exciting game. Kame-hame-ha!

Least Favorite Thing: The game didn't explain some of the basics of gameplay.

Design: The characters look great, they're cel-shaded but not completely flat. The scenery looks ok but is empty. The sound effects are repeated often and can get a little annoying, and the theme song is awful. I'm embarrassed for the guy who wrote it.

Story: The story is the story from the show, heavily compressed for time. I actually like that, because it's like watching the show without committing all that time. It's told through cutscenes that can get quite long.

Fun: It's kind of a guilty pleasure; being able to pull off the cool Dragon Ball Z moves and fight in the air, as well as kick opponents through landscape features, is really fun.

Keep Playing: I probably will play some more, just because some of the moves and features are cool, but I doubt I'll commit much time into it.

You will like this game if: You want to fight like Dragon Ball Z characters, even if you don't really follow the show.

Other Thoughts: I only played Story mode; there's a tournament mode as well in which you play battles seperate from the story and can unlock new moves and such. I almost finished two episodes of the story in an hour, and there are a total of three, so probably at most two hours of story here.

I was getting beaten badly at the end, but I read the instruction manual after I was done and learned how to regain Spirit power, how to dodge, how to pull off certain combos I couldn't figure out, and many more thing that would have come in really handy. With that knowledge, I could probably win that battle easily.

In an hour of game time, I had control for 17 minutes. The rest was spent watching cutscenes. However, it sounds worse than it was; most of the time I actually enjoyed watching the cutscenes.

It's decently fun, but I'd have to say the million copies sold were definitely aided by rabid DBZ fans. Even though the game can be enjoyed by those with only a cursory knowledge of Dragon Ball Z, the appeal is far greater for those dedicated fans.

Dragon Ball Z Budokai Super Saiyan Goku Punch