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It seems like the PlayStation Vita is becoming the go-to platform for four-player 3D brawlers, with games like Soul Sacrifice and Ragnarok Odyssey already making waves on the console and Toukiden: The Age of Demons being one of the most highly anticipated portable games of 2014. Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z is the latest offering in this particular category, but can the series' trademark uuber-fast action and free movement translate into a fun multiplayer experience?
If you would have asked me this question following my first couple of missions within the game's meaty demo, which went live on the PlayStation Network yesterday afternoon, I would have told you that, yes, it absolutely delivers. Actually, given how excited I was by my initial experience with the game, I would have been more likely to shout my reply from the kitchen sink, where I was busily dying my hair blonde in order to pretend I was turning Super Saiyan.
Like many children of the 90's, I grew up on DBZ, excitedly tuning in every afternoon to see the latest adventures of Goku and company. Shortly after booting up War of Z on my Vita, my initial reaction was “Ermergerd, it feels like I'm playing the TV show!”
The game takes place in the open world with the Square and X buttons used to fly (ascend and descend respectively). That leaves only two main face buttons for the combat, with triangle being mashed repetitively to pull of combos and circle being used to shoot ki blasts.
As story events from the show unfold through fully-voiced, pop-up dialogue boxes, players are left to explore the massive environments in order to hunt down and fight enemies. You can also guard, which can be tapped in tangent with any of the face buttons in order to pull off one of your character's special moves. The touchscreen is also used for combat, with two regions dedicated to other special moves and a third region allowing you to easily target a teammate.
In multiplayer mode, or when you have an AI partner, targeting your opponent allows you to give them some energy when they're hurt or revive them when they've been KOed.
My problem with the game is that, while the freedom of movement is nice, the rest of the controls don't leave much room for creative combat. Imagine a street fighter game with two main fight buttons. One shoots a fireball and the other can be mashed rapidly to create an easy combo. All other buttons on the controller can be tapped to pull off the super moves you used to have to string combos together or know the correct input to achieve. It's invigorating at first but, after just a handful of levels, the “I LOVE DBZ” glasses had fallen off and I was left pretty board with my options.
Along the way, you'll collect cards and items that can be equipped to your characters to give them stat boosts (better defense, more range on a ki blast, etc). And while I had the opportunity to play as a handful of staple characters including Piccolo and Young Gohan, none of them controlled differently enough to make me feel like my growing reservations concerning the controls were unfounded. A shame, since it looks like the game has an absolutely massive roster.
Finally, as I said earlier, Battle of Z is all about being able to take your game online and play through the missions with up to three friends/strangers. I got into a lobby no problem, we each picked a fighter and we were good to go. Even the voice chat worked well, which more multiplayer games on the Vita could take a lesson from.
There were a few moments of lag online, but I can't very well fault a demo for something like that. What I can fault it for, though, is a lack of fun. Maybe things will change once players have gained more experience and strategize a bit but, from my handful of online missions, it quickly devolved into even less inspired combat than the single player. Everyone took off after their own enemy, beat them senseless, then made their way to the final fight. Rather than be a challenge, this portion of the game devolved into a case of “who can actually land a blow?” With four people trying to lay the smackdown on a single character, the enemy simply bounced around between us until he was beaten. Nifty “chase” sequences and the occasional well-timed volley made things more interesting, but not enough to make me itch for more.
The same goes for competitive fights. Thanks to an almost mandatory lock-on system and the lackluster combat, trying to fight actual human beings was less about any sort of skill and more about chasing each other around until someone got in a lucky blow and kept mashing on the button.
Again, maybe we're all just playing it wrong at this point and haven't discovered the game's depth just yet. Maybe Battle of Z absolutely sings with a group of friends who truly understand the game. After a couple of hours with the demo, though, I'm not feeling too hopeful.
I do have to give the developers kudos for offering up such an impressive demo, though. Anything you do in the demo transfers to the real game when it launches in late January. There are loads of unlocks to get your hands on already, a whole bunch of missions to dive into and the co-op and competitive modes are ready to go.
If you're a fan of the show and/or genre and you have a Vita lying around (it'll be coming to the PS3 and 360, too), there's no harm in taking Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z for a test drive. As for me, though, I'm not yet convinced that the full adventure is one I'll be willing to take.