Back before anime games either consisted of the worst ninjas ever battling one another, or emo teens with orange hair waving magic swords around, there was another slice of Japanese animation that everyone was crazy for.
You all know what I’m talking about, it’s Dragonball Z. Hands up if you ever bought a packet of Simba chips and kept the metal “tazos” that were inside of them, or modded your copy of Half Life to play Earth’s Special Forces.
Man, DBZ was the senzu beans yo!
And then along came the Budokai series of games. Pretty much the most accurate representation of the DBZ universe, like, ever, it gave the fans what they wanted. Fighting, more fighting and then even more fighting.
And it was brilliant. But over the years, the annual release of a new DBZ game that recycles the same storyline more often than a soap opera, has become pretty stale. Still, if you’re hankering for a slice of retro, then good news, as the first three DBZ games in the Budokai series have been collected together in one repackaged HD version. Did I say three?
I meant games one and three. Who needs the second, amirite?
So let’s take a look at DBZ Budokai 1 then. You know what? It’s still pretty damn quirky. This was the game to have back then if you were obsessed with shouting loudly and having a dangerous amount of hair product worked into your scalp.
Characters still move fluidly, show basic emotions and the action never skips a frame. And for a game that was released way back in the dark ages, in the year of our lord known as 2002, the core fighting mechanics here are still pretty solid.
It’s 2D brawling with a 3D visual style, with combat kicks, punches, grabs and ki attacks being assigned their face button. And it’s still damn challenging. Combat in Budokai games are faster than you’d expect, with matches being complemented by basic QTEs. Although if another DBZ game forces me to position Raditz into the path of a SPECIAL BEAM CANNON attack, someone is going to get hurt real bad.
Combos soon become a staple of combat here, from basic punch and kick combinations, through to move-sets that end with a BIG BANG ATTACK and beyond. It becomes a little too repetitive at times, relying on the same move sets, but back in 2002, this stuff was golden.
Capsules could be acquired, that gave new move-sets, perfect for those of you who want an attack to be damaging enough to blow up the planet. The HD ration works a treat, while certain things such as movies and menus have been slapped with some quick borders to hide that disgusting 4:3 scale that the original games were instantly transmitted on.
Besides the story mode and it’s interactive elements, a tournament and versus modes for your mates has also been included, while the audio department has hyped the return of the original Japanese voice-over cast for the Budokai HD collection.
Why anyone would want to hype that is beyond me, because after half an hour of playing through the game listening to high-pitched aliens power up and scream at one another, it felt like my ear canals had been violated.
That’s one thing that I’ll say about DBZ, because when it comes to English dubs, that series got it right. Fortunately, Budokai 3 has those more western voices on demand, much to the relief of my now bleeding ear-drums.
Budokai 3 was released way back in 2004, and as dated as it is, it’s still ridiculously fun. The key attraction here, is Dragon Universe, a semi-open world where players can choose a character, fly around, level up and learn what it means TO GO EVEN FURTHER BEYOND!
Grinding up would give players points to invest in their characters, giving them perks such as extra attack power, more energy and better health, something crucial for the battles ahead with over-powered enemies.
Cash, dragonballs and extra capsules were also littered around levels, waiting to be picked up, while the vanilla range of extra modes were added as well. As for the gameplay, it’s the same set-up from previous games, but refined, and with more earth-shattering techniques and QTEs added.
I played the Roshi out of this game back then, on my massive grey PS2 console, and it’s held up surprisingly well over time. D-Pad controls are still a must have for this kind of game, and the subtle gameplay additions made it sublime overall.
This is one Budokai where the cell-shading visuals still looks pretty damn pretty, even today. Sure, it’s still got some rough edges, but in 2004, this was the closest that we could get to perfect anime visuals in a fighting game.
And here’s the problem with this collection. It’s just not worth the R400 or more asking price. As much fun as the first Budokai game is, it pales in comparison to the third one, that will most likely be the only that is actually played.
And Namco, not including Budokai 2, is a massive misstep here. The excuse of it not being enough of a fighting game, is pretty much a weak argument. I’m not joking, as Namco senior global brand manager Jason Enos still had the following to say, regarding that omission.
When you look at the three games, one and three are actually more straight-up fighting games. Two IS a fighting game, but it also introduced some other elements of gameplay that kind of broke off the fighting aspects a little bit.
When we finally decided which games to go with, obviously fans love different ones, but we decided we would bookend the compilation because the first game set up the Budokai series, defined what it was, and the third game was a final resolution of the Budokai series.
No, that’s just lazy. If I can fly around to West City, fight a Saibaman and earn some XP, then that’s also going off the beaten path. I won’t deny that I had a blast with the Budokai games this weekend. But it’s mostly the third Budokai game that was so much fun. And without the second game to balance the achievements/trophies additions of the first and third titles, it does feel underwhelming, and hard to justify the price tag.
For a game series that is a decade old, the controls and gameplay ideas are remarkably well aged. It’s still fast and furious gameplay with a gentle learning curve, while remaining challenging, although I’d recommend that gamers stick to the D-Pads for directions on these titles.
Design and Presentation: 6.5/10
As dated as Budokai 1 looks, it’s still charming, and a good indicator of how far this specific sub-genre has come. The Japanese voices present on it take it down a notch though (Sorry purists, but when Goku sounds like a schoolgirl that is huffing helium, that’s a fail), while Budokai 3 looks far, far better in comparison.
As mentioned, some aspects look dated, but overall, it’s a decent presentation, even though the bordered menus feel more like a quick fix. Plus, English voice actors in Budokai 3. i cannot state enough how much better that makes the game on the ears.
And that’s still my problem here with the game. Budokai 3 is the pinnacle of this collection, but it’s lacking the middle game due to lazy reasons. And paying over R400 for an eight year old game does not make financial sense to me. Still, hardest of the core fans will most likely get a kick out of this.
Overall: IT’S OVER 6/10!
I really enjoyed the HD release of the Budokai games. But it’s going to be a hard sell, for Namco, as the current price point makes it less attractive than Majin Buu’s backside.
[Reviewed on X-Box 360, played on normal difficulty]