This, everyone, is precisely how you balance fan service and fighting game brilliance.
Get ready for the Dragon Ball Z fighting game you've always wanted. For several years now, publisher Namco Bandai has gradually been turning around the franchise, doing everything to make this licensed video game into more than a game living off its license. And with Dragon Ball Fighterz, we finally have that.
Fighterz is an electric, full-fledged fighting game that charts its own course. Alongside the nuanced fighting systems of Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter V, and Injustice 2, Fighterz remains somewhat simplistic, leaving spammers with opportunities, and retaining some easy specials. But developer Arc System Works makes this work in Fighterz, mixing in other mechanics to keep you off-balance and reward the skilled fighter. For all the button-mashing, a well-timed block can stave off the supers. And much like Capcom's Marvel vs. Capcom series, you're controlling three characters in this fighter, juggling opportunities to hit and key moves.
The result isn't pure button-mashing mayhem; your wits and skill will help you survive and can get you past spam-friendly gamers online. At the very least, you'll want your Street Fighter and Tekken skills handy; most combos play off the familiar stick-wiggling utilized in those titles.
And when you pull off the combos, you'll feel plenty fulfilled. First off, they're all dazzlingly beautiful in a game that might as well be the cartoon itself. Namco has long worked to make its Dragon Ball titles mirror the cartoon as much as possible, even back in the PlayStation 2 days, but the power of the Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro make that reality as stunning as ever. Fight scenes are nearly indiscernible from cutscenes (or scenes on Cartoon Network), and the boldest blasts pop right off the screen.
This effect is most noticeable during the brawling itself, but combined with the robust story mode, it draws you in. The tale itself is plenty derivative (Dragon Ball Z doesn't tell a stunning story, so why should a Dragon Ball video game?) but the cartoon visuals still hold your attention, especially if you're a hardcore DBZ fan. At the start, you'll likely want to change the dialogue from Japanese to English (a process more convoluted than it should be, since the menu to do this is buried), but from then on, there's enough fan service to keep you interested.
Not that the game is only fan service, though, because Arc System Works does everything possible to insure there are fresh, new ideas in here. The Arcade Mode is one of them; it's more than a mere series of battles culminating in a tough one. Instead, after each victory, you get a grade based on proficiency (high, medium, or low), and that grade determines your next opponent. It's not much vastly different from your typical arcade score mechanic, but it adds a little bit of fun to things.
The bright side: We are at a point where a Dragon Ball fighting game holds its own.
Reviewed on Microsoft Xbox One X and Sony PlayStation 4 Pro
Available on Xbox One, PS4, PC
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