Game: Dragon Ball Z for Kinect
Developer: Spike ChunSoft
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Available on: Xbox 360 with Kinect only
Now, I should clarify that I am not a great fan of Dragon Ball Z. In the past I have played a few of the old fighting games, watched an episode or two of the anime and even read a bit of the manga, but the over-the-top, inter-planetary smackdowns have just never captured my imagination to a great extent. So when news came in that Namco Bandai would be releasing a Kinect fighting game based on the series, I wasn’t blown away with excitement. However, the concept has some potential, the fights in the series are wild and dramatic, which could produce a fun motion-controlled experience, and the few Kinect beat-em-ups we have seen so far have been severely lacking; so it could be the first to break the mould. The Kinect sensor lends itself well to boxing modes in its sports games, so why not fighting?
STORY: Unfortunately, for a series that has been so long-running, with such a rich storyline to be mined for inspiration, Dragon Ball Z for Kinect wastes this opportunity almost entirely. The game does nothing to set the scene at the start, and despite there being three story modes to play through, they are using that term very loosely. The only story we get is a brief smack talk before and after each fight, but not enough to actually link the battles together logically. They never explain where the characters are, why they are there, or what led from one fight to the next. Really they just come across as unrelated fights. In one instance, in a final boss battle, you actually complete the stage, but it makes no sense as you neither won or lost the battle, and the game gives you no sort of cutscene to explain what happened, the story mode simply ends abruptly. A lot of potential for a faithful and deep story mode has been well and truly wasted.
GRAPHICS: The visual presentation is a tale of two aspects. Firstly, the cell-shaded, authentic anime style character models, and secondly the flat, dull environments. The character models are just what you would expect from a Dragon Ball title, with bright colours and bold sprites. Their moves and actions are all taken straight from the cartoons, so they all look very authentic; even down to the fact that their mouths don’t move to every syllable, just like the real dubbed cartoons.
Unfortunately though, the backgrounds and environments that you fight in are dull and boring. They are largely flat and lifeless, with nothing to really capture the imagination. They do nothing to stand out from one to the next. There is no interactivity with the environments either, so they are more or less just an afterthought, as it seems little consideration has been paid towards them. The overall presentation also gives nothing to shout about, with uninspired menus and bland design, making everything come across as a bit bland and un-exciting.
SOUND: The sound design is slightly more inspiring, using all of the actors from the English dubbing of the cartoons, coupled with music taken from the soundtrack. The menus are made all the more dramatic by the sweeping music and they help build up the hype before a fight. These certainly help set the scene well and add some authenticity to the game, but the sound effects are poor by comparison. Some of the punching and hitting sound effects are a little strange and don’t sound entirely convincing. All in all, the sound is a plus to the title, and if a little more attention was paid to the smaller details, it would have fit perfectly.
GAMEPLAY: The game is actually pretty straight forward. You perform punching or kicking actions, along with specials such as power charging stances or fireball throws to perform moves in-game. These are all fairly simple to pull off, by just doing the corresponding action in your room. The detection is actually quite good, and only the blocking and dodging actions threw up any problems, with the game missing the move, or thinking you we’re doing something else. Special moves also need overly complex stances sometimes. This doesn’t happen often though, as there are cue cards for special moves that appear on loading screens so you can practice, as well as a series of extended tutorials that do a good job of showing you how to pull off different moves.
That is where the positives end unfortunately. The main issue is that the fights become incredibly repetitive very quickly, with very little variety from fight to fight. The three story modes on offer do get a little harder as you progress, but this doesn’t add any variety; rather it forces you to have to fight more conservatively and in a more repetitive manner in order to grind out a win. You will have to use the same moves over and over again, as the health levels in the game are very high, so no matches will be quick, even the easy ones. You can re-play fights you have completed before in score attack mode, but this offers nothing new and it is unlikely players will want to do a particular fight many different times. After this, there is really nothing on offer to bring you back to the main game.
The fights, and which characters are facing off against each other, is almost pointless;they could all be the same. Move sets aren’t personalised from one character to the next, apart from specials, so things just get too samey too quickly. There are one or two boss style battles, which play out more like quick time events, but these are relatively short and, again, the story elements are so weak that the boss battles mean nothing.
LONGEVITY: Rather unfortunately for a fighting game, the title features no multiplayer modes at all, which is certainly a missed opportunity. There are online leaderboards to compare scores and times, but this isn’t something that is likely to capture the imaginations of gamers. Included on the disc, there is a full length episode of the cartoon as a bonus. However, rather strangely, there is no relation between the game and the cartoon, and it is in Japanese with English subtitles. It seems like a slightly pointless addition. The final extra is the ability to scan QR codes via the Kinect Sensor to unlock new characters, but considering all the characters play in more or less the same way, it doesn’t add much to the game.
VERDICT: What is a fairly strong detection system, with a robust selection of recognised actions, is sorely let down by a woeful story and repetitive gameplay. There simply isn’t enough on offer to sustain interest in the game, and only hardcore fans will understand the plot as it goes along. Having a reputation for being for casual games, a Kinect title needs to be accessible and appeal to a wide audience, and unfortunately Dragon Ball Z for Kinect does little to pull in those who are new to the series, but even those who love it and played the complex PS2 games in the past will be let down by the incredibly shallow play and the lack of variety.