In the hope of making a game that does justice to the legendary Akira Toriyama shonen, we have seen many things attempted thus far, with the good times from the Budokai Tenkaichi saga for PlayStation 2 long gone (a series that was able to strike a nice balance between story and combat that hasn't been paralleled until the recent Xenoverse). Now comes the turn of Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden, a game that might look small, but still has plenty of things to say.
This 3DS exclusive is the work of the fighting experts at Arc System Works, a studio that had already worked on Nintendo platforms in the form of Dragon Ball titles, specifically Supersonic Warriors and its sequel. Those titles were hampered by the limitations of the platforms on which they were released on (Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS), although in both cases the results showed some really nice ideas and plenty of potential. Now, with Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden, the developers have been allowed more room to let their creativity shine.
From an aesthetic point of view the game doesn't venture into the realm of 3D, and instead goes all in on the cartoon sprites typical of traditional fighting games such as Street Fighter II, and the entry it is most similar to, if we start digging into the past, would be the legendary Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Battle 22 on PSOne. To its credit, we must say that the combat system is much more polished this time around.
In fact, it is the single strongest part of the game. It's not a system meant to compete with the bigwigs, but it delivers more than we had expected of it. For example, all the combos are based on the same combination of buttons, but each character is different enough so it doesn't get boring. Freezer is a fighter who puts more weight on ranged attacks, the opposite is true for Bardock or Broly, two giants you better keep your distance from.
In this sense Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden can be really fun. Arc System Works hasn't messed around with life bars; there is one, the fights are short, and you have to give it your all and tackle them without reservation. If the opponent actually pushes back it can result in very eye-catching battles in which you feel as though you are in the middle of a real Dragon Ball duel. There is a flaw though; the vast majority of the time the opponent barely offers a challenge.
This lightweight challenge is because the game has only three levels of difficulty, of which the first two are extremely simple. We did a test whereby we showed the game to someone not overly familiar with fighting games, and without even commenting on how the controls work or offering guidance, he won comfortably on normal mode. The AI barely stands up even on the hardest difficulty during the last stretch of the story; we really missed sweating blood like we do with the best fighting games.
Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden has two main elements featuring plot and story content: Z Story and Adventure Mode. The first is divided into seven sections, each containing ten missions where we experience different characters pulled from the Dragon Ball series. In some cases we relive the original story (though it's not that fleshed out here), in others it is reinterpreted, and in a few we're given a brand new story.
As for the Adventure Mode, we're dropped into different stages Budokai-style, but with very few complications: you arrive, you win, you advance. The hook - and tricky part - of these battles is that they hide some very juicy bonuses that are achieved only by getting the S rank in battle, which is especially difficult in this game. The reward is Z aids; power-ups used by various characters in the Dragon Ball story that can be deployed in battle.
Our feelings are mixed after trying the twenty-four characters that come with the European version, and completing all of the modes in just seven hours. On the one hand we must praise the good work of Arc System Works when conceiving such a simple yet solid combat system, one that will surely provide good online fighting. On the other hand, we missed detail and depth in the single-player game. It's a good fighter for those wanting one on Nintendo's handheld, but it would have been much better if it was longer and more difficult.
The full potential of Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden will only be realised when there's other players in the mix, where we can fight with up to three characters per side and with the Z aid offering challenging and entertaining battles. This is a decent game for fans, but we would have liked to have seen a bit more.