Review: Dragon Ball Z: Tenkaichi Tag Team

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With all of the Dragon Ball Z games that have been released over the years, it amazes me that none have featured a tag team mechanic. I haven’t played them all to know for myself, but according to the press materials I received from Namco Bandai with my review copy, Dragon Ball Z: Tenkaichi Tag Team for the PSP is the first DBZ game with tag team gameplay.

Now, I won’t sit here and pose as a knowledgeable Dragon Ball Z fan. I know nothing about the anime or manga, and my only knowledge of the franchise has been obtained through playing some of the video games it has spawned. I see that as a good thing, though; as it allows me to fairly examine the quality of the game by itself without being swayed by fan service. I’m not reviewing whether or not this is a good Dragon Ball Z game, but whether or not it is a good fighting game. Period.

When I first turned Tenkaichi Tag Team on and began browsing through the main menu to acquaint myself with the game’s mode offerings, I was very impressed by the breadth of what I saw. This game has a ton of content going for it, and tons of fan service.

There’s a full-on quest mode called Dragon Walker, which chronicles the original Dragon Ball Z storyline from the Saiyan saga to the Majin Buu saga. Basically, you take on individual missions pulled from the anime and fly around a JRPG-like overworld map to initiate dialogue sequences leading into the ensuing battles. It’s a substantial mode too, taking upwards of six hours to finish, not including optional side objectives and new mission branches that open up upon completion. Many of the missions do seem to retread similar scenarios. But it is a fighting game, so it’d be unreasonable to expect a huge amount of variety in this area.

In addition to the story mode, there are Free Battle and Survival modes along with a Battle 100 mode, in which you pick matches on a grid and relive iconic battles from the anime to earn points by connecting the grid nodes in a line after victory. Ad Hoc support also allows for four-player wireless battles — but unfortunately Infrastructure play is not an option.

If that wasn’t enough for you, the game also stars 70 playable and customizable characters (that number is inflated by multiple forms of the same character, mind you). Pretty much everything you do in the game – including a loading screen mini-game — earns you D-Points, a currency used to upgrade character abilities by purchasing and equipping D-Items. Each character can equip D-Items in three categories – Ability Type, Tag Type and Intellect Type – and each one augments their battle performance with boosts to team attacks, defense/attack/health/Ki attributes, overall fighting styles, and things of that nature. You can save three customization slots per character too, in case you want to match a specific skill set to your opponent.

Unfortunately, the game begins to fall apart when you actually play it. After opening the in-game Battle Guide filled with text explanations of the game’s battle system, I was overwhelmed by the volume of control options and left the training expecting challenging, nuanced battles. That’s not exactly what I got.

Battles take place in full 3D, meaning you have free reign to move around within an open battlefield and even take the fisticuffs skyward, and new to this game are team battles in which you are paired with an AI partner and matched up against other teams of two (matches can be 1 vs. 1, 2 vs. 2, 1 vs. 2, and 2 vs. 1). From the training guide, the game appears to have everything you would want from a fighting game. Combos, counters, evasive maneuvers, special attacks, taunts, grabs, character transformations, and team attacks too of course.

But during actual gameplay, I found the game to be a shallow anime fighter built to favor style over substance. Seriously, the gameplay is as deep as a puddle…in a desert…where there is no water!

The battles are visually spectacular. Characters are authentically rendered and animated in colorful, cel-shaded detail, and the special attacks certainly don’t skimp on the fireworks. But the flashy imagery is really just a facade masking an excruciatingly simple fighting game that can be brainless, button-mashing fun for a fight or two at a time, but quickly becomes a snore after that.

The beef I have is that the game rarely challenges you to put any effort or skill into winning fights. I went through the entire quest mode with one simple strategy: press X to homing-dash towards the enemy, mash on the square button to attack, and mix in a special attack here and there for massive damage. The only battles that ever became even remotely challenging were the 1 vs. 2 bouts, and those were only ever difficult because of cheap AI tactics that would have one enemy dashing in from beyond the camera’s view and hitting me from behind while I tried to attack his friend. But even those battles weren’t that much of a challenge in the end.

In over eight hours of game time across all modes, I haven’t lost a single match – and I’ve never had to do more than the “dash, attack, rinse and repeat” strategy. In fact, if I deviated from that tactic and tried to explore some of the deeper elements, the battles just seemed to become more tedious. Why am I going to wait for an enemy to attack so I can counter or muck around with charging up my Ki gauge when I can dash and attack without a whole lot of resistance?

Lack of depth isn’t the only problem either. The camera system is also a mess. On top of unseen enemies cheaply striking you from behind, the camera does a poor job tracking your current target. During frantic moments when multiple characters are dashing around simultaneously, the perspective gets stuck whipping around to keep up with the action, and it can be quite nauseating. Many times it causes you to lose sight of you and your target entirely, leaving you to stare at a blank screen for a few seconds as if you entered some hidden first-person view.

Fan service will likely mask these flaws for a very specific audience that loves everything Dragon Ball Z no matter what “outsiders” have to say. So, if you’re in that group, you can pretty much disregard everything negative I’ve had to say about Tenkaichi Tag Team, because you’re probably going to dig this game regardless of my opinion. However, for the broader PSP audience wondering whether or not Dragon Ball Z: Tenkaichi Tag Team is a worthwhile fighting game, I think I’ve made my answer abundantly clear at this point.

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Pros:
+ Deep feature set, including a lengthy quest mode
+ Vibrant, detailed graphics pop off the PSP screen
+ Lots of characters and an interesting customization system
+ Plenty of fan service to mask the flaws for the DBZ fanatic

Cons:
– Shallow combat lacks challenge and grows stale quickly
– Disorienting camera fails to consistently keep up with the action
– No Infrastructure multiplayer support
– Tag team gameplay really doesn’t add anything all that special

Game Info:
Platform: PSP
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: Spike
Release Date: 10/19/2010
Genre: Fighting
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1-4 (Ad Hoc only)
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!