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Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi
Score: 42%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: NAMCO BANDAI Games America
Developer: Spike
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 2; 2 - 8 (Online)
Genre: Fighting/ Online

Graphics & Sound:
Generally speaking, the Dragon Ball games look way better than they play. Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi is the latest example of this trend, as it delivers a visually faithful experience that completely fails to deliver anything in the way of meaningful gameplay. That didn't stop the subpar Raging Blast games from selling well, and I doubt it will hinder Ultimate Tenkaichi. To the game's credit, however, Akira Toriyama's character and environment designs are well-reproduced in three dimensions; it's an eye-catching game that impresses as long as you're not the one holding the controller. The action is intense though occasionally too fast to keep track of.

Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi's sound design is as throwaway as it often is with most fighting games based on popular manga and anime franchises. It features the requisite bland synth J-rock anthems, and the instrumental stuff has a way of burying itself in your subconscious without being catchy or generally appealing. Voice acting is mostly reduced to the usual grunting, screaming, and unintelligible battle cries. Sound effects are pulled directly from the show, meaning you'll hear more than your share of devastating impact sounds, along with a smattering of "pew pew pew" sounds for Ki attacks, not to mention the apparent sound of a divebombing aircraft that plays when somebody is hurtling through the air at breakneck speed.

Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi is the latest in a now-ridiculously long line of fighting games based on the popular manga/anime franchise about superpowered fighters from outer space. And like many of those other fighting games, Ultimate Tenkaichi is a poorly-built fighting game that features a smattering of modes that do very little to sell the painfully basic mechanics.

The primary new addition to Ultimate Tenkaichi is Hero Mode, which allows you to create a customized character from a very weak selection of physical modifications and then let him loose in the world of Dragon Ball Z. This is a good idea in concept, but this game bungles its basics so severely that it fails by default.

Other modes make a return in this year's game, including Story Mode, which is as uninvolving as it's ever been. Very little effort has been put into the storytelling elements, as boxes with scrolling text seem to be the primary narrative vehicle for Ultimate Tenkaichi. Fun.

Last but not least, you can simply set up fights, be they tournament-based or otherwise. This is Dragon Ball Z fighting at its core, and you can keep it offline or go online. Through the online play is functional and more interesting than the offline play, the core tenets of the fighting are still terminally flawed.

Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi almost plays itself. So much of what you see in this game is completely out of your control that you might often wonder when you're actually behind the wheel. When the action is at its absolute best, it's only because the game took control away from you to show you something explosive and flashy. The most you'll ever do in relation to these amazing attack sequences is the odd button press or stick flick. The lack of involvement constitutes a lack of challenge, and that in turn constitutes a lack of entertainment value.

Ultimate Tenkaichi throws a bone to losing players in a way that is faithful to the franchise, yet unfair to the actual game. Players who lose the majority of their health have their Spirit Gauges instantly refilled, and a single button press has them unleash their signature devastating attack. It's in line with the way the show usually moves, but it's also cheap in gameplay terms.

Boss fights are the sole exception to the rest of the game, and for the wrong reason. Be they in Story or Hero Mode, these annoyances have larger than life health bars and attack in the same rote pattern until you whittle that bar down to the point where you can engage in a context sensitive finishing move. Fail that, and you take a huge hit to your own health bar. Fail again, and you'll have to do the entire boss fight over again. It's really remarkable how quickly Ultimate Tenkaichi can go from stupidly easy to stupidly frustrating.

Game Mechanics:
So what is it about Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi that makes it such a dull, uninspired fighter? I can claim lack of depth and zero emphasis on skillful button presses all I want, but you need specifics, to be sure.

One button handles all of your melee attacks, one button handles all of your Ki attacks, one button handles defense, and directional inputs only serve to close or increase the distance between you and your opponent. Good fighting games require careful timing and precision and reward the player with the best reflexes. Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi simply invites the player to inflict a ton of random punishment on his/her DualShock 3 and pauses to toss a coin or two in the air every now and then.

Where does the luck part come from, you ask? Well, connecting with enough consecutive attacks will trigger a Clash event. You must press either the (Square) or (Triangle) button when prompted. If your opponent presses a different button, you win the Clash and open the door for a devastating attack. If you both press the same button, your opponent gains the advantage. It's okay, though: if you want to recover, just mash buttons some more.

Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi has potential, but the shoddy, bog standard mechanics create an excitement-draining disconnect between the on-screen action and the player's own inputs. There's very little challenge to overcome, and therefore, very little fun to be had.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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