Game Review

by Todd Ciolek,

Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden

Nintendo 3DS

Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden
Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden is a 2-D fighting game that gathers together characters from all incarnations of Toei and Akira Toriyama's vast and brawlsome series. Story modes cover Goku's battles as well as varied plot remixes. A few dozen Dragon Ball Z fighters are playable, with many more appearing as momentary assistants.
The modern fighting game barely existed back when Dragon Ball Z first appeared as an anime series and an extension of Akira Toriyama's Dragon Ball manga. Yet the two worlds were fated to meet many times. Dragon Ball Z is a chronicle about hyper-powered superheroes brawling and glowing and tossing fireballs, and that was a fighting game recipe even before Street Fighter II launched an entire sub-industry dedicated to two characters squabbling in intricate, colorfully animated fashion.

Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden isn't the first fighting game to embrace the series and its cartoon pyrotechnics, but its the first time Arc Systems Works took a shot. Through Guilty Gear and BlazBlue, Arc became known for stuffing the genre with ridiculous characters, gorgeous heavy-metal music, and unique gameplay systems that grew almost a little too complicated. Extreme Butoden never ventures into Tension meters or ludicrous instant-kill attacks, but neither is it offensively simple.

The punch-ups of Extreme Butoden pit two characters against each other at a time, but they're rarely reduced to their basic combos and energy bolts. Up to three playable combatants can tag-team in and out of the fight, and up to four support characters can accompany a single hero and leap temporarily into the fracas. The actual moves are button sequences instead of rolling Street Fighter motions, with chains of Y and X buttons and shoulder triggers unleashing Kamehameha beams or Destructo Discs.

It's all faithful to a typical Dragon Ball Z bout: characters dodge attacks, dash behind foes, whip their fists around in an untrackable blur, launch an enemy into the air, and pound that same enemy back to earth. Characters charge up their meters with the usual Dragon Ball grunting and glowing, and the most powerful attacks are available only once a player takes sufficient damage and pushes their gauge up to 200 percent. Those screen-filling moves often provoke dueling energy beams, as a character can launch a counter with his or her own power. And these fights take under two minutes rather than five anime episodes. Extreme Butoden couldn't hope for Guilty Gear fluidity on the 3DS, but the characters are large and defined without crowding the screen, and the attacks give off a satisfying impact. Arc System Works also threw in a heavy soundtrack that's entirely fitting for a Dragon Ball Z carnival of glorified galactic fisticuffs. The voice work is only in Japanese and seldom in full effect, but what's there sounds fine.

If Arc System Works went above the call with Extreme Butoden's fighting dynamics, they can't serve it to those who aren't already Dragon Ball Z fans. The story modes offer a fast-forwarded version of key Dragon Ball Z battles, from Raditz's arrival to the Buu saga, plus a round of alternate retellings, an adventure mode, an Extreme World Tournament, and a Streetpass option where players can design their own guild cards with a character's limited catchphrases. Yet the storylines aren't particularly involving. Static images and conversations don't really capture the air of the anime series; it's too limited for fans, and too shallow for those who can't tell Vegeta and Bardock apart. Some anime-spawned games actually improve on their licensed storylines and make them palatable for newcomers, but this isn't another Magic Knight Rayearth.

Indeed, the roster may disappoint both sides. The fully playable characters are heavy on the most popular Dragon Ball Z faces, and that brings a load of spiky-haired blond variants of the same characters. While the cast varies in their attacks, most of those attacks are done the same way—whether it's Majin Buu turning a foe into a cookie or Android 18 raining down lasers, the button string is the same, and that repetition sets in uncomfortably after several dozen matches. It's not built as a competitive fighter, and to that end it doesn't even sport online matchups. You can play others over local connections, but the online mode is just for downloading extra characters.

Extreme Butoden's best points emerge with the assist characters, who explore the Dragon Ball Z cast as extensively as one can without getting into Dr. Slump cameos. While they're not fully playable, the bonus fighters boost the overall roster past 100, and they go places the main roster can't. A Great Ape pounds the ground or spews a laser beam, depending on the terrain. Oolong transforms into a pair of panties that diminishes an opponent's energy. Gine, Goku's recently introduced mother, brings a restorative meat dish. Launch shows up, switches to her alternate personality, and blankets the screen with machine-gun fire. Chi-Chi appears to scream at Goku so loudly that her word balloon blocks out the screen (Dragon Ball Z has something to tell us about women). Oh, and Master Roshi's turtle just inches along the ground, contributing nothing to either side. Use him in every battle.

The voluminous array of assist characters is impressive, and there's fun in unlocking them in the Adventure Mode even when it demands high rankings. Yet it only makes you want more. While Dragon Ball Z is famous for its hyperpowered demigods and monsters wreaking havoc, it's the goofier side characters that prove more memorable—and perhaps more appropriate for a fighting game. Flashier console-based Dragon Ball Z games, including the recent XenoVerse, have fewer overall characters, but their playable lineups dwarf that of Extreme Butoden.

It's a waste, really. Arc System Works recruits demonic pool players, werewolf butlers, and yoyo-wielding nun crossdressers for their other fighters. Imagine what they might do if a dual-personality warriors like Launch or shapeshifters like Puar and Oolong were completely realized instead of confined to supporting roles. Oh well, perhaps they'll do better for the sequel.

At present, Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden can't escape the fans-only landing zone that awaits merely adequate anime-inspired games. Arc System Works put together a competent fighter with some enjoyable side attractions, but it won't make Dragon Ball Z aficionados forget those 3-D fighters that brought the series to consoles in bigger, more abundantly supplied form. Nor will it make any new fans along the way.

Overall : C+
Graphics : B
Sound/Music : B+
Gameplay : C+
Presentation : C

+ Battles move fast, and plenty of extras await
The playable roster is small and fights grow repetitious

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