Inside Pulse 12

Review: Dragon Ball Z: Tenkaichi Tag Team (Sony PSP)

Dragon Ball Z: Tenkaichi Tag Team
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Developer: Spike
Genre: 3D Fighting
Release Date: 10/19/2010

With Namco Bandai taking the DBZ reigns from Atari, it looked as if the long running Budokai/Tenkaichi franchise had finally ended. This was all but confirmed when the new fighting game on the block turned out to be Raging Blast.

However, it seems NB isn’t afraid to continue to milk this cash cow dry, bringing the Tenkaichi version of the series to the PSP for the first time. While Dissidia proved that a 3D fighting game can work on the PSP, I had some serious reservations about this game. Still, at least the tag team mechanic was a change from the series norm, bringing something new to the table. It had also been long enough since I played a DBZ fighting game from start to finish, so I was more than happy to review this game.

It’s time to see if Goku and company can give this franchise one last hurrah on the PSP, or if this is one series best left forgotten behind a string of newer, shinier DBZ games.

Story/Modes

DBZ: TTT is yet another game to follow the entire DBZ story from the attack of the Saiyans all the way to the end of the Buu saga. If you’re counting, that’s four story arcs. The game’s main mode is Dragon Walker. In this mode, you get a cliff notes version of the game’s story in the form of a couple dozen chapters. The character you control changes constantly, but all of the big battles are there and fans should be able to follow along no problem. You have a a few different maps in the game representing Earth, Namek, and Supreme Kai’s realm. The maps never change, but you can visit the sparse towns for bonus objectives or battle minor enemies to get experience.

The story isn’t particularly compelling to begin with, but it gets downright nuts during the Buu saga. Names are dropped left and right, the goings on are never clear, and the side missions quickly become monotonous. The latter’s problem is that you only have three different side missions. You can find a capsule, kill a special enemy, or kill all enemies. There are usually at least two side missions in each chapter, meaning that repetition happens immediately. As far as the story goes, it does a piss poor job of explaining what’s going on, and often makes serious flubs. One chapter ended by telling me that Goku was never heard from again, only to have the next chapter start with him arriving back home at Earth! Another chapter completely forgot to mention that Majin Buu was eating people, and on top of that, didn’t mention that they could live inside of him!

My biggest complaint is that each “story” devolves into a bad guy showing up and getting his butt kicked by one of the main stars. Then, the bad guy reveals that he’s not at full power. Rather than stopping said bad guy from attaining full power, the good guys sit by and let it happen. Then, the good guys get beat, another good guy comes in and wins, only to have the bad guy attain more power, beat the new good guy, until someone magically obtains a new level of Super Saiyan and puts the bad guy down for good. All the while you’re switching characters left and right without always being able to customize them. It can be extremely disconcerting. Still, if you don’t mind the crazy, there is plenty of content in this mode to last you quite a while, and it unlocks most of the characters. A whole slew of “what if” unlock as well, practically doubling the content. This game can sit in your PSP for a while.

As far as other modes go, TTT isn’t firing on all cylinders, but it at least has some basic options. You have a challenge mode where you face gradually tougher enemies. Beating these teams marks a spot on a game board. If you make a line, you get a ton of extra points that can be spend on new items and upgrading your characters. Survival mode test your limits by giving you one enemy team after another. The difficulty takes a while to ramp up, especially since you can earn health back. I found I would quit due to boredom long before I got close to losing. Still, die hard fans can try to top the record of a hundred straight victories.

Beyond that, you’ve got a standard shop mode, ad-hoc multiplayer that supports up to four players, and a training mode. The latter is a bit of a drag, as you simply read how to do moves rather than have the game teach you anything. I found it lacking to say the least. None of the modes in this game are particularly interesting or good, but they give you some options on how to put the beat down.

Graphics

There are three different things to talk about as far as graphics go in this game. You have character models, backgrounds, and effects.

The character models are solid, thanks in part to the strong original designs. I couldn’t find a single character in the game that didn’t look good, and the fact that they animate well is a huge plus. There are plenty of moments when you can launch into long extended combos, and it it looks good. The one problem is that there is a distinct fuzziness whether the characters are moving or standing still. You can’t really see it in the screenshots, but it is something that everyone has mentioned, and it puts a pall on otherwise strong designs.

The backgrounds suffer the same problem, but also suffer from a sense of emptiness. Most arenas are long tracks of green land with a few hills or the occasional cliff. There are a couple of more interesting areas that involve destroyed cities, but they are the exception. Some of these obstacles can be destroyed by smashing opponent’s through them, but the effect is laughable and there is no debris left on the ground. I wasn’t impressed.

The best part of the graphical presentation is the effects, which isn’t much of a surprise. There are dozens of different energy blasts of all colors and they all look pretty darn good. These moves are the biggest you can land in terms of damage, and they look the part. They aren’t the most technically impressive effects, but they are visually stunning and the highlight of the game.

If it wasn’t for the emptiness of the backgrounds and the overall fuzziness of the presentation, this would be a pretty good looking game. As it is, the game is unimpressive but enjoyable.

Audio

If you’ve heard one song in a DBZ game, you’ve heard them all. That hasn’t changed here. The tunes are generic rock fare with no shortage of guitar riffs. As a piece of music, none of them are interesting. As background tracks for a quick series of strikes followed by a giant energy blast, they get the job done. It’s certainly hard to notice the music outside of menus, but it is all serviceable, even if it isn’t interesting.

A large part of the original voice cast returns, although there are some new faces. The voice for Gohan in particular stands out as different. The performances are on par with what you’ve come to expect from the series. It isn’t anything special, but it isn’t anything bad either. At the very least, there is plenty of it to keep you going. If you wanted the Japanese voices, you’re out of luck. They aren’t included. My favorite bit about the audio experience is that characters will often talk during battles in Dragon Walker. Whether they are participants or merely spectators, these bits of dialogue are very true to the show and fill in a lot of the story holes. It’s something I wish more games of this ilk did. If the characters in the show talk during fights, then the same characters in the games should talk during fights as well.

Beyond that, you’ve got a suite of sound effects stripped from the show that do a good job of sticking to the DBZ aesthetic. I didn’t notice any out of place sounds are odd hiccups, which is nice. The audio package isn’t going to wow anyone, especially if you’ve played a DBZ fighter in the past six or seven years, but it is a solid package nonetheless.

Gameplay

If you played the Budokai games but never got around to trying the Tenkaichi fighters, they play a bit differently. Rather than fight from a side view, you fight from a third person view. You fight until either you or your opponent is down to zero life. During a tag or handicap fight, all fighters on one team must be defeated for the other to win.

The controls are simple for the most part. The game is a button masher. You have one attack button that must be pressed repeatedly to form combos. Another button handles ki blasts, the shoulder button charges your ki, and another button is responsible for dashing toward your opponent. You can hold either the attack or ki button down to charge an attack. It leaves you open, but the attack will do more damage and often knock your opponent away.

As far as defensive maneuvers, the game is much more limited, despite what it claims in the training section. If you hold down the circle button before an attack, you can block it or even teleport behind the enemy. The same holds true for ki attacks as well. The problem is that most of these evasion techniques require you to read your opponent’s mind and it becomes all too easy to get stuck in a long combo, especially if it includes stunning attacks. I wasn’t impressed with your options for avoiding damage.

There are three meters to keep track of. You health meter keeps track of how much damage you’ve taken and also whether or not you can use a blowback defensive maneuver that chips away at your health. The ki meter fills gradually as you land hits and is used to power basic blasts and super moves. The super moves take a lot of ki, but do a huge amount of damage. The final meter is the union gauge. This meter builds slowly over time as well, but also fills up greatly if you team up with a partner for combination attacks. Each character has two special attacks that use this gauge rather than ki. These either buff your stats, cause negative effects on your opponent, or put you into burst mode instantly.

You can’t enter burst mode unless you have at least one full bar of the union gauge. Once in burst mode, you’ll find your attacks do more damage and you can land longer combos. The biggest bonus is that you can land your ultimate attack. If it hits, you can pretty much kiss your opponent’s life bar goodbye. You only get one shot at it before you lose burst mode, so it is important to time your shot.

You might be wondering how the tag mechanic works. Basically, it just means that four people are fighting all at once. You can switch targets with a shoulder button, and chose one of three options for your AI partner. Basically, you have them focus on the same opponent as you, the opposite opponent, or whichever one is closest. Certain characters can perform tag moves together, but this is much much easier to pull off with a human partner you can communicate with. When one guy goes down, it pretty much becomes a gang beatdown. Any time you get stuck against two AI opponents by yourself, you’re in trouble, as you can get caught in a really long combo chain or have your attacks nullified by a ki blast from behind. The mechanic is interesting, but I don’t think that it really improves the game in any way. It just changes it.

You can spend experience points in one of two ways. You can buy new capsules to customize characters with, or you can increase the number of capsules a specific character can equip. These capsules do all sorts of things from simply raising stats, giving you a regeneration ability, or giving you ki when you take damage. You can also equip special tag capsules that give us various effects, including character specific effects. Lastly, you can give AI partners an attack type that changes how they engage the enemy. I rather like the capsule system in this game, though I felt the price to upgrade the characters was pretty high, especially when you keep switching characters in Dragon Walker. There were countless times when I got finished upgrading a character only to have to use a new one. By that point, I was out of points and was screwed.

Overall, the fighting system is solid, but very shallow. It does a great job of feeling the show’s battles, but doesn’t offer any real depth. There may be a lot of characters, but very few of them feel unique because the combos are all the same. It isn’t bad, but button mashing doesn’t make for the most compelling fighter.

Replayability

If you’re the kind of person who likes to unlock everything and complete every possible objective in a game, TTT can certainly keep you busy. If you power through Dragon Walker, you can finish it in around ten hours, but you’ll still have all of the side missions to complete. Some levels required you to replay them several times with different characters and the “what if” scenarios add extra challenges that can take a couple dozen hours to complete in total.

Then, getting the top score in survival and completing the challenge mode should kill some serious time as well. If you get into playing multiplayer, especially over ad-hoc party, you can really add on to your time. If you want to fully upgrade everybody and unlock everything, the game can sit in your PSP for several weeks.

If however, you don’t like grinding for experience points, this game isn’t going to last more than fifteen hours.

Balance

The combat in the game doesn’t exactly lend itself to a strong difficulty curve. For the most part, the game is an absolute breeze. The rare times you’ll have trouble is when you’re stuck alone against two main characters with a character you haven’t had the chance to customize.

Then, oddly enough, the game decides to get nuts for the last battle or so. Basically, Buu blocked/countered every thing I threw at him. Then he’d launch a long and powerful combo that included unavoidable attacks, throws, and a ton of lost health. Any time I had to mash buttons to decide the success of an attack, he destroyed me. It didn’t matter if I was risking damage to my PSP. I couldn’t even break even.

You do get multiple difficulties for when you’re using free play and the hardest of these pretty much does when I just alluded to with Buu. This is what happens when the game is a button mashing fest rather than a technical fighter. Balance is hard to come by.

Originality

It can be easy enough to look at this game, which is the first in the DBZ series to allow for up to four players to participate in the same match, as a wholly original concept and give it high marks just for that. However, let’s take a look at some of the facts here.

The gameplay for this game is essentially identical to every DBZ fighter to come before it. The combos haven’t changed. The moves haven’t changed. All that’s changed is that you can put more fighters in single fight.

Most fights with four players are going to turn into handicap matches after one person goes down. Before that, it pretty much boils down to two one on one matches going on at the same time. Rarely does it feel like a true free for all.

Basically, this is the same DBZ game we’ve been playing for years with an admittedly nifty gimmick attached to it. It isn’t very original at all.

Addictiveness

This is the one section of the review I can’t think of anything positive for. For most of my play sessions, I was bored.

The challenge isn’t there for most of the game for. I though Survival Mode at least would be interesting, but I practically slept through it and didn’t get hurt in the slightest. It wasn’t fun or interesting in the slightest.

The story might have been interesting, but they give up trying to make sense about halfway through. It loses focus quickly and never gets it back. The side missions are also boring and take way too long to complete.

The gameplay isn’t very good. Button mashing in a fighting game isn’t what players want. Why do you think no one respects the people who use Eddy in Tekken? Fighters are fun because of the skillful play. There isn’t any of that here.

The worst part is that despite all of the available characters, they all kind of feel the same. Sure, the color of the fancy energy attack might be different, but it is functionally the same as every other character’s energy attack.

This is a very easy game to put down.

Appeal Factor

If you’re a hardcore DBZ fan, I imagine that you’ve already blasted your way through several of these fighting games. Thankfully, the tag mechanic does just enough that I can see people getting into this. This is also the first Tenkaichi game on the PSP, so owners of Sony’s hand held might want to pick it up solely for that reason.

The two biggest reasons for not picking this up are series fatigue and the price. At this point in the PSP’s life cycle, forty dollars for a new game that isn’t by Square or Sony is pretty nuts. This is especially true for the umpteenth installment of a long running licensed series. Dropping the price to thirty dollars would give the game a much greater amount of appeal.

Developers should also consider trying to come up with a new story or something. We can only replay the same events so many times before we decide that the series hold nothing of interest anymore. We need something new, and we need it soon.

Miscellaneous

This game offers you the ability to install data on the disc to reduce load times. In this one case, I’d say it isn’t worth it. You see, during load times, you play a mini game where you try to catch falling leaves and tomatoes in a bowl. It sounds silly, but each object you collect gives you bonus experience points. You get one of these before and after each fight. Excepting boss fights, you can earn more experience from these moments than you do in fights! Leveling up takes significantly longer without the help of this mini game.

I’m still shocked at how many DBZ games don’t include clips or bits of the manga as special features. It’s something that is actually worth spending time to unlock and it makes perfect sense. I want to see that happen.

The game claims to have 70 characters. This is a flat out lie. You see, they count transformations as separate characters! Goku may have got blonde hair and some different moves, but he’s still Goku! On top of that, there are three different Vegeta, Trunks, and Gohan that you can select. That’s before counting transformations. In terms of actual different characters, the game tops out around forty. That’s still pretty high, but not nearly what they advertised.

The Scores
Story/Modes: Mediocre
Graphics: Enjoyable
Audio: Decent
Gameplay: Mediocre
Replayability: Enjoyable
Balance: Poor
Originality: Mediocre
Addictiveness: Very Poor
Appeal Factor: Above Average
Miscellaneous: Mediocre
Final Score: Mediocre Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

Dragon Ball Z: Tenkaichi Tag Team might have a shiny new gimmick, but it is still the same old song and dance as every other DBZ fighter in the past decade. If you like those games, you’ll like this. If you didn’t, the tag mechanics aren’t going to do anything to change your mind. Either way, don’t expect anything the game does to blow your mind. This is easily a thumbs in the middle kind of game.

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  • Alex Gomez

    This is a a great game but can get EXTREMELY frustrating when in two on two combat. In the Battle 100 mode you’re expected to fight 2 on 2 matches against enemies at the hardest difficulty. That’s really no problem. The problem is both enemies often times focus on just you. That can make winning these fights damn near impossible. I’ve been stuck on this dumb match against Broly and Super Saiyan 1 Goku in Battle 100 and cannot win. I’ve tried multiple times but they both seem to primarily focus on you. To make matters even worse both combatants are given extra attack power and extra defenses and when you have two dudes with extra power beating on you… well… it gets really really hard. Also, the Tenkaichi engine was just not built for this type of stuff.

    They decided the focus on two on two in this game at the expense of one on one fights. One on one matches are too easy even if the AI is given extra strength and defenses. I really would’ve just preferred a straight out port of Budokai Tenkaichi 3 over this game. The one on one in that game was much more challenging.

    Naruto Ultimate Ninja Heroes 3 failed in the two on two matches miserably, and while Tenkaichi Tag’s two on two feature is a bit better, it can still use a whole lot of improvement.

  • Alex Gomez

    didn’t even comment on your review… sorry about that… lol

    Great review dude. I agree with you on the story aspects. It’s okay for me since I’m already very familiar with the DBZ story and have played it to hell in other DBZ games, but I could just tell that someone not already familiar would have a hard time following it. It was too messy and I also noticed a few mistakes and grammar issues. Not in your review, but in the game itself.

    I caught that “he was never heard of again’ part to. That was lazy writing. I’m sure that’s how Akira Toriyama would’ve wanted to actual story to go though since that’s how he originally wanted to end Dragon Ball Z.

    Write a review for Ghost Of Sparta. I’d like to read your thoughts. I’m going to be buying that game sometime next week.

    Oh yeah… another thing I hate about this Tenkaichi Tag and any other Tenkaichi game is the 0 button mashing. Like when you have to mash the O button to win burst mode or a beam struggle. I hate mashing the buttons so hard so I just don’t do it and I let the CPU win but they could at least make it easier. A button press system would be much better. Like when you’re stuck in a struggle beam, button commands pop up on the screen and you have the push the correct button faster than the CPU… To me that would be better than breaking the O button…

  • Aaron Sirois

    Alex, I pretty much agree with everything you said. When the game ends up 2 on 1, it gets ridiculous. The button mashing was also suspect. I tried using an ultimate move against Kid Buu at the end. I was tapping the circle button as fast as I possibly could and he still obliterated me.

    As for God of War: Ghost of Sparta, make sure you look for it! I’ll try to get a review up ASAP.

  • Courtney

    Does anyone know ALL the controls for DBZ TTT?
    Not the X and O and triangle- but the pursuit finishes and combos and teleporting.
    Just the advanced combos that aren’t explained in the game!