Game Name: Dragon Ball: Revenge of King Piccolo
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Release Date: 10/20/2009
A poll of teenagers in the late nineties on the meaning of the word Kamehameha would turn up some interesting results. Sure, you’d get a handful of kids that could tell you that King Kamehameha was the man who united the Hawaiian Islands before it became a state. The majority, though, would probably tell you that the word referred to a blast of ki energy that was taught to Goku by Master Roshi in order to defeat King Piccolo in the World Martial Arts Tournament. If you’re curious, I knew both. Now, after enough Dragon Ball games to fill a black hole, we have Dragon Ball: Revenge of King Piccolo. Abandoning the traditional fighting or action/roleplaying style that has come to be a standard on most Dragon Ball models, Namco Bandai has decided to go with a hybrid of light platforming and brawling. Is it worth searching for, or will you wish that you had never heard of it? Pop a senzu bean and let’s find out.
As befits any decent platformer, Dragon Ball: Revenge of King Piccolo features a group of worlds subdivided into smaller chapters. Because this is a Dragon Ball game though, the worlds are referred to as Sagas. Each of the Sagas correspond to a point in the Dragon Ball story where a young Goku is searching for the Dragon Balls. Your job in each of these is to make your way from one side of the screen to the other, occasionally fighting off a group of enemies, but more often evading environmental hazards and using jumps, dodges, and dash moves to maneuver through the stage. The breakdown of the Sagas is such that you can pretty much guarantee that if there are four chapters in the Saga, during the fourth you will be exclusively fighting a boss. There is also a pure fighting mode, the World Tournament, that you can play if you would rather jump straight into the combat.
The Sagas themselves don’t follow the story of the anime completely, but they do give a basic roadmap. Goku starts by battling the Red Ribbon Army, wades through a few levels of them, and then faces the threat that is King Piccolo. I should say that I really enjoyed the Dragon Ball Z setting, and some of the GT storyline, but the actual, original Dragon Ball was never that interesting to me, so I didn’t follow it as closely as the others. However, the story presented here does faithfully follow the source material. Some events are glossed over and others are expounded upon to serve the gameplay, but it makes at least as much sense as a a giant lizard kidnapping the ruler of a fungal society.
Story/Modes: Very Good
Any time your source material is as bright, kinetic, and recognizable as the Dragon Ball series, you set yourself up to run into issues. However, I was pleasantly surprised by what is offered here. The cell-shaded cut scenes look even better than the original animation, with barely a flaw on screen. Even the game-rendered scenes don’t look too far off, and if you aren’t super picky you can enjoy a nicely done 3D version of characters from the series. The in-game art is also well done, and the cell shading there doesn’t disappoint. Animations are spot on from the show too, such as Goku running with his arms completely at right angles to his body. Super moves are bright, flashy endeavors. Backgrounds are typically very good, with some excellent 3D work in some areas, such as the caverns and castles. The occasional giant enemies you encounter are also polished.
There is one huge issue with the graphics though, and maybe that is just me. Or perhaps it is a holdover from prior games of this genre. When you are hit, you flash invisible and back for a few seconds. This is true even in the World Tournament modes. Why you couldn’t just have a damage halo or something I’m not sure, but it completely annoyed me. We’ve come a long way since Mega Man 2 but people still think being hurt equals flashing invisible. Some of the black outlines on hands and feet also blur at certain game-rendered cutscenes, but they are easily overlooked. Aside from that, everything is fine here. You’ll be exploring a bright, colorful world that looks almost like it could be a Saturday morning cartoon. At least, as long as you don’t mind watching a cartoon where people take turns standing still and talking.
Graphics: Very Good
If the graphics are solid, the sounds are where things falter. At first everything was great, with tons of the show’s voice actors reprising their roles. Even simple things were narrated, like the choice of save spot or the functions of a mode. During the adventure, almost every character, and certainly every main character, has a fully spoken role. Voices are the high point, but they are also the low point. How so? Well, if your idea of great sound design includes hearing a boy grunt and exclaim every time he jumps, gets hit, or hits somebody, then this is the game for you! Somehow Goku’s audio cues become so much more annoying that the simple “pleet” of Mario when he jumps. Seriously, my wife was in the room with me when I booted up the game, and she was out of it halfway through the first board. You can tune it out after a while, but it keeps creeping back in.
Aside from Goku constantly crying out and grunting, the voice acting for the cut scenes is top notch. Again, I haven’t seen too many of the Dragon Ball episodes, but the characters that carry over to the later stories are all here. Bulma, Yajirobe, Master Roshi, and so forth all are here. So are many of the enemies, including some hilariously bad leaders in the Red Ribbon army. Some of them are damn near racist, sounding like bad caricatures of Asian or Russian voices. Some of them are eye-rollingly effeminate also. Since this is just like the show, I was pleased
Sounds: Very Good
Dragon Ball: Revenge of King Piccolo plays pretty much like you’d expect. This is both a good and bad thing. Let’s cover the worst up front – I really think the Wiimote is not the best controller for this game. It uses the nunchuck as your move, and the jump and attack buttons are over on the Wiimote itself. Maybe it’s just me, but that disconnect in space really hampers the game. Add in the fact that the Wiimote is painfully underused, and you have some difficulties getting used to the game. You only waggle if you get frozen, and most of the special action buttons are the D-pad. It’s too bad, especially since big, full bodied moves with the Wii-mote have been used in prior Dragon Ball games. While the game is in 3D, you can’t maneuver to much in the depth department. More of a linear feel is what is presented here, with maybe three steps in and out of the screen.
That said, the actual control and movement is very tight and responsive once you get used to it. One of the key features of the control schemes is a dash button, which you can use to dash towards anything that has a blue highlight. When missiles or flying enemies are bearing down on you, you can dash into the to redirect them. Certain enemies will, upon receiving enough damage, get the blue highlight as well, allowing you to dash into them and finish them off. You also have the opportunity to dash from hovering robots to move through the levels. When everything comes together in a jumping, dodging, dashing flurry you will be smiling. However, once you get to the boss battles, the game turns very formulaic. You tend to run around them, dash in, hit them, and then back off while they counter attack. This isn’t bad for a platform game, but for an IP known for fighting, it is a little weak.
Each mission will rate you on a letter grade scale, based on performance. Then you get a bunch of Zeni to use in the shops to unlock character models, a handful of powerups, videos, and sounds. There isn’t really much to go back for beyond that and some in-game collectibles. Scattered and hidden in the levels are chests with items from the show. While it is cool to see them, it also causes the game to pause and save. I think we could have streamlined that a bit, developers. It isn’t fun to get something cool and then stop doing anything for fifteen seconds. You end up not really caring about what you can unlock though because the game is so easy. You never need to grind to get X amount of item Y to get past an obstacle.
This is an all ages game, and it makes for a nice all ages challenge. The difficulty ramps up at a good pace and doesn’t punish mistakes with instant death. If you miss a jump and fall into the water you reset back and lose a bit of your health bar. It is a forgiving system and allows experimentation instead of perfection. That said, you wouldn’t need perfection for the most part. Things never get impossible and mashing attack in the correct direction and memorizing a pattern or two will see you through. Dragon Ball: Revenge of King Piccolo is designed from the ground up to be fun for kids, and it really is more kid-friendly than adult-aware
The popularity of the Dragon Ball franchise means that we have seen nearly every possible iteration of gameplay. Fighting games, RPGs, adventure games, and more. What is interesting is the way that this game focuses not on the Z series, but on Goku as a child. It is a lesser known prequel setting. However, the story choice is the only new idea. The rest feels very similar to other 3D platformers. There are a few seconds where you use the blue-highlight-ring things to avoid traps and hazards, but that trick has been done before. Some of the boss fights were fun, such as a monster that you have to hit with a robot in order to freeze before you beat him up. Taking away the set dressing of the Dragon Ball show leaves you with a pretty basic game though.
Originality: Above Average
Dragon Ball: Revenge of King Piccolo isn’t a hard game, but it was difficult to keep playing. I wanted to see the story moments and play the boss fights, but most of the routes to get there were tedious. There weren’t a lot of hooks to the stages. Between some bland design and linearity, the game turns quickly into “run here, fight, run there, fight, repeat.” The enemies were varied, and there was at least someone new per world, but you could figure out the new wrinkles in no time. Zombie pirate skeletons that get back up, just like the Zombie Koopas from Super Mario Brothers 3? Been there, stomped on that, walked away from it. In a sad, strange way, this mirrors the show. Most of the Sagas have five or six episodes worth of standing around and powering up or stock footage of explosions instead of anything happening. Before long I was associating the first two or three levels in each world as the nothing happens episodes of the TV show.
9. Appeal Factor
I kind of feel that Dragon Ball: Revenge of King Piccolo is out at a weird time. The popularity of the anime is on the wane, and the live action movie was…less than good. It isn’t a bad game by any stretch, but you pretty much need to be a fan of the series in order to want to play this. The combat isn’t enough to sway the fans of a brawler, and the platforming isn’t good enough to win over those fans. That said, people who do like the Dragon Ball series will find a ton to like. As the ages of people who grew up with Goku also increase, this would be a fine game with which to introduce the kids.
Appeal Factor: Decent
I have to put this somewhere, and it might as well go here. Get ready to laugh at the word “balls.” Listen, if you sign up for a seminar on ducks, you’d be shocked if the presenter never said the word. Well, Goku is after Dragon Balls. And Bulma built him a radar to find Dragon Balls. That robot has a Dragon Ball! I need to get the Dragon Ball away from him! Balls, balls, balls. If you have a certain mindset, you’ll see the humor in it. There is also a lot of “Goku as the indestructible ten-year old” humor to find here as well. He gets shot with a cannon, everyone panics, but he’s fine. Fine, and naive. There are a lot of moments in the story, much like the TV show, that play off his wide-eyed innocence and reactions to injustice. All this is just a long way of saying that if you like the series, you’ll like the game. If you don’t like the series, the same types of problems show up here.
Story/Modes: Very Good
Graphics: Very Good
Sound: Very Good
Originality: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Decent
Final Score: Enjoyable Game
Short Attention Span Summary
Dragon Ball: Revenge of King Piccolo is by no means a bad game, but it isn’t a great game either. For fans of the series, or those looking for a lighter platforming brawler, I can happily recommend it. The graphics are good, shading towards great in places. The sound is taken right out of the show, even if that does get annoying from time to time. The control is solid enough that it won’t become an exercise in frustration, even if a lot of that is based on how intentionally easy it is. Sadly, there just isn’t anything to make the game stand out and scream “buy me,” including a lack of any decent Wiimote controls. If nothing else, Dragon Ball: Revenge of King Piccolo is family friendly and a good video game to point to set in front of the kids. Just be ready to here the word “Balls” over and over again.