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October 27, 2010
Dragon Ball Z: Tenkaichi Tag Team Review for PSP

By Jason Van Horn

Once upon a time I loved the Dragon Ball Z franchise. I'd tune in every day to watch the latest episode and didn't care if a single battle was dragged out over several weeks or not. There was a lot of excellent fighting, memorable characters, and overall it was just a lot of fun. My love for all things Dragon Ball Z has diminished over the years, and the latest game Tenkaichi Tag Team is a good reason why. It's a solid game, but for someone who has experienced the entire saga going on multiple times now, and who has played this exact same fighting system over and over again, the series has worn out its welcome and now most games seem like nothing more than a way to cash-in and pilfer some money from the fans.

Dragon Ball Z: Tenkaichi Tag Team's main mode is the single-player driven Dragon Walker mode, as it's the primary method to earn items, experience, and unlock those ever important extra characters (there are a total of 70 characters in the game). Tag Team, however, fails to tell anything new, as it's the same Sagas that fans have been experiencing in every single Dragon Ball Z game to date. There's the Saiyan Saga (Goku's heritage is revealed when the planet is attacked), Frieza Saga (trying to gather Dragon Balls on planet Namek), Android/Cell Saga (robots run amuck), and the Buu Saga (pink marshmallow who eats people). If you're anything like me, chances are you'll tire of reading the text relatively early-on, and will simply quick skip through it all so that you can advance to the next fight as soon as possible.

The only thing 'different' and I use that term loosely is how the story is told. Since this game is on the PSP, there isn't much room for a whole lot, so there's nothing in the way of dynamic cutscenes or actual clips. In fact, besides a very few pictures depicting major moments in the story, most of the story is told through tiny pictures that frame the top or bottom of the screen, with white text on a black background. There isn't even a ton of voice work in the game, so a lot of the story is mute, and only the major moments have any kind of narration from the actual voice actors from the series. Another change is that the story is told over a map, where players have the option to engage in optional battles on their way to the ultimate goal of that story section.

The general idea is that you'll choose a mission, which is a piece of the larger Saga that you're currently experiencing. You'll then be thrust onto a map and told what you need to do. For example, you might have to play as Goku and make your way to Vegeta in order to fight him. While you can fly around and battle some pathetic henchmen, the only thing you really need to do is speed boost towards the direction of your story arrow and fight whoever is attached to it (rinse, repeat, and continue doing so until the mission is over). It's bad enough it's just the same story over and over, but now you've got to contend with a stupid and more time-consuming mechanic that takes away from the only marginally fun that's to be had with the game: the actual fighting.

The fighting isn't without its faults, however, as it's for all intents and purposes the same Tenkaichi fighting system that's been used at least four or five times already, though made slightly simpler (a given since the PSP has less buttons than other systems the series has been featured on) and given a vaguely there tag team system. It's pretty cool to have four people zipping around the world and being able to switch your attention to any opponent you want, but there's no real depth to the system (there aren't many exclusive tag team moves at all). Basically, you either choose to gang up on whomever your teammate is attacking, or you try to divide and conquer and let them do their own thing. You don't even have any control over what they do, as you'll be fighting an enemy and suddenly your teammate will unleash a special move without any warning.

Despite that criticism, this is still probably my favorite use of the fighting system to date, and that's mostly because of the simplified control scheme. When you take into consideration things like flying around in giant, open environments, and unleashing devastating moves, it takes more buttons than the standard joystiq and four or six buttons to get the job done. The complex control scheme was partly the reason I disliked playing the non-portable Playstation versions of the game, as every button was used and it was too difficult to perform the move you wanted. While not brain dead simple, things have been streamlined, and make it a game that's easier to pickup and play.

The general gist is that there's two attack buttons (square and triangle), which can be used in several ways to perform different moves. Pressing square by itself can lead to a combo, but pressing square and a direction can result in something different. Furthermore, holding a direction and square can perform a power strike, and you can perform different combos by pressing square so many times and then following it up with a triangle press. For example, square triangle will produce a different result than square square triangle. You can charge your character up with the triangle button and use it in conjunction with direction presses for super charged attacks. You can also dash, perform grabs, ascend and descend in the air, grapple, block, and disappear too.

The problem, however, is that since every character (all 70 of them) share the same control scheme and system, every character ultimately ends up feeling like the exact same frame, but with a different skin placed over it. Also, while there are 70 characters, many of those are just different versions of the same character (Goku, Super Saiyan, Super Saiyan 2, etc). The super attacks are generally different from one character to the next as is some of the combos but all-in-all there's nothing that separates one character from the next. For those who like the intricacies of a game like Street Fighter 4, you'll be greatly disappointed in this fact.

A fighting game should never be single-player exclusive, so it's nice to see the system support Ad-Hoc for up to four players. Beyond being able to battle with friends, you can even use your customized characters, which players shape and adjust by playing the single-player campaign. While you can play battles with everyone set to the default version of their character, you can also take your customized Vegeta, for example, and test them out against the best character your friend has. Players primarily customize stats such as attack power, but there are a handful of other things that players can tweak to make their character feel and play like their own.

Technically the game is solid on the visual side, as the graphics are pretty darn good for a PSP, as it features the cel-shading mechanic that makes it really look and feel like the anime series. I wish I could say the same thing about the audio, but the sound effects aren't that spectacular, the music is just average, and only having a handful of vocal tracks really hurt the overall product.

Dragon Ball Z: Tenkaichi Tag Team isn't a bad gameit's just that it's all been done before. It's the same story (though not told as well as in other games) and even the same fighting system that's been used before (though with a new tag team mechanic that's not utilized as much as it could've been). People unfamiliar with the franchise or Tenkaichi series might really like the game, and Dragon Ball Z fans looking for a portable version of arguably the best fighting system the franchise currently has might want to get the game, but for those getting burned out and tired of the same old same old time and time again, you'd be better off saving your money for something else.

Rating: 3 out of 5


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