Being the fan of fighting games that I am, I was pumped to find that I would be given the newest release from Bandai and Spike in the Dragon Ball Z games, named Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi, for review.  After playing great games like Super Street Fighter IV and the newest Mortal Kombat, I was very interested in seeing what Spike had done with the Dragon Ball Z franchise.  Unfortunately, the answer is not much.  While the game looks beautiful, the repetitive game play and lack of strategy really ruined the game for me and made it feel way to shallow in this age of deeper fighting games.


Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi runs into its first obstacle in trying to tell the vast Dragon Ball Z saga through a video game.  Developer Spike tries to do this through a few mediums, in game cut scenes, short videos and through dialogue boxes.  If you are a fan of the series, then you will understand everything that is going on.  For me, who has seen some of the episodes but never followed it all the way through, found the story development extremely confusing and, to be honest, really dull.

During the Story Mode of Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi, the story has a brilliant way of interfering with your fight to force the outcome that the writers need.  During the fight between Tian and Nappa, I was absolutely crushing Nappa to the point that I knew I was going to win, but since Tian is not supposed to win this fight, Nappa ends up just hitting me with his special and wipes out my full health bar.  To have scripted events in a video game is one thing, but to have them in a fighting game just feels cheap.

Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi has a few modes to play; Story Mode, Hero Mode, and Versus Mode.  Story Mode follows the story of the Dragon Ball Z universe and essentially guides you through the episodes of the saga.  Hero Mode allows you to create your very own hero to play with, but the hero generator is very limited, and finally you have the Versus Mode with allows players to battle another play either at home or over the internet.  Here, you have your choice of many different characters from the Dragon Ball Z universe, and can even use different skins if you’ve unlocked them during Story Mode.

Ultimately, Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi fails to tell the story of the Dragon Ball Z universe in a compelling way for anyone.  I felt lost most of the time and had no idea as to why certain events were even occurring.  The fact that the story would force you to lose a fight is what really made this just hard to swallow.

Game Play:

With most fighting games, if the story is weak then at least you have solid and balanced game play to fall back on.  Unfortunately, Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi has neither a good story nor good game play.  Most of the game play in Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi is based on luck rather than skill.  The game uses a paper, rock, scissors mode to determine who wins what sequence of blows.  Once you hit an opponent, then you have to win this sequence to continue with your combo.  The opponent’s only option is to mash all of the buttons at the same time in hopes of bringing up a quick time event to stop your combo.  This is flat out unnecessary and in no way fun to play.  It makes every fight that you do in the game both boring and repetitive.

You do have some strategy that you can use, by moving in and out of melee range to use different tactics, but this feels superficial at best.  Ultimately every fight comes down to who pushed what button faster to start an unbreakable combo.  The characters also really don’t have any special moves that they can pull off during game play, until you reach a certain point in the fight where the story will allow you to use that special move.

The final nail in the coffin for Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi are the loading screens.  Anytime a developer feels that they have to put in a mini game during the loading process means that your load times are intolerably way too long.  In Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi, they are also occur way too often.  You will be in the middle of a fight, then a loading screen will occur, you will get a small cut scene, back to the loading screen, then resume the fight.   That just throws off any type of immersion or enjoyment I had while fighting in Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi.


Here’s where I’ve been hiding the good news for Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi.  The game is great to look at and actually makes the cartoon look outdated.  The character models are rendered beautifully and are very accurate to their cartoon counterparts.  The world looks bright and luscious, and can be utterly destroyed during the more energetic portions of the fight, though it would be nice if this damage was more permanent on the world.  The fights themselves are impressive to look at.  Each character moves with blinding speed and the special maneuvers that each character uses looks amazing as well.

The battles and environments of Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi just can’t get any better looking.  I really wish that the game play could match the way the game looks, then this would have been one hell of a fighting game.

The sound of Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi is adequate at best.  The voices of the characters do a serviceable job in telling the story.  The dialogue is cheesy in most cases and so is the voice acting, but it fits with the Dragon Ball Z show, so I can’t fault the developers for matching the show.  The music is much, much worse of a villain then any bad guy in Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi.  The music is just plain bad during the fights and will make you do anything else other then listen to another guitar riff in game.

Final Thoughts:

Bandai and Spike could have had a top notch fighting game based on the popular television show with Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi, however bad game play issues truly crippled this game.  The story, while not great, was serviceable for fans of the game, but for a novice to the Dragon Ball Z world, the story was convoluted and hard to follow.  The game play is the true villain of Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi, with the fighting system based on a paper, rock, scissors model and having mind numbing repetition to all of the fights.  Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi has tons of characters, but they all fight exactly the same way with absolutely no diversity in style or feel.  The game is absolutely beautiful to look at and captures the spirit of the Dragon Ball Z cartoon perfectly, and in many times, even better then the show itself.  However, the sound effects are serviceable and the music is downright just bad.  In the end, the power level of Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi falls well short of the other advanced fighting games out there and should only be played by super fans of the series that need to get their hands on everything Dragon Ball Z.

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John "Judgeman" Dugan is a long time contributor and Gaming Shogun's resident fighting game expert. Judgeman has appeared on G4's Arena, including season 1's Tournament of Champions, and was a regular in the early days of Street Fighter 2 tournaments.