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Dragonball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi

Neural blowback: beat 'em up-style.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

Let's get the rock on down with this game! It's totally cool and awesome! It has lots of the fighting with modes and totally cool enemies! It will make you want to be totally challenge! It's so with the fighting, and the dashing and the fireballs and the flying! It soooo good!


My head hurts. This game wants to be in your face and map out with its digital tendrils certain buried channels deep within the mind. Alas, I'm not sure I'm up to it. I mean, how to fairly score a game that my limited three-of-space, one-of-time perceptual pathways can barely understand, let alone control or play? Maybe it's that this game requires a child's brain in order to avoid neural blowback, or maybe it's just that Japanese gaming, as a glorious whole, is beautifully and incomprehensibly mental to a resident of a country that doesn't have nightclubs where you can go and pretend to frot in a synthesised crowded Underground train. Perhaps.

Jingoism nothwithstanding, this game embodies every cliché I tend to associate with Japanese gaming: Gratuitous! Use! Of! Exclamation! Marks!!! Superlative abuse, in a way which is just so totally awesome and cool! Man it is so awesome! Voice acting that causes my ears to shrivel up and bury themselves in my mid-torso, where the triangle-waved vocal screechings can't hurt them. Twisted Engrish translations that are almost it, but not the quite, don't make any no nonsense. Garish colour schemes that make my TV's sync-on-green cry like a Japanese businessman at a Shampoo concert. Strange eyes, hair, and alarming movements from character models that are both malicious and paedophilic at the same time. Kid Rawk music that makes me want to bury my head beneath enough Tempur memory-foam that I can't feel those filthy beats. Unwieldy controls, too much information, nonsensical plotting...

Super Bobble Hat Power: Unleashed

You know the score. In fact, you probably love all these things in games, and totally beat the previous games in an awesome way! In which case, pretend you haven't read the final score already, and go and play this game. For me, however, in my comfy, challenged-by-the-unfamiliar domesticity, my mind is neither able, nor wishes to, keep up with the insanity happening six feet beyond my control at an alarmingly close proximity.

Maybe it's just that my brain is wired incorrectly, or perhaps even correctly, but the game's control system was utterly fuddling. Start in the default mode, an assault of colour and sound washes over you, press a few buttons, nothing happens.

Dead. Game Over. Bum.

So, back it is to the title screen. See tutorial, breathe sigh. Engage tutorial one. Gape in bizarre incomprehension that characters don't so much move as... float and drift, like some demonically possessed nun. Okay. Tutorial two. You can press the dash button to dash towards the enemy to which you are locked unless you are floating, in which case you can 'undash' and float backwards and diagonal if you have enough Ki. Hmm. Tutorial three: You can hold L1 to slowly build up a lock-on, and then if you have enough lock on, you can unlock, press the float button to float up, float down and then dash into...

That sound is the sound of a cerebellum cracking. By three tutorials I am utterly confused. By five I'm feeling as if my life isn't worth living. By the end, when I'm supposed to feel as if I'm ready to play the game, the dreadful assault of buttons, dashes, power-fire-dragon-dashes has made me forget how to use my own limbs.

Fear the wrath of Effeminate Leopard Man.

So I fire up the main game mode again, and this time I die even more quickly. I have no idea how to play this game, and have even less skill than before I watched the tutorials. This is a genuinely new gaming experience for me; a game I have literally no idea how to or capacity for play.

Bandai has demonstrated, year-on-year, a capacity with each successive release in the Dragonball series to make the games faster, harder, more intense, screechy and irritating with each release, culminating in this masterpiece of the incomprehensible that only the deranged or pre-teen could truly love. The direction these games have been developing have presumably consistently been the one that fans want; but try as I might, my synapses and my fingers are unable to offer the reactivity needed to make much headway.

But since you love this sort of thing, you'll be delighted that this year continues the trend of faster, harder, better with the fourth fighter in a row to follow Goku and friends looking for mythical Dragon's Balls, with a wafer thin plot of nothing more than that as distraction.

Graphically, as already mentioned, and as seen in the previous games and many other Japanimation-derived titles, it's garish, childlike and an unpleasant assault on all that is good an decent in colour palettes; it will no doubt encourage any Ritalin-stunted ADHD teenager back to heightened states of problematicness after limited exposure.

As indeed will the sound. From the incredible range of offensive, over-eager, off-kilter and downright appalling voices that seek to patronise and irritate at every turn through the non-existent plot about fighting to open gates, to the off-key, Asiatic teen-rock that bedevils the soundtrack and compounds the sensory overload.

Migraleve on Standby.

Yet, for all that the senses are distressed by the son-et-lumiere, the root of this game's problem is the AI. The devious algorithms that stalk the electrons is a ruthless, merciless killer. A bastard that offers no respite and no let up. It's just too ruddy hard. Please, won't somebody have mercy on me? No? Ah. No matter what I try, I will die. Quickly. Even on the 'easy' levels. I don't even remember how to do what he's doing to me. Was it hold R1 and R2, Release R2 whilst pressing X then dash back and forward whilst holding L3 to lock on and build Ki and then Dash forward? Maybe, maybe not. Aaaaaaaaargh.

In fact, the best way to enjoy this game, and in my case the only way in my manually incompetent way, was two-player. By sticking in a second controller, and finding a friend who definitely is not susceptible to seizures, I was able to win a battle occasionally, play the game and have some fun. Thank heavens for two-player versus mode.

It's difficult for me to make a reasonable assessment of this game, overall. Given its level of difficulty, and general synaesthetic terrorism, my mind and body were woefully unequipped to deal with what Bandai had unleashed on me. If you have the stomach and the tolerance for this kind of thing, this game may well be the most super cool Dragonball Z ever! But for me, I feel the need to go and have a lie down in a darkened room, and listen to soothing music.

Score? I have no idea. Awesome!/10!

Since I have to:

4 / 10

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