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Reviews

“Dragon Ball Z for Kinect”


Last year’s Ultimate Tenkaichi was a strange entry in the never-ending catalog of games for the Dragon Ball franchise. The game reduced the controls for what would have been another Sparking/Blast game down to paltry basics, introduced new aspects like create-a-character while simultaneously taking tons of expected features away, had no extra video features… and went on to sell better than the previous year’s game.

Does this year’s Dragon Ball Z for Kinect — obviously exclusive to not only the Xbox 360 but only owners with the Kinect add-on — combine the best of what consumers want (which by all accounts seem to be basic controls and video features) to concoct the ultimate experience? Does a re-skin of a re-skin finally make you feel as if you truly are firing a Final Flash at your fearsome and ferocious foes?

Quick Details:

ASIN: B007VX0QJ4
Developer: Spike (Spike Chunsoft Co., Ltd.)
Publisher: Namco-Bandai
Release Date: 09 October 2012
MSRP: $39.99
Platforms: Xbox 360 (Kinect Required)

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Review By: Mike LaBrie (VegettoEX)

So how about that there video game…?

How We Gamed

Despite having no Japanese release announced or seemingly planned at all by the time its North American debut came along, a Japanese voice track is indeed included in Dragon Ball Z for Kinect. After swapping things over, I headed into the game’s tutorial mode to learn each of the attacks, defensive maneuvers, and super moves in one straight go. After feeling accomplished and empowered (and you will definitely want to go through that tutorial to feel even remotely competent), I headed straight into the game’s story mode… which starts with Raditz.

Of course it does. It is a DBZ game. Where else would you expect it to start?

The entirety of the game’s story mode was completed along with a few Score Attack stages. The main story mode will only run you a couple short hours, even taking into consideration some time for a few rematches.

Presentation

Make no mistake — Dragon Ball Z for Kinect is simply last year’s Ultimate Tenkaichi (stripped of anything that would conflict with navigating and playing via the Kinect) wrapped into a “new” game. There are no graphical improvements or changes that you will notice anywhere throughout the entire game. In fact, even the first major boss battle goes through the exact same camera angles as you fight your way through, using Kinect motions instead of button combinations to progress:

While the Japanese language track was the primary one in play here, the English dub track was spot-checked. It does indeed feature all of the same errors and mixed voices as last year’s game. As a bit of a refresher, Dragon Ball Z for Kinect is just Ultimate Tenkaichi with controller-based actions swapped out for Kinect-based actions. Ultimate Tenkaichi was just Raging Blast 2 with a new coat of visual paint and a changed-up control scheme. All of its voice samples were taken from both Raging Blast 2 as well as the first Raging Blast. The problem there was that the English voice cast swapped over to its Kai incarnation in the second game, while the Japanese track used the Kai cast in the first game already (due to it being one year ahead in production — following all this?). In a nutshell, lines for Freeza by Linda Young and Chris Ayres will literally flip-flop between each other in sentences one after another (though, to be fair, it does not seem as often as it was in Ultimate Tenkaichi — I only heard a little Young growling in my own dub playthrough). The worst offender is dubbed Gohan, who flips from Colleen Clinkenbeard in early cutscenes to Stephanie Nadolny in later cutscenes (but still with Clinkenbeard fighting noises).

Character models seem to somehow move even more awkwardly than before. The standard YAP YAP YAP mouth movements on frozen characters are in full effect. Characters will freeze and twist at their torso to turn around as if they were barely-articulated action figures. The game tries to match classic moments from the show (such as Piccolo’s close-up scowl and then smirk upon meeting first-form Cell), but they are so insanely awkward that it feels more embarrassing than endearing.

Dragon Ball Z for Kinect is the ultimate example of reusing already-developed assets to make/recoup an extra buck. It is like 2012 — if we can personify a year for a second here — goes out of its way to not give us anything new. This year’s releases are just a re-skin of a re-skin (Dragon Ball Z for Kinect) and an upscaled HD collection of two prior games (Budokai HD Collection). Yikes.

Gameplay

Dragon Ball Z for Kinect is — perhaps unknowingly — the spiritual successor to an old arcade game for the franchise called V.R.V.S. Developed for the Sega System 32 arcade board in 1994, it was a first-person fighting game that looks eerily similar to today’s Kinect offering. In fact, an advanced version of the arcade game used an Activator-esque motion control setup!

(SOURCE: Electronic Gaming Monthly, Issue #51, October 1993)

Your character flies forward, unleashes a fury of punches and ki blasts, and ducks back to unleash super attacks. The game culminates in a fight against Majin Ozotto (or “Ozotto the Super Monster” in the game’s English translation), a shape-shifting villain similar to contemporaries like Shang Tsung in Mortal Kombat. We actually had high hopes that Ozotto might make a glorious return a la Hatchihyack in 2010’s Raging Blast 2, but alas, it was not meant to be.

This is not an arcade game from the 1990s, however. This is a modern video game on the Xbox 360, and specifically on the Kinect.

No reason to beat around the bush. The Kinect has — fairly or not — constantly come under fire for its delayed response and poor body tracking. Word back from industry events ranged from abysmal to mediocre, but how does Dragon Ball Z for Kinect stand up in a proper home environment? Does it actually work…?

Yes and no.

The majority of the basic attacks work pretty much flawlessly — alternate punches toward the screen, and your character immediately does the same. Kick your right leg forward, and your character immediately does the same. Hold one hand back to charge up a ki blast, and your character immediately does the same.

Where it starts to fall apart is with some of the more nuanced motions. Actually, that is not even that fair to the motions — crouching forward a little bit with your fists clenched a little bit outward and to the side is not particularly “nuanced”, but I was almost never able to get the Kinect to recognize what I was doing. I tried pulling my arms closer in. I tried holding them further out. I tried crouching more. Crouching less. Standing on one leg. Doing the hokey-pokey. Nope. No ki charging for me.

(To be fair to the game [I guess…?], I did eventually get the hang of it — crouch ever so slightly and do not stretch your arms too far outward from your body. I felt as if I was in the right position the whole time by crouching more, but the game apparently thought otherwise.)

Dodging seems about 50/50 — half the time it totally recognizes that I am leaning backward, and half the time (invariably during a combo attack against me) it does nothing. The worst-recognized motion so far seems to be cupping my hands to the side to form a Kamehameha — I would guess it worked maybe a quarter of the time. For the most iconic move in the series to fall flat on its face probably says more than anything else.

All the standard problems with every other Kinect game are in full effect here. When it is on, it is on, but it is unfortunately not often. I cannot say enough how being a grown man and putting two arms above my head to form a Genki-dama feels when the character responds on-screen with the same motion. These moments are the game at its very best.

Amazingly enough, these best moments come in the form of the one and only chapter-ending giant boss battle. Further amazingly enough, these were the absolute worst parts back in Ultimate Tenkaichi. Whereas the Ōzaru Vegeta battle in Ultimate Tenkaichi was painfully repetitive, it somehow feels fresh and plain ol’ fun here, despite it being the exact same battle in every way. Unlike last year’s game where you would be prompted with a series of button presses, this being a Kinect game, you are obviously prompted with a motion similar to what the character will actually do on-screen. What is Goku about to do as Vegeta lowers that giant finger to crush him? Throw a hand forward with a ki blast, of course. What do you do in real life? Throw a hand forward with a ki blast, of course. Anticipating and even fully knowing what the required motion will be somehow adds to the enjoyment this time around, simply by making you act it out as opposed to slouching backward and pressing a few buttons in a row. It is immersive gaming at its best, with the only downfall being that these moments are few and far between… and by that, I mean the one giant boss battle. That being said, an entire game filled exclusively with these types of scripted moments would probably be grating as well, so relegating it to the boss battles might be for the best! More than one would have been nice, though — the Metal Coola stage from Ultimate Tenkaichi, which had far more of these giant battles, would have been great addition, even as something like a bonus unlockable stage in between the main story arcs.

It is all a big shame, because a lot of the motions seem very intuitive and would be fun — in theory — to perform while playing. Things like blocking, firing a Makankōsappō, and swaying to the side all mostly work as advertised when you perform them individually, but not as a part of a larger strategy. Trying to stand up and sway directly from charging ki always resulted in me launching into an attack instead of doing what I actually intended to do. Instead, you will be endlessly flailing your arms back and forth to punch into a combo, continue your combo, and overpower your enemy’s blasts. There is so much more at your disposal, but it just does not work when you want it to, and there are few opportunities to even use them all in the first place.

No, you will not get any kind of real “workout” while playing Dragon Ball Z for Kinect. Depending on how often you work your arms you may get a little bit of next-day-soreness if you really decide to go all-out with the alternating punches in the game (and play for an extended period of time), but nothing else will particularly work you to any amount of exertion.

The character roster takes a hit coming from Ultimate Tenkaichi — not that you would notice, since you are in first-person for the majority of the game. We have finally approached the point where literally the only difference between characters is how you perform their super attacks, where it will also switch out of first-person to show the attack play out. For the game to even work, each character must have the exact same basic techniques and tactics available to them. Play as Goku! Or Vegeta! Or Kui! Or Gotenks! Or Freeza! It really does not matter — you will be waving your arms around like a crazy person no matter who you choose to “play as”, and only in the game’s Score Attack mode (which itself is just the story mode battles as-is with the exception of you choosing a different character).

The Extra Stuff

One of the earliest features of Dragon Ball Z for Kinect to be shown off was the QR code integration. While initially vague, it seemed to be that additional characters and techniques could be unlocked by holding these codes up for the Kinect to scan.

In North America, pre-orders of the game via Amazon — as well as other first-run copies of the game via other retailers — came with a cardboard “Goku hair” hat printed with five of these codes. These particular codes unlock Super Saiyan Goku, Super Saiyan Trunks, Piccolo, Kaiō-ken, and Guided Ki Blast. It may be worth noting that Super Saiyan Bardock — a character exclusive to this game, featured in its animated special, and even pictured on the back of the box — was not unlocked by playing through the game. I have to imagine he will be available via a QR code distributed by Namco-Bandai at some point, but this seems moderately ridiculous.

Achievement fans will be disappointed, with the majority coming in simply by playing the story mode and performing basic attacks. 15 points get spread across besting your top score in Score Attack mode for each fight, which seems like a slog if I have ever heard one.

Perhaps the most significant extra inclusion is the animated feature Episode of Bardock. Originally penned as a three-part manga by Naho Ooishi, the spin-off sequel to Bardock’s TV special from 1991 was converted into a 20-minute anime that debuted in December 2011 at Jump Festa (and was later included on a bonus DVD with the March 2012 issue of Saikyō Jump).

The Kinect game is the feature’s first home media release outside of Japan, and one of the only features from the last few years to actually hit our shores in a legit fashion (still waiting on the 2008 Jump Super Anime Tour Special, guys!). This fact alone may be worth the $40 asking price for some fans, though it is important to note that you must own a Kinect to even navigate the menu to watch the special — the game will hang on a “This game requires a Kinect Sensor” prompt until one is plugged in. Much like with 2010’s Raging Blast 2 and Plan to Eradicate the Super Saiyans, Episode of Bardock is presented on the game disc exclusively in its original Japanese language with English subtitles. The translation itself is overall very faithful and accurate to its original Japanese script, though the occasional English dub-ism makes its way through (such as “Frieza”), and many sentences inexplicably end without any punctuation. The text placement is the same as it was back with Plan to Eradicate the Super Saiyans via Raging Blast 2, with the thin, white font quasi-left-justified as opposed to centered.

At 20 minutes, Episode of Bardock does not have a whole heck of a lot of time to make any sort of massive impact on its viewers. Whether or not it suffices as a fun diversion will probably vary significantly from fan to fan — all of us at Kanzenshuu had some of our own little issues with it, but I stand by my feelings of it coming together just enough to be what it is: a pretty OK short feature with Bardock. Nothing more, nothing less. Would I rather have it, or have nothing at all? I will take Episode of Bardock.

Final Thoughts

If you have not already jumped on the Kinect bandwagon, perhaps the most important question to ask is: should I bother? Is Dragon Ball Z for Kinect worth the entry price? Beyond needing the Xbox 360 to play it on in the first place, a Kinect still retails for one hundred smackers. Assuming you at least already own the system, that is still a $140 cost to perform a Kamehameha without a controller.

Then again, with the Kamehameha itself being one of the least-recognized moves by the system, you are better off standing in the mirror with “CHA-LA HEAD-CHA-LA” playing in the background as you scream your adorable little head off. The game has some amazing moments locked away, but they are all within the one giant boss battle which you can get to within about 15-20 minutes of playing in the game’s story mode. Everything else is worth — at best — a weekend rental. The fact that the game fails to recognize such a hefty portion of your movements just cannot be overstated or warned against enough. It was an OK experiment, but that is all it was: an experiment. There is no complete “game” here, since tactics go right out the window without a responsive control scheme.

It is impossible to even recommend the game as an expensive Episode of Bardock disc if you do not already own a Kinect, since you are unable to navigate to the feature without the hardware add-on.

Do we deserve more? Those who keep buying rehash after rehash probably do not (this is all your — and I guess my — fault, by the way)! On the other hand, finally getting a single year for the developer to actually sit back and breathe for a single moment and presumably work on other projects cannot be a particularly bad thing.

Right…?

Purchase This Item:

Dragon Ball Z for Kinect may be available at the following retailers: