I have been a fan of the DRAGONBALL series for a long time now, even before the show became popular here in the United States. After numerous imports of video games that were released in Japan on the Playstation, and an American released Game Boy Advance title, we finally get a true American version of the popular anime.
DRAGONBALL Z BUDOKAI takes place during the first few seasons of the series, from the beginning to the end of Cell Game to those who watch the show. For those who have no clue what DRAGONBALL is about, the story is about a man named Goku who is an exceptionally strong human with superhuman abilities. At the beginning of the Z series, it is revealed to Goku that he is a Saiyan (alien) from another planet. I won't divulge much into the story as the game basically recaps the entire storyline from the first four seasons.
BUDOKAI looks really good. To be honest, I'm not really sure what I was expecting from this game graphic wise, but it exceeded my expectations. Every one of the 23 characters are modeled perfectly after their cartoon counterparts. The animations are done nicely also, and the special moves look as close to the real things as you can get.
There really isn't a ton that you can complain about gameplay wise either. As the game is basically a fighting game, Infogrames did a nice job on the fighting engine. For the most part, the game handles really well. There are tons of combo moves for each character, and of course, each character has their own special moves; Goku, for example, has his Kaio-Ken times 1, 2, 5, and 10, he can go Super Saiyan, and he also has his Kamehameha. And of course, each character can fly, power-up, and the like. In the Duel mode, there are only 5 characters unlocked at the beginning of the game. By beating the storyline mode, you unlock characters after you beat them. My only problem with this is sometimes the controls aren't as responsive as they should be, and in later battles, this can get you into worlds of trouble.
My favorite thing about BUDOKAI is the storyline that goes along with the game. While BUDOKAI is your typical fighting game, there is a storyline that ties all the fights together between your battles. At the beginning of each storyline, you are greeted with the introduction to the show, and then before and after each fight, you get little clips from the show; mind you, these are all rendered in 3D and re-dubbed by the current cast of the show.
The sound is pretty good too. While I was pleased to hear "Rock the Dragon" was once again the show's introduction music, I was even more pleased to hear the ending theme was the musical version of "Cha La Head Cha La", the Japanese music for the show's introduction. Also, the cast of the show reprise their roles in the video game to re-dub the voices during the cut-scenes and fights in the game.
DRAGONBALL Z BUDOKAI is a DRAGONBALL fan's dream. It is the first "true" American game based on the series, and Infogrames really came through on this one. I'm still keeping my fingers crossed for a DRAGONBALL Z RPG in the future, though, but until then, this will tide me over.