The next-generation successor to Spike's Budokai Tenkaichi games, Raging Blast doesn't have its predecessor's massive character count, but it makes up in a couple of critical ways. In high definition, it looks about as good as a Dragon Ball game ever will, and this is the first time the series has featured a smooth, lag-free online mode. Though it's not quite Guilty Gear in the game balance department, Dragon Ball fans won't complain very loudly.
- Visuals to match the show it's based on
- 3D combat mechanics
- Tons of single-player content based on the original stories
- Hyperactive, cartoony style isn't for everyone
- Camera can't keep up with the action sometimes
- Not all Z-Fighters are created equal
At this point, Bandai Namco’s Dragon Ball console games look as good as they reasonably can. It would be possible to take these character models and add more refinement and detail, or make the animation more complex and lifelike, but the result would wind up looking like an overdone parody of the source material. Dragon Ball Z wasn’t a masterpiece of big-budget animation. It was a colorful, slightly cheesy kids’ cartoon, and that’s the style Dragon Ball: Raging Blast re-creates in 3D.
The nifty thing about this game, though, is that the resemblance is more than skin deep. In motion, it actually feels like the Dragon Ball cartoon, or something close to it. It might not have been designed to the specifications of serious fighting-game fans, but then they’re already well-served by a couple of other famous Namco productions.
Reach for the Sky
Like Budokai Tenkaichi and the other Spike-developed games that precede it, Raging Blast isn’t a traditional toe-to-toe fighting game. Instead, it favors a three-quarter perspective behind your fighter’s shoulder, which makes it easier to keep track of a fast-moving opponent. It’s possible to move very, very fast in this game, and there’s plenty of room to move in. Not only are most of the levels gigantic, but Dragon Ball being Dragon Ball, gravity is not a factor – every fighter can take off and dash around through all three dimensions.
All this adds up to a game that plays a lot more like, say, Virtual-On than Tekken or Street Fighter. Getting up close and landing carefully-timed combo strings is the way to deal serious damage, but maneuvering up close is the part that takes skill and practice to begin with. Mastering all the different dash and flight maneuvers is critical, as well as the timing to dodge an opponent’s combos when he gets the drop on you. In a fight between two capable players, an attack usually lands only after a long stretch of dodging, dashing, and otherwise looking for an opening, which happens to be how it tends to work in the Dragon Ball cartoons as well.
Every so often, Raging Blast has trouble dealing with all that freedom of movement. When one character dashes far above or below the other, for instance, the camera can’t depress enough to show them both on screen, making it impossible to tell how far away your opponent happens to be. Still, dashing away and getting some distance fixes that problem quickly enough.
Tale of the Tape
Another minor problem, depending on your perspective, has to do with the cast of characters. Counting Super Saiyans and other transformations (some characters have several, including fusions for certain combinations in the team battle mode), Raging Blast has more than 70 fighters once the entire crew is unlocked, and they aren’t quite completely balanced.
Certain characters are more effective than others, especially in the hands of an inexperienced player. This is true to the show, of course – the whole point, most of the time, was finding out whether Fighter Y was tougher than Fighter Z – but it’s annoying to see the online competitive game dominated by the beefed-up Super Saiyans. The character customization system helps give less popular fighters an edge, though, fitting them out with unique sets of super attacks and items that might surprise an unwary opponent.
None of this is an issue in the single-player game, of course, where Raging Blast has enough characters at its disposal to re-create almost every bit of the animated Dragon Ball Z storyline. The campaign mode includes a series of battles for every saga from the TV series, plus movie specials like the Bardock and Broly stories, plus a “What-If” mode with storylines dreamed up for the fun of it (like a “Strongest Earthling” tournament for the fighters who don’t have the advantage of being cyborgs or super-powered aliens).
Some earlier Dragon Ball games tried to make their single-player content too complicated, interrupting fights with cinematics and interactive events and other extra stuff that didn’t do much but slow the game down. Raging Blast doesn’t feel any need to get too clever, though. The fighters take the occasional breather in mid-battle to holler macho one-liners at each other, but never for so long that it pulls the player out of the action.
Some long-time followers of Spike’s Dragon Ball games might look at this entry as a step back in certain ways. The cast is smaller than the jam-packed Budokai Tenkaichi 3 – Raging Blast has all the TV show’s major stars (and most of the middling and minor ones), but it doesn’t have the same crowd of goofy cameo characters that made the final Tenkaichi so much fun for Dragon Ball die-hards. On the other hand, Raging Blast can claim a near-perfect online mode, which its predecessors definitely couldn’t. Network battles run very smoothly, with almost no noticeable lag.
The PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of Raging Blast are practically indistinguishable. Visually, there aren't many differences between the two versions. PS3 runs at 720p, and while the back of the box indicates that the Xbox 360 version supports 1080p, that’s not the native resolution. You’d be hard pressed to tell any practical difference in visual quality, and neither engine seems to markedly outperform the other – there’s hardly any noticeable slowdown. Likewise, both online modes offer the same solid performance. Whether you’re playing on Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network, the matchmaking and gameplay should be trouble-free.
If you’re on the outside of the Dragon Ball phenomenon looking in, the whole argument may seem like a moot point. It may be well-made to its particular standards, but from a distance, this is a fighter so hyperactive that the camera sometimes can’t keep up, with a crude, cartoony visual style that’s enough to make a sensitive viewer’s eyes bleed.
For fans of the series, though, that’s a feature, not a bug. The crazy high-speed dashing, the overblown cinematic super attacks, and the ridiculous day-glo spiky hairdos are all critical parts of the Dragon Ball experience. Take them away and you might get a better game, but it wouldn’t be a better game of Dragon Ball.