Namco Bandai recently served up a demo for Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z more than a month before the game is slated for release in the West. With all progress made in the demo being transferable to the full-release (including achieved trophies which are not yet available) I decided to jump in and to share with you my early experience so that you can decide for yourself whether it’s worth jumping in early, or if you should hold off entirely.
Diving into the game you’ll be greeted by a main menu which features four big-square buttons that are representative of the games Single Player campaign, Co–op Mode, Battle Mode and Options. One of the first things you will notice however is that of the four only the Single Player campaign and Options are able to be selected from the start; and if you are anything like me the second thing you will notice is that despite the overly-large buttons the menu doesn’t support the PlayStation Vita’s touchscreen; in fact most of Battle of Z is completely devoid of any touch input. Admittedly this is just moderately misleading not a huge hurdle in the large scheme of things, but it is off putting and does set the stage for the one of the biggest flaws in the demo – poor menu design.
After you’ve chosen the Single Player campaign it only gets worse. You’re greeted a pentagon of spheres and are given little instruction as to their meaning. As someone who has little history with the Dragon Ball Z games the entire process felt obtuse and counter-intuitive. After a few moments of poking around I discovered that each sphere was representative of a particular slot; one to select a mission, another to select my character and three more for computer controlled allies. However which characters you are afforded is often limited by the mission you choose and such remain completely guarded until you make your selection.
After you figure this all out and actually take on the first mission you’ll be thrown into a tutorial that introduces to the basics of the game. Even as a newcomer to Dragon Ball Z games the fundamental controls were easy to understand and felt completely natural. Each of the four missions in the demo exists solely to expose you to the many layers to Battle of Z’s combat, which is where the heart of the title lies. Dragon Ball Z may be synonymous with over-exposition and melodrama; but you’ll find little of that here. There are threads of a story, but they serve as but a stage for over-the-top battles – and that’s just fine by me.
The action of Battle of Z is the centerpiece, and I was surprised by how much fun the game can be. Due to the fluid nature of the controls it’s immensely satisfying to just fly around the environment attacking enemies with your arsenal of melee and energy attacks. The fun only gets compounded when more characters are thrown into the fray (whether they be computer controlled or otherwise) as you can team up for special attacks and combos.
One thing that stuck out to me from the beginning is that Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z’s presentation. Though there is nothing by-way of cutscenes, the in-game visuals and sound manage to impress on all fronts. Characters are visually reflective of the source material and all dialogue in the demo is voiced. Furthermore the vibrant colour pallet of Battle of Z is a feast for the eyes – especially when multiple characters occupy the screen.
It’s clear that Battle of Z was intended with more than one player in mind, and the multiplayer modes reflect this. Of the two the Co-op Mode in the demo is the shallowest in nature, only offering one mission that is rather easy to complete; however the Battle Mode is the polar opposite – serving countless hours of fun. In Battle Mode you’re able to play with in eight player battles via two teams of four – selecting from a list of four available characters in the demo. Each character plays differently and contributes different aspects to the team – and you’ll need to work together to survive. The multiplayer battles offer a much stiffer challenge as they are quick in pace and require you to be aware of your surroundings at all times.
The Battle Mode truly impressed me; however I did have one reoccurring issue that should be mentioned – constant synchronization. Connection problems in a demo/beta are nothing new, but the frequency in which I had to deal with them in Battle of Z nearly turned me off from the fantastic Battle Mode. Due to the frantic nature of the combat and importance of precisely timed attacks or dodges – the game constantly froze in order to bring everyone onto an even playing field. Though this may be fixed when the game rolls out in 2014, it’s something that needs to be fixed if Battle of Z is to thrive.
What will keep players coming back in spite of this issue is that you gain experience, items and power cards that will help strengthen your character in the final version. Customizing a character with power cards increases their abilities and is available for use in the demo, whereas the equipable items (which offer temporary boosts) are not. The retention of these bounties are enough to warrant repeat plays and justifies the demo’s position on your memory card.
I walked into my time with the Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z demo rather sceptical, and left with a sense of hope. Not only is the game gorgeous to look at, I truly believe that if some of the online issue are solved it has the potential to be one of the best multiplayer experiences on the PlayStation Vita to date. Whether you are a long-time fan of the series or merely looking for a game to play online with others, I highly recommend you jump into the demo. Just be patient, you may have to deal with some synchronization.