Dragon Ball Z prints money. They will never stop making products based on this franchise. When Akira Toriyama dies, his body will be preserved, a la Vladimir Lenin, underneath Toei Company, Ltd. With Dragon Ball FighterZ recently released, it's time to look back at some of the franchise's lower points. As you can imagine, not every Dragon Ball Z game was the prize pick at the fair. Here are five of the worst.
A ground zero of sorts for bad Dragon Ball Z games, Ultimate Battle 22's 1995 release date tells you everything you need to know. Featuring sprites lifted directly from one of Bandai's old Super Nintendo DBZ fighters, UB22 throws itself into a cold, uncaring world of clunky movement, defenseless AI and generic Sega Genesis music.
The stages deserve particular attention, featuring vague interpretations of possibly classic Dragon Ball Z environments. The textures are pulled like digital saran wrap over a ceaselessly dull world, attaining an impressively low level of resolution.
Ultimate Battle 22 lives and dies all in a single breath, simultaneously causing feelings of repulsion and confusion. As if made by accident, it could only function as a bad PSX Dragon Ball Z fighting game back in 1995. Now, in the light of modern sensibilities, it instead feels more like a Dragon Ball Z fighting game you'd find in a 100-in-1 bootleg SNES cartridge in a Hong Kong back alley.
From the creators of Ultimate Battle 22, I comfortably refer to Taiketsu as a refinement in cruelty. While we can blame some failure of Ultimate Battle 22 on the console and time of release, Taiketsu receives no quarter.
Released for the Gameboy Advance, Dragon Ball Z: Taiketsu is a book that should be eagerly judged by its cover. The graphics push the edge of madness, with the only semi-accurate visual comparison being your first originally created Mugen character. Gameplay is non-existent, an absence of enjoyment that can only come from repeatedly mashing buttons that possess wildly interpretive hit boxes, regardless of what difficulty in name only you've set the AI to. The music is a fever dream, impossible to recall regardless of circumstances. Shockingly enough, the game features link cable support as though you are being encouraged to introduce friends and family to this negative improvement on its predecessor.
Taiketsu's genius is how uniformly bad it is, and how it takes no time introducing you to that world. From the moment you see the Gameboy Advance logo flicker to life, you have entered a carefully structured pocket of unpleasantness. No time wasted.
Mindlessness taken to such an extreme it skips over ridiculous insanity and stops dead on lazy cynicism, Dragon Ball Z: Sagas is a tour de force in middling slop.
Beat 'em ups were a dying breed and desperate need of innovation. Fortunately the entire genre was saved by way of Devil May Cry in 2001, so to see Sagas regress three years later, especially alongside Ninja Gaiden in 2004, is uncomfortable at best. Sagas marks new territory for publisher Atari, who made the executive decision that enjoying a bad fighting game for 15 minutes with a friend was far too generous, and instead has opted to replace the laughably bad with the excruciatingly droll. As a single player experience, this game is so unflappably mediocre it's actually less enjoyable than if it was simply a bad game.
Instead, Dragon Ball Z: Sagas heads for the doldrums less traveled and has created a beat 'em up game where nothing feels good. Invisible walls will ensure you're bashing your head through a endless mush of saibamen with a stunningly featureless combat system where your punches, kicks and ki attacks all feel so unsatisfying to use that they may as well just not work and, thanks to the collision detection, sometimes they just won't.
You can purchase upgrades to enhance the combat but they actually do nothing to enhance your experience. Whether it's a purchased ability or one unlocked from the start, every move in the game features a janky animation that takes too long to play out, reducing the already monotonous gameplay to a stuttering mess. This causes everything to feel slow and plodding, which is the last thing you want in a beat 'em up.
Sagas is a game that worships apathy, revels in blase. The graphics match the dull pace of the combat, giving you such two-fifths interpretations of DBZ locations that it staggers the bad imagination. The character models are more than willing to match the speed of the game, coming in as underwhelming as the code can muster. Voice over work in the game could have been done by anybody; it might as well be white noise. There's nothing here. Dragon Ball Z: Sagas isn't smoke and mirrors trying to masquerade as a passable game. It's just smoke.
The reason this entry cannot be number one is it was born to die. Created with the sole instruction of "get the money, get out, no witnesses," Dragon Ball Z: For Kinect is a product of both laziness and incompetence; the Star Wars Battlefront 2 of its kind. Namco-Bandai believed (much like their predecessors did with UB22) that they could take assets from an older game, Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi, combine it with a rebarbative first-person view and Kinect-based motion controls, and then sell it for $60. They were correct.
This is a game entirely at odds with itself. You can unlock new fighters, but they all play exactly the same way. Even if they didn't, you're in first-person mode more often than not so you can't see the action even if you wanted to. It focuses on slow, deliberate movement largely due to the incompetence of the Kinect, yet everything seems to respond when it god damn well feels like it. The difficulty in this game does not lie with anything relating to the gameplay, but instead lives and dies entirely based on the hardware that it needs to function. You'll fight tooth and nail with the Kinect over every minutia, a never-ending dialogue that leaves you with a realization that you've wasted so much time and money on Dragon Ball Z: For Kinect. Once the fun of the Kinect semi-registering your kamehameha pose wears off, you can essentially consider the game completed because all that you'll have left is a very boring, extremely interpretive Dragon Ball Z themed choreography DVD.
It shares identical graphics and a shot-for-shot copy-paste of the story mode from Ultimate Tenkaichi, so you might be thinking that if you played that game you have absolutely no reason to pick this up. That's close, but the reality is no one has any reason to pick this up. You can indite the entirety of the Kinect's existence off the back of this game alone. This is the game equivalent of a film made by The Asylum. It was designed to take as much money from people as possible using a franchise they liked until they caught on as to how awful the product actually was.
While I'm told the sequels to The Legacy of Goku range from serviceable to even enjoyable, the first of its kind should not be forgotten. While UB22 and Taiketsu are as awful as they come, they still function. Albeit at a base level, the games do fulfill what the developers set out to accomplish. Sagas is a stunning achievement in coasting, but it might be fun after 20 beers. Even the pathetic Dragon Ball Z: For Kinect can register a kamehameha sometimes. The original Dragon Ball Z: The Legacy of Goku is a game that either does not function as intended or functions as intended and is a digital venture into the theory behind Chinese water torture.
Dragon Ball Z: The Legacy of Goku starts off more promising than many of the other games on this list, forgoing the idea of immediately rewarding the player with a bad experience as established by previous Dragon Ball Z games. It instead opts for an action RPG setting where you guide Goku through the Raditz and Frieza arcs.
While this all sounds actually okay, don't be fooled and keep your head on a swivel as The Legacy of Goku contains potentially harmful levels of tedium. The melee combat in the game consists of physical attacks with such untenable range and hitboxes that it feels more akin to something like Might and Magic or, more accurately, Hydlide. Yet the game does not accept it would function better as a blobber. Instead, it has the sheer gall to demand you participate in real-time battles as though everything isn't determined by the whim of whatever line of spaghetti code that checks HIT or MISS when you attempt to use a punch. Focusing on melee attacks makes the game near impossible to play.
The solution then, you may be thinking, is to use energy attacks. And you'd be right. There's one you get fairly early in the game called the solar flare. The solar flare is the blind idiot god of The Legacy of Goku. Everything from the wolf you fight in Area 1, up to and including Frieza at the end of the game, have to answer to the solar flare. There will never be a moment in the game where “hit it with the solar flare” is the suboptimal choice, and you get the solar flare in the first leg of your journey. It is an unfeeling, primordial force; one that the player can wield entirely as they see fit, free of all consequences and responsibility.
The Legacy of Goku is a conceptual air ball. The blueprint for this game is one of the cleanest alley-oop's a design team could have asked for, and yet it was botched at every single possible opportunity. This is why it takes the number one spot on this list. The solar flare invalidates the entire existence of The Legacy of Goku to the point where it no longer counts as a video game. It's a creatively designed data entry program.
But, what is the alternative? Return to the melee combat and inch your way through moving traffic on the highway of The Legacy of Goku? This is the true nature of Dragon Ball Z: The Legacy of Goku, and it is a grim mask of death. It's the casino where you always win, or where you always lose. You have no middle ground, no recourse to any kind of higher power, nothing to ground you in reality. And then it just ends.