Dragon Ball FighterZ received an almost baffling swell of immediate enthusiasm after its announcement and across the beta weekends. It was an enthusiasm I didn't initially understand, but it seems it was well placed, because Dragon Ball FighterZ is pretty darn great so far.
This reviewer knows the bare minimum about Dragon Ball, having never watched it and instead absorbing a basic awareness of Goku and Piccolo and huge explosions through the internet's enthusiasm for the series in general, but the characters in the game are so engaging that your level of knowledge hardly matters. Goku in particular is a sweet and forgetful hero, as if a jug-eared nerd became a meathead overnight and just got well into fighting. This all seems in line with the game staying faithful to the source material, especially visually.
The look of Dragon Ball FighterZ is one of its greatest assets, because it does look like you're controlling part of the 2D anime, even during the 3D modelled cutscenes. This also means even lighter attacks in combat look hilariously powerful, and the specials are frankly ridiculous, with your entire screen taken up by a character yelling or laughing maniacally whilst the whole stage explodes in different colours. If you finish an opponent off with a heavy attack the character flies off into the distance and smashes apart a building or a mountain in the background. It's a sight to kindle joy in even the most wintry of hearts.
The over-the-top attacks feed into FighterZ being one of the most accessible fighting games to have recently come out. It uses a 3v3 tag team system, but the screen is relatively stripped back, with just your respective health bars, a special meter, and a hit counter that pops up when you start racking up your attacks. Special attacks are easy enough to trigger, as are some of the flashier combos, and then you can get into your counters and recovers, with refresher tutorials popping up in the single player quite naturally.
At the same time, there are a lot of different options available for the more serious player to develop tactically, with that one special bar contributing to a number of different moves both offensive and defensive. As a whole the combat feels geared more to rapid movement and attacking, as when you're pushed onto your back foot you can get stuck in a chained attack until your opponent is done with you, but the combination of double and high jumps and attack rushes make dodging attacks not only infinitely possible but very satisfying.
The single player in FighterZ tells the same story from three different points of view, which means it can get a bit tiring over the 15 or so hours, but the back and forth between friends and enemies in the cutscenes will probably keep you amused long enough to push through, although the narrative as a whole isn't necessarily a world beater. Clones of some of the roster are setting about wreaking havoc over Earth, meaning Goku and pals have to save the day – except their powers are suppressed and they can only fight at full strength when linked with a compatible human soul (the player's), thus providing an explanation as to why only one of the team fights at once.
Each chapter of the story has a map of a few different fight stages linked together, with you travelling between them to get in scraps at your leisure (kind of like that puzzle where you have to cross all the bridges between a group of islands. Remember that one?). The more fights you have the more you level up, but each member of your team only regenerates a portion of the health they lost after each fight, so you sometimes have to switch in another character to give your faves a break and level up others. In this way the single player is a bit like Pokémon, which is not a comparison I expected to be drawing, and yet here we are.
As well as the single player and online multiplayer, there's an arcade mode (where you fight successive teams of increasing difficulty), a local arena, training, and a shop where you can buy cosmetic items with in-game currency, all arranged around an extremely cute lobby that you run around as a tiny chibi version of one of the roster, rather than selecting what you want from a menu screen. It's way nicer than it needs to be, which probably applies to the whole game.
Whether or not you like fighting games or Dragon Ball, extremely dramatic villains and hench dudes with giant hair hurling fireballs at each other (all set to unceasing guitar solos) is kind of inherently enjoyable.
Developer: Arc System Works
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Available on: PC, Xbox One, PS4 (reviewed on)
Release Date: January 26, 2018