[Disclosure: A review copy was provided for the contents of this article]
Perhaps it was unleashed upon UK television just a little late for me (or perhaps there’s just something wrong with me) but for whatever reason, even though I love Manga, I’ve never been able to get into Dragon Ball Z. The appeal of the cartoon passed me by completely, whilst until now, every previous video game based on the license has been so close to unplayable that even I feel sorry for fans of the series.
This context is important, because for the past two weeks I’ve been wrangling with the almost unimaginable truth that I fucking love Dragon Ball FighterZ (which is actually pronounced fighters, for reasons that people my age will presumably never understand.) I love FigtherZ so much that I think it might be the best fighting game I’ve ever played. Yep, it’s true – I’ve been trying to think of one that I like more and I just…. Can’t.
FighterZ is a 2.5D fighting game that pitches two teams of three combatants against each other in the same style as games like Marvel vs Capcom. Characters can tag in and out more or less at will, whilst it’s also possible to perform team attacks based on different combinations of characters. The 2.5D element relates to the field of view, which allows movement only from left to right (plus all manner of manic jumping) but with a camera that is free to pan and zoom almost anywhere, giving the illusion of a full third dimension.
That’s a good thing, because if you notice nothing else about FighterZ, you will notice the visuals. Honestly, I’m not sure how a fighting game could look any chunkier, any more characterful or any more intensely visceral. The sound plays its part, of course, but from the initial un-skippable intro sequence to the first time you juggle-combo someone into their red zone before filling the screen with explosions and slamming them into the ground – FighterZ is an absolutely treat to watch.
This, perhaps, is what Dragon Ball Z games should always have been like – I don’t know. The shrieking, knuckle crushing madness of FighterZ certainly appeals to me a lot more than any of the previous, more sombre affairs, but perhaps what is even more of a surprise is the universal combat system, which levels the playing field at a mechanical level.
This system basically means that almost every character shares the same set of commands, making it possible for anyone who has played a Street Fighter game before to jump straight in. The common thumbstick roll from down to forwards is used by almost all of the combatants, for example, whilst several combos are equally accessible across the roster.
This approach makes the included training mode fairly redundant, especially given the fact that FighterZ also features a story mode that revolves around a plot so ridiculous that I simply don’t understand it. In this mode, players choose the number of fights that they want to participate in, then dive in – the difficulty level is low to medium at worst, making it the ideal place to hone your skills.
The arcade mode is where experienced solo players will likely spend most of their time and this is a much more challenging proposition. Again, players can choose the length of their experience, but the difficulty level scales depending on your performance – so no matter how good or bad you are, you will be challenged.
On the downside, all of these modes (and the obligatory versus mode, plus a few more) are presented via a stupid, bloated and often broken hub world that players must navigate through. The game boots directly to an online lobby automatically and for some reason, it often fails to load properly which causes the game to return to the opening sequence. It is possible to navigate directly using a hidden menu, but the hub world brings little to the table in my opinion, whether on or offline.
Ultimately despite the weird choice of menu system, FighterZ is a brilliant take on the traditional combat mechanism. It looks and sounds fantastic, with a visual style that explodes as enthusiastically from the screen in a fitting tribute to the original animation. The universal mechanics enables players at any level to be competitive, in particular when you consider the traditional complexity that three versus three fighting games can introduce. Even for me, Dragon Ball FighterZ is a huge success. As such, I can’t think of any reason why you should not: