Anyone unfamiliar with the Dragon Ball Z phenomenon may well wonder what the blue blazes is going on when they witness any of the anime, manga or games. With spectacularly explosive super powers, bizarre looking characters and battles which literally last for days, there's no doubting it's a little different from the norm. However, there's a reason why this seemingly crazy franchise is so well liked - and Dragon Ball Z Budokai Tenkaichi 3 demonstrates that with suitably dazzling aplomb.
Cue the training montage
The Dragon Ball Z universe can appear slightly intimidating to newcomers because of its rather rich and complex history, and that's probably not helped by Dragon Ball Z Budokai Tenkaichi 3 boasting over 160 characters to sink your teeth into, with a mass of move sets, costume variations and other little differences to mimic their animated counterparts.
Overwhelming? Thankfully, no. The Spike developed fighting game is fully aware of its complexities and offers assistance with a huge character reference database which introduces you to the seemingly endless cast, complete with interesting information, pictures and audio files to get you up to speed.
Complementing that is an excellent tutorial mode that guides you through every necessary nuance of the game as well as giving you the opportunity to practice specific moves, techniques and combos. By the time you've gone through its comprehensive supervision you should be more than ready to slip into the beat 'em up's warm battle gloves. If you're already combat hardened from its prequels then you'll be happy to know there's a Disc Fusion option which lets Budokai Tenkaichi 1 and Budokai Tenkaichi 2 unlock new gameplay modes if you insert the discs while playing Budokai Tenkaichi 3.
As with its predecessors, Tenkaichi 3 has several aims in mind: to keep fans of the series happy, replicate the impressively dynamic fights of its source material and - most importantly - to be a great game. It succeeds on all counts. There are few examples within games where the sheer over the top madness of a typical fight seen in Japanese anime is effectively replicated, but here the nuances of the cartoon and the superhero style genre are captured perfectly.
Battles occur in a full 3D environment, where flying at subsonic speeds and swiftly running across large landscapes are commonplace. Giant energy beams are often the weapon of choice, leaving equally giant craters in the ground and scorch marks on their target. Fists fly at such pace they're merely a blur. Combatants hit each other so hard they fly across the screen from the force, snapping trees, collapsing mountains and destroying nearby structures and vehicles in the process. You've not seen hyper-kinetic fighting until you've seen this.
If you think such apparent excess would create chaos, you're right - but it's brilliantly animated and utterly playable chaos. Everything is structured around a deep and intuitive fighting system that keeps proceedings within your control. The free roaming nature of the arenas works well with an intelligent lock-on system and focused camera. The combination means fights are easy to follow without losing any of the intensity that makes them almost as much fun to watch as they are to play. Even when the screen splits for its superb two-player mode the action never lets up in its speed or playability.
There are a lot of techniques to master in Tenkaichi 3 if you wish to get the most from it. But the rewards are massive for learning its quirks... which sums up the game perfectly: it welcomes curiosity and rewards persistence.
You may not know the wealth of characters but there's so many you're bound to find one you'll like. You may not be familiar with the storylines, but the Dragon History mode allows you to recreate and interact with some of the show's past episodes - a great way to involve you directly in its mythos. Even the loading screens are mini-games designed to be friendly diversions and keep you entertained between bouts. It's an extremely accommodating title.
Dragon Ball Z Budokai Tenkaichi 3 is a delight in every way. Its thoughtful design and attractive presentation are enough to solve the tricky problem of appealing to old and new alike, while its instantly playable and multifaceted gameplay makes it one of the most addictive beat 'em ups available. Polished and potentially inexhaustible in its scope, this is fantastic fighting worthy of anyone's collection.