There are a lot of Dragon Ball games. So many. The ones you might be more familiar with are the Budokai series, or perhaps the more recent FighterZ or Xenoverse. Tight fighters, full of action, based on the show we all know and love. They’re pretty cool!
But before Dragon Ball Z made its way to the west, there were dozens of Playstation 1, NES, SNES, etc. games that we never got to see. One day, game developer/publisher Bandai decided that perhaps this ‘Dragon Ball‘ thing might take off over here, and so Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Battle 22 was released in Europe in 1996, and later in America in 2003.
So what is it?
The first question I’m sure many of you out there are asking is ‘what’s up with the name?’. The answer is, there are 22 playable characters initially with 5 unlockable. And, yes, the title screen and name of the game absolutely does change to ‘Ultimate Battle 27’ when said characters are unlocked.
The game itself covers up to the Buu saga, which I’m sure is absolutely awesome for the Japanese folks who were actually up to that point in the series. For Europeans that received the game, again, before the anime even aired anywhere in the west, it was just kind of cool and confusing. At best, main characters like Goku and Vegeta were recognizable, but then having to see Cell or Majin Buu just made things… Confusing.
This is especially evident for the poor translators who had to go through and write the names for all the characters. There’s a few small mistakes, like misspelling Krillin’s name as Krilin or Gotenks as Gotrunks, but other characters get it a little tougher. Majin Buu gets BouBou, the Androids get C 18 and C 16, and other characters like Goku and Supreme Kai get their Japnaese names of San Goku and Kaiohshin, respectively. So the newcomer wouldn’t see the issues, and most of these were fixed in the 2003 American release (seen in the video above).
So, a weird start, but still okay. We’re still on pretty solid ground.
But then the actual gameplay starts.
And the gameplay…
At first glance it’s… Not great to look at. The game uses actual cel animations from the animators and, in the Japanese version, has entirely unique cutscenes before fights. Which was a pretty big deal at the time. Although the European and American versions had this nifty little feature removed, likely because no English voice track for the game was ever produced. The game is dubbed entirely in Japanese which is just another oddity for the Western player who’s probably used to having dubbed games at this stage. The stages are also done in a cel shaded style. This sounds a lot better than it actually is, considering a lot of the sprites were ripped from SNES titles and looked terrible even for 1996. Although it’s not too bad if everyone stands still.
Once the gameplay starts though and the player gains control, however, things get… Even less great. The characters move like they’re running/flying through molasses which is the last thing you want in a fighting game, especially one based on an anime series that’s noted for its fast paced battles. The attacks take so many frames to complete, and the victim of said attacks takes even longer to recover. Which is fine, because the attacker has to slowly make their way back over to them to do more attacking.
Despite how slow it is, the game has a lot of the standard Dragon Ball fighter staples. Battles taking place in the air, energy blasts which use energy meters that need to be charged during battle and all the Kamehameha’s one would expect. Just. Slower and more tedious than other games.
In conclusion, this mess of an oddity was the first introduction to Dragon Ball Z a lot of people had. I know it was mine. I received this game as a gift, and I have… Confused memories playing it. Even as a kid I knew something was very wrong with it. But I figured, the designs were cool. It all sort of clicked when the anime came to morning TV, sure, but I was still left with the question of ‘who are the rest of these guys?’ and ‘why do they move so much faster here?’
It’s interesting, sure, but do yourself a favour and just… Keep watching the anime, if you want some nostalgia.