GAME REVIEW: DRAGON BALL XENOVERSE / DEVELOPER: DIMPS / PUBLISHER: BANDAI NAMCO GAMES / PLATFORM: PC, PLAYSTATION 3, PLAYSTATION 4, XBOX 360, XBOX ONE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
The enduringly punchy anime franchise returns for its fifteenth instalment (fifteen!) - this time, in colourful next-gen. Non-followers of the franchise will be mystified by a beat 'em up which wastes little time in getting down to business, throwing players into a series of battles straight from Dragon Ball history, with not a word of context or reason.
The story, when it arrives, is this: someone is trashing time, replaying key battles from Dragon Ball lore, but making it so as the bad guys win. Like the Abrams Star Trek reboot, but with even bigger hair and less lens flare. Plenty of flair, though – whether or not you know what's going on (I'll hold my hands up to being mostly clueless), its fight sequences are big and showy, with you taking flight and punching your opponents across vast vistas and beautiful landscapes, twatting them with brightly coloured energy blasts and otherwise beating the hell out of one another in a manner befitting a Marvel vs Capcom game or less dour version of Injustice. It even manages something the big superhero games haven't, to date – a good flight mechanic. Aerial fighting is as well done and thought out as the grounded stuff (even more so, in places), doing a good job of making the player feel as ridiculously overpowered as any character in the TV show.
And, like last year's South Park and the Stick of Truth, this game does an excellent job of making players feel as though they have been dropped in the very middle of an episode of the TV series. The story isn't quite so great (although fans of each may vary on that opinion) but the animation is superb. Even better, like South Park, its character creator lets you craft your own Dragon Ball persona and slot him in right next to the heroes and villains of the show. There (again, like South Park) you'll spend much of your time levelling up and grinding in preparation for the story battles. It may be mostly beat 'em up, but Dragon Ball XenoVerse follows the old MMO tradition of not letting you do anything until you've levelled up enough. Side missions and repetition, then, are your friend.
In between that, you'll spend much of your time wandering around a curiously dull hub (Toki-Toki City) – unable to punch anything, it's down to pre-ordained conversation options and hilariously daft dance-move style mime as you interact with the (brainless) locals and (possibly also brainless) online chums. You're never far away from a good fight though, and in this respect, it's a little like Destiny, only with repetitive punching instead of repetitive shooting. Pretty as it may be, a lot of that fighting is a case of button mashing until someone falls over, while I would have liked the environments to be much more destructible in this next-gen, 3D living anime day and age. Injustice has truly spoiled us.
Long-time fans should love it, while newcomers will be baffled but entertained. For a series now past its fifteenth entry, Dragon Ball XenoVerse finds the franchise to be in rude health. Just not, you know, as rude as those South Park guys.
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