It’s not everyday I fire up my Kinect, so it was refreshing to see a new exclusive title released for it, even though it’s centered around an IP (Dragon Ball) that I know next to nothing about. Positioned as a holiday title for kids, Dragon Ball Z for Kinect (DBZK) isn’t as deep or robust as other recent Dragon Ball videogames, but it is the only one that allows you to perform Kamehameha’s and a hundred or so other moves in your living room.
DBKZ is a first person brawler, although during fights, camera angles will change often for rush and special attacks to give players a cool cinematic view of the action. These views are repeated a little too often though, as are the motions used to control the game. Filling up gauges by rapidly punching — or really just lightly and quickly moving your hands back and forth will suffice — is a pretty constant part of the experience. Most battles take anywhere from three to five minutes in my experience thus far (I have not completed the Story Mode), which is long enough for the gameplay to feel repetitive, especially if you are playing consecutive fights.
Gameplay is split into to main modes, Story and Score Attack. By playing Story Mode, you unlock more characters to choose from (there are about fifty in all, including a brand new character, although I couldn’t tell you who that is) to use in Score Attack. The story mode is split into four main tiers, as is the Score Attack, which you have to unlock in succession. Within each tier, there are several fights that are taken directly from DBZ lore, and include fairly lengthy in-game animated cutscenes to setup the battle. At the end of each fight, you are scored based on the length of the fight (generally at least three minutes long), remaining health, and max combos. Scores are sent to leaderboards for bragging rights, which is also the crux of the Score Attack mode.
Before going into either mode, it’s not a bad idea to go through the tutorials, which feature Piccolo as your trainer. The Tutorials cover all aspects of the gameplay, including melee and blast range combat, knockback and assault combos, as well as escapes and approaches and super attacks. In each case, I found imitating the motions asked of me by the black and white visual cues on screen to be easy and usually recognized correctly the first time (for what it’s worth, I was about seven feet back from the Kinect sensor). Obviously one of the most important aspects of any motion game is that the motions are indeed intuitive and/or easy to perform, and above all, are recognized consistently by the game. I have yet to have much trouble with DBZK recognizing motions, although there are miscues like a Ki blast being mistaken for a punch or my ready stance for the Kamehameha doesn’t take the first time or two. Either because it was meant to be forgiving of that or because it’s not intended to be a hard game, a missed motion control or two during a battle isn’t likely to cost you the match.
I thought DBZK had a good variety of motion controls overall. Jumps, two hand and one hand plus one foot motions, and ducking as well as swaying are all on the menu here. Punches, your most common attack by far, are limited to just left and right jabs, hooks, and uppercuts, and I soon found out after an initially exhausting first half hour that it doesn’t take much more than flicking your wrist for punches to be ‘counted’ as legit. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though, given how many punches you need to throw in a given five minute fight. On the other hand, the fact that you are throwing so many punches — and doing lots of other repeated motions — makes playing DBZK for much more than a half hour difficult because it just gets boring from repetition. Granted, I don’t follow DBZ at all, so fans are likely to get a bigger kick out of the entire experience. That said, despite so many playable and unlockable characters, the fights seemed awfully repetitive, and at times, even scripted. By that I mean that there are plenty of moments within a given battle where, to make the most of a certain moment, you have to perform the action on screen quickly. The action is usually punching extra fast to build up a gauge to launch a counterattack or doing one of three or four offensive or defensive maneuvers. Most of these sequences also replay the same animated sequence too, which adds to the repetition.
As for presentation, DBZK utilizes a smooth, colorful, almost cel-shaded look that I have seen in other DBZ games this generation. It’s not bad at all, frame rates are plenty smooth, and I think it captures the essence of the series quite well. The voiceovers seem to be spot on from what I remember from other DBZ games too. The music is as irritating as ever, and effects, like certain animated sequences, are heard and seen constantly. The Kinect-controlled menu system is ok, but it slows down navigating compared to what a controller can do.
With that, let’s get to the summary…