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Dragon Ball: Sparking Zero is an awesome anime power fantasy

Published Jun 13th, 2024 1:30PM EDT
An Episode Battle in Dragon Ball: Sparking Zero.
Image: Bandai Namco

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The mid-2000s were mind-boggling busy for fans of Dragon Ball fighting games. From 2005 to 2007, developer Spike Chunsoft (formerly Spike) released a new Budokai Tenkaichi (known as Sparking! in Japan) title every year. The beloved fighting game series then went dormant until 2010, when Tenkaichi Tag Team launched on PSP. Then… nothing.

It was radio silence for over a decade, but fans finally had something to cheer about in March 2023 when publisher Bandai Namco confirmed that a new game in the series was in the works. A few months later, the studio revealed that the new game would be called Dragon Ball: Sparking! Zero, and at Summer Game Fest Play Days, I got a chance to go hands-on with the long-awaited sequel.

Episode Battles make up the single-player portion of the game, giving players a chance to fight through iconic battles from Dragon Ball history with eight characters, including Goku and Vegeta. With Goku, you can play all the way from the opening moment of Dragon Ball Z through to Dragon Ball Super (the first time that series has been portrayed in a game).

There will be intro and outro cutscenes between every Episode Battle, and within those cutscenes, you can switch to a first-person view at will. If you’ve ever wanted to know what it would look like to have a Special Beam Cannon go directly through your chest, Sparking! Zero is here to help you live out your dream.

Players will also be able to choose between branching paths after finishing an Episode Battle. You can go along with the canonical story from the show, or you can chart a new path and see what would have happened if, for instance, Goku hadn’t teamed up with Piccolo when Raditz invaded Earth and kidnapped Gohan.

Episode Battles will be the star of the show for fans of the narrative, but there are also Custom Battles curated by the developers. You’re free to edit these battles to your heart’s content by changing the stage, the weather conditions, and more. Of course, you can also build your own Custom Battles from scratch, share them online with others, and play Custom Battles created by others. I have no doubt that Sparking! Zero players will push the game to its absolute limits with this mode.

Super Saiyan Goku in Dragon Ball: Sparking Zero.
Super Saiyan Goku in Dragon Ball: Sparking Zero. Image source: Bandai Namco

Finally, fans of local multiplayer will be pleased to know that split-screen battles will be available in the game. If you want to recreate the ‘90s by actually inviting a friend over to face off with you in a video game battle, you can do that here.

For my demo, I played through a few VS Battles, which are one-on-one fights against the computer or other human players. The battles were approachable enough that I was able to dive in and have some fun despite not being a Budokai Tenkaichi expert (I haven’t even touched the series in over a decade).

After a couple of battles, I was able to pick up a few moves, but this is not a button masher. You’re going to need to time your attacks, blocks, dodges, and counters if you want to have a shot against a competent opponent.

My skill level aside, there’s still no match for the joyful destruction of a Dragon Ball fighting game. If more than 15 seconds go by without something blowing up or crumbling to the ground, you’re doing it wrong. The environment is just about fully destructible, so if you throw Vegeta into a mountain, the mountain will evaporate, just like in the show.

You can play split-screen matches in Dragon Ball: Sparking Zero.
You can play split-screen matches in Dragon Ball: Sparking Zero. Image source: Bandai Namco

When I was younger, most of my excitement for the Dragon Ball fighting games revolved around the baffling number of playable characters. That’s still going to be a key feature in Sparking! Zero, which will ship with 164 playable fighters. Some of those fighters are different forms of the same character, but they each have their own unique skills.

In the demo alone, I had 50 fighters to choose from, which, again, represents less than a third of the full roster. I had the most fun with Frieza, one of the first major villains of Dragon Ball Z, but Great Ape Goku was the character that put the biggest smile on my face. As in previous Budokai games, Great Ape Goku is basically true to size. He towers above the other characters, and even though he’s just as susceptible to getting his ass kicked, it’s never not funny to see one character dominate half the screen while swatting at opponents a tenth his size.

Fans of the Budokai Tenkaichi series have been waiting nearly 15 years for a new entry. Dragon Ball: Sparking! Zero differentiates itself from Dragon Ball FighterZ while building upon what made the previous games so successful.

Dragon Ball: Sparking! Zero launches for PS5, Xbox Series X/S, and PC on October 11, 2024.

Jacob Siegal
Jacob Siegal Associate Editor

Jacob Siegal is Associate Editor at BGR, having joined the news team in 2013. He has over a decade of professional writing and editing experience, and helps to lead our technology and entertainment product launch and movie release coverage.