The Dragon Ball FighterZ launch party was the sort of bizarre and brilliant event that affirms your love of games.
Cornering its own fiefdom at the Chelsea football ground, in a bar called ‘under the bridge’, Bandai Namco wasn’t pulling any punches. Vassals of the Dragon Ball series dating back to the early ‘90s circled the arena: Super Butoden for the SNES, final Bout for the PlayStation, through the generations on and on and up to 2018 with this latest entry. The main stage bore a floor-to-ceiling LED screen smudging the game’s pores with coin-size pixels.
A sugar rush of colour and chaos, Dragon Ball FighterZ is the sort of game that might turn the mild-mannered away. Its attitude is obvious; its lure is more elusive. What may seem at first like a celebration of sheer plenitude – fireballs, colours, punches, life bars, collateral damage, screw you we have more – soon gives way to a shrewd, cerebral waltz. The whole place had a beehive vibe about it: sharp colours popped off of screens hung from pillars and bars, the pits either side of the stage filled with honeycomb rows of players honing their skills.
What better way to get acquainted with a hyper-kinetic Japanese tag-team fighting game than to hop up on stage and play someone in a tournament? Right…? My opponent was a man by the name of Midas (I don’t know if that is his real name, but despite shaking hands with him I remain flesh and blood). Midas informed me that he didn’t have his contact lenses; I informed him I’d never played the game. The battle lines were drawn. So while a pair of commentators drummed up a line in informed badinage, I hastily learned the controls from Midas, picked three characters by way of who looked the zaniest, and we were off.
What’s interesting about Dragon Ball FighterZ is that the initial intensity soon becomes second nature; you get velocitized to the game’s near-satirical sense of speed. Once you’re swept up in its motion, what once seemed a caffeinated entanglement becomes a real show of defence and spacing. I got absolutely battered, obviously.
Switching my characters in and out to ensure they all got their even share of bruises, I quickly acclimatised to the game’s rhythm. I did manage initially to take Midas by surprise with beginner’s aggression, chipping away at him and disrupting his onward surge with light-medium pokes. I managed to knock one of his three characters out with this tactic, but with this misbegotten little victory I began to sense I might be being toyed with. It didn’t happen again.
With a cocktail of dash-cancels Midas caught me in a web of screen-shaking combos (though it’s worth noting that most things in Dragon Ball FighterZ are somewhat screen-shaking). We began our second bout in the best of three format. I’ve always played Street Fighter, and coming from Street Fighter V, Dragon Ball FighterZ isn’t a million miles away.
Its over-the-top style feels like a vivified version of street Fighter’s reliance on zoning and defence; however here, it involves taking to the skies and laying down napalm tides of aqua-green fire. Offence, while brimmed over with blizzards of punches and kicks, still involves chaining successive blows in a combo string, before cancelling into more powerful special moves. I came away reeling, intrigued, and hungry for revenge.
Dragon Ball FighterZ is out today, and if you’re a fan of the series chances are you’re playing it right now. If you’re a fan of fighting games then this is one you’d do well to take a chance on; you may start off dazed and confused but you soon get a taste for its insanity. I should also note, for both this reporter’s self-respect, and indeed as a flag-bearer for Thumbsticks, I regained my honour by giving Midas a taste of silver at Super Butoden on the SNES afterwards.
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