Very few people have heard of it and even fewer have played the very first Dragon Ball arcade game. Released way back in 1993 by Banpresto it came out in the midst of the big fighting game craze of the early 90s. Featuring eight characters (a standard at the time) and slick animation it was certainly pleasent to look at and could be appreciated by fans. However, the gameplay suffered from failed attempts at innovative gameplay by removing the ability to jump and instead opting to allow characters to float which slowed down an already slow game. Sadly, Dragon Ball's first trip to the arcade was a below par one at best.
8 Characters (Son Goku, Vegeta, Son Gohan, Piccolo, Recoom, Burtur, Captain Ginyu, and Freeza)
8 Level Single Player Game
Average Cost: 25 cents a game
The character selection (seen to the left) featured some of the major players of the Freeza saga with most of their moves see in the show. The only exception? No Super Saiyan Goku! I guess the developers wanted to make it as realistic as possible and Super Saiyan Goku can pretty much walk all over everyone else in this game. Of course, doesn't that mean Freeza can do the same thing? Anyway, despite the absence of characters like Dodoria, Guldo, Jeice, and my favoutire, Zarbon, the roster still looks rather good. When you take into consideration that this game was released in 1993 it's easier to accept a 2D fighitng game that doesn't have several dozen characters (Marvel vs Capcom 2 anyone?). Each character has obvious strengths and weaknesses but there are some serious balance problems. For example, Son Goku has above average everything which gives him a huge advantage against characters like Son Gohan who have some speed but serious lack any real physical strength. Then there's characters like Recoom who have one second delays (!) before he can make a simple attack. Speaking of Recoom, just in case you're wondering, he's the cheapest character in the game! I cleared it without losing a single round by relying on his QCF (Quarter Circle Forward) + button 3 attack which hits for major damage and high frequency, except on Gohan who's too short.
The graphics in this game are superb. The characters, for the most part, are well drawn and the background are wonderful. Little touches like backgrounds that take damage throughout the battle, somewhat a novelty back then, are a nice bit of extra stuff. Loads of characters who failed to make the cut like Kuririn, Tenshinhan, and Chou Zu scatter the backgrounds cheering you on. It's a little odd seeing the scenes around and sometimes behind them be demolished without them taking any notice but that's a minor complaint. The problem with the graphics is that the hardware isn't quite up to the task of handling it all. Slowdown is a constant problem as things like a simple fireball will slow the pace down to a crawl and when an enemy takes to the air it's a struggle to slowly make your way towards them. There is a dash attack but it hardly seems useful when you take into consideration the time it takes for it to start. The sound and music are from the show but the quality, have been downed in what looks like an effort to keep the pace of the game up.
The game is of course intended for two players which makes things much more enjoyable. However, there is a one player mode which consists of fighting each character in a best of three rounds battle that, thanks to the slow pace, will usually end when the time runs out. Knockouts are rare a too few for my tastes but a dragging the fight on with longer time limits would surely make everything seem even slower which would be very very bad.
What's your reward for finishing the game in one player mode? A cool boss? A cutscene of some kind? Maybe a clip from the show? Nah, you just get some text and then the credits. Hardly seems fair when having to go through the struggle of fighting a very cruel AI through 8 long battles.
So what's the final verdict? Is this game worth plunking down 25 cents? (or more if your arcade thinks you should pay extra for a game over ten years old) I suppose it is, but only as novelty, nothing more. If you do see this rare machine it will mostly likely be your only chance to play it. Even so, it's still a fairly lame game and that's why I'm giving it...
A below average score for a below average game. The fact that there are games released even earlier then it like Street Fighter II that were way better really hurts this title. Sometimes you need more then a pretty face.