Almost as long as there have been video games, there have been video games devoted to the story of Goku and his friends fighting the forces of evil. While some franchises are lucky to see a handful of titles exploring their universe, Dragon Ball is one of the most exploited properties in gaming, and there is almost no facet of the franchise that can't be found in a virtual form. Different developers have put their own stamp on the property as well, and Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden is the indirect continuation of one such strain, that being the 16-bit era Butoden series of 2D fighters. Two of the games in that series, Ultimate Battle 22 and Dragon Ball GT: Final Bout, were some of the first exposure that Americans had to the DBZ universe. Extreme Butoden is certainly a throwback to that style, but its simplistic nature could go too far in one direction, even for a handheld experience.
The game's main campaign is divided into three distinct modes, each requiring completion before the next in line is unlocked. You first play through Z Story, which is ten fights that rushes through the four main sagas of the anime. After that, you have Adventure Mode, which takes place in a time after the anime and has you on a map going from fight to fight competing against characters and following along a strung together time travel storyline. Finally, you can unlock the Extreme World Tournament mode, which consists of a difficult arcade ladder that you have to beat in one go. The Z Story mode also has a few alternative campaigns focusing on the Z Warriors other than Goku and eventually a story dedicated to what would happen if Emperor Pilaf resurrected every villain that Goku had ever vanquished.
Having considered the franchise's extensive history in games, you must excuse me if loading up Extreme Butoden and immediately facing Raditz followed by Nappa and his Saibamen doesn't fill me with glee the way it used to. Once you're past the initial story, the game does take some interesting turns, but this is all very familiar ground for even casual fans of DBZ. The alternate Z Story modes advertise themselves as "What If?" scenarios, but they rarely deviate from fights that you've seen in the anime, and several of them feature events that overlap with each other to fill out their ten stages. The game is narratively at its best when it has a bit of fun with the continuity, but that doesn't happen often enough to forgive the endless retreads.
Of course, this is a fighting game, so gameplay should be the big selling point here anyway. You have a light and heavy attack at your disposal as well as a ki blast and a dodge button, all of which can be strung together for a few simple combos. The game makes no effort to teach you its systems, so it will take a few battles and a quick look at the move list to get a handle on the game's style of action. Thankfully, while each character has unique moves, the combos to perform those moves are identical across the board, and getting up to doing ultimate moves reliably is not a long journey at all. For a portable game focused on short fights, the combat is suitably simplistic with just enough depth to separate button mashers from those who know what they're doing.
The game works on a tag team system, where you can have up to three main fighters on your roster, or you can sub in two assist characters for one of those fighter's slots. These assists are all characters that jump in and perform an attack, heal, or have some other effect on the battle, and they range from fighters like Yamcha and Gogeta to auxiliary characters like Bulma and Oolong. Of the advertised 100+ characters featured in the game, three-fourths of them are these assist characters. The variety is welcome, and it's a blast to see even the most minor characters from the anime and beyond featured in the game. On the other hand, the roster of twenty-five playable fighters is lacking compared to previous games in the Butoden series and to other DBZ titles such as the Budokai trilogy. This is a shame, especially considering that this game plays by Budokai Tenkaichi rules, where Super Saiyan Goku takes up a different slot than regular Goku and Super Saiyan God Goku.
As for fighting against others, I hope you know some DBZ fans in person. Extreme Butoden lacks an online mode, and its multiplayer doesn't support download play, meaning that both people will need a copy of the game in order to battle. This puts the long-term appeal of the title in question, as the AI opponents you'll be facing rarely ramp up in difficulty, and they pale in comparison to a player with even a few hours of experience. I was easily able to go multiple rounds without taking a single hit after a few days playing the game.
There is some challenge in collecting all of the assist characters, which are locked behind gaining S ranks in the Adventure Mode. S ranks require you to finish fights with certain moves and conditions, as well as performing technical feats and losing as little health as possible. Some of these conditions were painfully specific, and the average player will have a tough time achieving any of them thanks to the arcane scoring system the game uses.
Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden will prove to be a great fling for 3DS owning DBZ fans. Finishing off a couple fights with a Final Flash and then putting the game down is a great time, but there is a lack of depth that will disappoint those looking for a deep fighting experience or a great rendition of the DBZ lore. In addition, the game's lack of online is killer, and the AI hardly ever puts up a fight outside of the Extreme World Tournament. The game's only challenging feature, the drip feed of unlocking assist characters, will be frustrating to all but the most dedicated. Much like many of the franchise's movies, Extreme Butoden is an unessential DBZ experience that is fun while it lasts but instantly forgettable.
This game was reviewed on a Nintendo 3DS XL with a download code provided by Namco Bandai.