Each and every Dragon Ball Z fighting game is presented with a pressing dilemma even before the basic coding process begins: to effectively replicate the energetic combat sequences from the animated source material into a product that can appease both the dedicated fanbase and casual partakers of the genre. The biggest step forward arguably arrived in 2002 with Dragon Ball Z: Budokai, an effort that took advantage of the PlayStation 2’s then-evolved 3D graphics to make the Dragon Ball Z battle experience feel that much more authentic. For series diehards, the game was unquestionably heaven-sent. Simply seeing and being able to assume the role of your favorite Super Saiyans and their eccentric adversaries was an undeniable pleasure. Sadly, that initial glee and blinding sheen wore off relatively rapidly, what with the core mechanics of the fight system being as clunky and unrefined as they were. Ten years later, and Dragon Ball Z fighting games are still having an immense amount of difficulty raising everything to a level that can please everyone for longer than a few hours of focused single and multiplayer gameplay (last year’s Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi was yet another letdown).
HD collections, when executed correctly, cannot only reintroduce a classic group of titles to the modern public but do well to utilize the current technology to enhance the predecessors into wholly better gaming experiences. Dragon Ball Z: Budokai HD Collection seems to be somewhat aware of this, as the step-up in visuals is quite satisfying, and the massive, nearly all-inclusive Budokai roster is a definite surprise, yet Namco Bandai and the developers at Dimps (who also worked on the originals) drop the ball in a wide variety of other departments, lowering this HD collection to something of a lesser value that what came before.
The primary mistake here is the bizarre exclusion of Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 2, with this package only offering the first and third entries in the series. Sure, the second installment isn’t altogether a do-or-die necessity, but the fact that the two games that are included hardly expand upon their embryonic forms soaks the entire contribution in a coating of disheartening slackness. This is the Budokai HD Collection, after all, and severing one of the links from the chain is a remarkably foolish action under these circumstances. Furthermore, the unwieldy controls are practically unchanged; the same cumbrous, far-from-fluid maneuverability feels essentially the same on the DualShock 3 as it did on the DualShock 2. 3D character models are locked on a stationary plane, with awkward side-stepping thrown in as a precautionary measure. Pulling off specials like the mighty Kamehameha or Spirit Bomb is still relatively intuitive, however, and bearing witness to such timeless power moves in HD could be worthy of the $40 price tag for some Dragon Ball Z loyalists. The various modes of Budokai and Budokai 3 are fully intact, the only alteration is the shoehorning-in of trophies (for PS3) and achievements (for Xbox 360), most of which aren’t incentive enough to set aside time to attain en masse.
A completely new musical accompaniment (likely due to some kind of licensing expiration) and the insertion of a Japanese language track for both Budokai and Budokai 3, while welcome, frankly can’t make up for the absence of such quintessential fighting game features like an online mode. Indeed, stunningly, there’s no online play available in Budokai HD Collection. Instead, Dimps opts to shove a slightly modified, more streamlined local multiplayer support system for no reason other than to beg forgiveness, apparently. While the improvement of its aesthetics can be ranked with a number of well-received high-definition anthologies (although you can barely label this one as such), this collection, by refusing to doctor the ailments that plagued its decade-old blueprint, relinquishes any sort of long-term esteem in the current generation of video gaming. As is typically the case, another year, another missed opportunity to adequately translate this admired anime franchise into a durable fighter.