Review by horror_spooky
"Bloomers and the Monkey King"
I am a huge Dragon Ball fan. Dragon Ball is what got me reading manga in the first place, and it is easily my favorite manga series ever. The anime is great as well, and the entire series started a giant pop culture phenomenon that will have a lasting impact on entertainment forever. Dragon Ball Z, the series that occurs after Dragon Ball, gets much more attention in the video game world than Dragon Ball does due to its more action-oriented nature, but I've longed for a really good game based on young Goku's adventures in Dragon Ball. It sounds like Dragon Ball: Origins would be right my alley, but some control issues definitely hold this one back.
The first thing you'll notice about the game is that it's a Phantom Hourglass clone, though it does try to focus more on the action than puzzle and exploration elements. You control Goku with the touch screen and by double-tapping the screen you can make Goku roll. You attack enemies by tapping on them repeatedly to build up combos, and as you progress through the game more combos and abilities are made available to you. Goku's power pole becomes available early on and is used for more power-based attacks.
All of Goku's moves use up a magic bar of sorts that is located right under his health bar. It regenerates automatically, unlike his health bar. Similarly to Link from Phantom Hourglass, Goku has to destroy objects in the environment and take on enemies in order to find little hearts to refill his health bar. Enemies also drop other things of value like various items, gold, and experience orbs which can be spent to upgrade your moves.
The game starts off being pretty good, with some okay platforming mixed in with Zelda-esque adventuring and some decently entertaining combat, but it doesn't take long for the control issues to set in. Unlike Phantom Hourglass, Origins did not have nearly as much time in the oven, rendering it a game that simply doesn't feel all that finished in the controls department. You will wrestle with the controls quite a bit throughout the game, making pulling off some necessary maneuvers a hassle and making a lot of puzzles nothing short of a headache. Honestly, the poor controls really bring the game down a giant notch and if the game was polished just a tad bit more, it would have fared much, much better.
The way the game is paced is also a little on the blah side. All of the levels feel just way too similar and all you do is run through, break things, kill enemies (a lot of which are just plain annoying to battle), and then get to the end of the level to, most of the time, fight a boss. The boss fights aren't much fun early on, but later in the game when there are more abilities available to you, they actually become one of the most entertaining aspects of the entire game, with the exception of a few very poorly designed boss battles.
While most of the game is focused on the average combat with bad controls, there are some puzzles thrown in there to try to make the game a little more interesting. Generally, these puzzles are just as annoying as wrestling with the controls as they are rarely imaginative and you will get a disappointing feeling of déjà vu in your stomach more than once going through the game's dungeons. There is just way too much recycled material.
Speaking of recycled material, it is worth nothing now that fans of the series will probably have less fun than someone who is new to Dragon Ball. The reason for this is that fans probably already know the story far too well and going through all of the storyline segments when you already know what's coming just isn't all that great. It doesn't help that the game pretty much copies the manga frame for frame, which almost put me to sleep because I have read the manga so many times. Some parts of the manga were censored or taken out, but then again, other parts (like Goku's penis) are left in. It was weird how they decided to edit things here, but I guess that's not really anything to complain about. The plot is phenomenal though, so if you're new to the material you'll definitely enjoy yourself. The game follows the story of a young boy named Goku who comes across a teenage girl named Bulma one day, and I could go on, but that would just be spoiling too much for the Dragon Ball virgin out there thinking about picking this game up. Some of the story gets a little messy and the continuity is screwed up a bit with the sub-chapters which try to tell a little more story as an excuse for longevity, when in reality they are just recycled gameplay segments with meaningless details thrown in.
With poor controls and a story that has been told maybe one too many times bringing down the game, what possibly keeps it from being completely abysmal? That would be the graphical presentation, which is, for the most part, quite nice and impressive for the DS. The environments are bland, repetitive, and yawn-inducing, but the character models are really something to witness. There is a lot of detail put in on the characters and slick animation to accompany them. Giant bosses also help accent the great graphics, though it's a shame that the camera is zoomed out too far to really get to enjoy these graphics up close, where they are the most effective.
I liked the soundtrack and it was sort of catchy. Does it match up to the likes of the game it is copying? No, but the tunes are still easy to listen to and you won't find yourself turning the volume down on your DS. During certain key phrases, voice acting is present, but it doesn't really come out of the DS speakers well enough to really matter and I don't feel that there was much of a point to including the voice acting at all, except for when you do a kamehameha (which is extremely empowering and awesome the first few times you do it).
Clocking in at about twelve hours, Dragon Ball: Origins is of decent length, but a lot of the gameplay during those twelve hours is recycled and it loses a lot of its luster by the end of the game. It will take a while to find all of the treasure chests and to earn A rankings on all of the levels (accomplished by beating levels quickly), plus there are 200 figurines for you to collect, an activity I found especially addicting. Unfortunately the lack of a real checkpoint system will give you second thoughts about wanting to go back through levels you've already struggled through, and the only multiplayer of any kind is trading figurines with someone else who has the game.
Is Dragon Ball: Origins a bad game? Yes. Is it a terrible game? Not by any means. The controls are what really hurt it and the repetitiveness in the levels is bad, but considering the source material is arguably the least action packed area across all Dragon Ball media, they did a decent enough job. The storyline will appeal more to newcomers because it basically follows the manga word by word, and the graphics are pretty impressive and it's still neat traversing through the 3D environments on a handheld. I liked the soundtrack, too, but like I said, the bad controls, uninspired and repetitive gameplay, lack of a checkpoint system, and recycled puzzles really bring Dragon Ball: Origins down a notch. There are much better DS games worth your money, but if you can find it cheap, it does pack a punchjust not the kamehameha you would've expected.
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 04/13/09
Game Release: Dragon Ball: Origins (US, 11/04/08)
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