It's one of gaming's great truths that titles based on films, television series, or comic books are almost always awfulso why do companies keep making them? My own cynical worldview says they keep churning them out because they're easy money. Unlike regular games, which have to win over an audience with solid gameplay, a good story and interesting characters, licensed titles already have a built in audience: fans of the source material. Because of this, developers tend to take the original characters and story arc, slap in some generic gameplay, then ship it to market, where fans will buy it, play it, and usually wind up not liking it.
One of the greatest examples of this theory is Dragon Ball Z: The Legacy Of Goku (DBZ) for the Game Boy Advance. Based on Akira Toriyama's insanely popular anime series, DBZ is an awful game that exists solely to make money off fans of the anime. Just how bad is it? It's so bad that my girlfriend's ten-year-old son, a huge Dragon Ball Z fan, spent 15 minutes playing it before putting it down in frustration. Fortunately for him, he didn't have to play through the whole game and write a review...
I'm almost certain that DBZ sounded like a good idea in theory. Take several plot lines from the anime series, give everyone their favorite characters from the show, add in some action role-playing game elements, stir generously, and voila! You've got a hit game. Unfortunately, developers Webfoot Technologies really skimped on the gameplay and design.
Players will take control of Goku, one of the Dragon Ball universe's most powerful characters. Goku's son, Gohan, is kidnapped by Goku's evil brother and our hero must set out to rescue him and save the Earth from some Super Saiyans sent to destroy it. While that story isn't going to be winning any awards for originality, it's a decent enough premise for a game (sure to please the Dragon Ball Z fans who've always wanted to live out the adventure on their own).
Where the title falters is when the player takes control of Goku. While the game's graphics seem indicative of a 16-bit era title, the controls and gameplay mechanics are from the 8-bit era at best.
Navigating Goku around the world is a nightmare of incredible proportions. The first thing a player will discover is that Goku cannot walk in diagonals. Instead, he must walk in the old forward, over, forward, over staircase style of games from the Nintendo Entertainment System era. While this might have been acceptable in 1985, it's not in 2002.
After that, the player will learn that Goku walks at only one speedthat speed being comparable to a man trying to run with cement shoes. Goku slogs around the game's screens like a drunken sailor (particularly when you factor in that he can't walk in a straight diagonal line) who's trying to get his land legs back after a year at sea. He's slow, he's unresponsive, and the whopping three frames of animation for his character sprite doesn't help things either. It's a shame no one thought to implement a dash feature.
But wait, it gets better! Not only is Goku slow and clumsy, he also has an annoying tendency to get stuck on the objects around him. This is particularly noticeable in combat situations since Goku will invariably get stuck on some part of the environment while trying to flee an enemy, giving the enemy several free shots at Goku in the process.
Collision detection in the game is poor, both in the environments and in the battles. Being off by a pixel or two often results in Goku's attack completely missing, which is humorous because he's generally standing right on top of the enemy anyway. Trying to traverse narrow passageways is an exercise in aggravation, as the character sprite will get caught on objects around him time and time again. I have a hard time believing none of the play testers noticed these serious problems.
While controlling Goku is an unpleasant experience at best, it's not nearly as odious as DBZ's battle system.
Utilizing a real-time combat system (meaning the player attacks at will, not in turns) with hack-and-slash mechanics, this is, hands down, the worst part of the entire game. Goku has several options when encountering an enemy: he can run away (which never works because he's slow), he can attack with his fists (which necessitates getting up close and personal) or he can use one of his three Ki attacks.
Since the collision detection is so shoddy, battling it out by hand will lead to Goku's death in most instances. The bad guys can always hit Goku, he just can't always hit them. Because of this, the Ki attacks are the safest approach. Goku will gain access to more Ki attacks as the game progresses. After earning the second one, the game goes from incredibly frustrating to incredibly easy, since every enemy can be defeated by using the same attack pattern over and over again. It's just one more example of how poor the game design in this title truly is.
Dragon Ball Z: The Legacy Of Goku is a bad game. In fact, it may well be the worst game of the year 2002. About the only redeeming quality it possesses is that it can be finished in well under five hours, making it so that the torture of playing the game itself is relatively short-lived. Goku, and Dragon Ball Z fans in general, certainly deserve a better legacy than this.