Dragon Ball: Sparking Zero Is a Dazzlingly Self-Indulgent Celebration of the Legendary Series

Budokai fans rejoice.

Dragon Ball: Sparking Zero
Bandai Namco

There have been a lot of Dragon Ball games over the decades, and I mean a lot, like literally over 40 different games. Only series like Star Wars have that same staying power, with such a rabidly dedicated fan base. But Dragon Ball fans also know exactly what they want, and that’s a fighting game that lets you play as 15 different versions of Goku. Dragon Ball Sparking Zero brings back the beloved Budokai Tenkaichi games from the PS2 era, and it’s a dazzling hilariously self-indulgent entry that hopes to honor the legacy of the late Akira Toriyama. The king of anime fighters is back.

I’ll explain what I mean about Sparking Zero being self-indulgent. This is a game that utterly revels in the history of Dragon Ball, the dozens of beloved and obscure characters, and the sheer explosive spectacle of fights. For all intents and purposes, this is a Budokai Tenkaichi game cranked up to 11, given leave to run wild.

Sparking Zero brings a whole slew of Dragon Ball Super characters into the mix.

Bandai Namco

If you’ve played any Budokai Tenkaichi game, picking up and playing Sparking Zero will feel like you’re right at home. This game uses the same setup and mechanics as those titles but with a few added wrinkles. If you haven’t played past games, Sparking Zero is essentially a high-speed arena fighter where you take a team of Dragon Ball fighters against another team. You have a melee attack, ki blasts, and special moves, the latter two of which are dictated by a Ki Gauge. That gauge can be gained by holding down a button, but slowly drains at all times, and when you use special attacks. Of course, things get a little more complicated than that with teleporting attacks, cancels, and more.

The big difference with Sparking Zero is just how fast everything feels. Budokai games were always high-intensity, but Sparking Zero is on another level entirely. After just a couple of matches, I found myself unleashing a flurry of attacks, weaving together special moves and dodges, and swapping between characters as the battle needed. This is the kind of fighter you can jump into and have a good time, but the more you learn the game’s systems and quirks, the better it becomes.

While the full game will have a whopping 160 characters, in my demo I had the chance to test about 30. And yes, at least six of those were variations of Goku. In a cast that massive you won’t have wildly different characters, but I found most of the ones I tried had neat little quirks or differences to keep things interesting. Some, like Gogeta, have hugely damaging attacks, but take more time to charge up or require you to have pinpoint accuracy. Meanwhile, someone like Tien focuses more on general abilities that have low damage but cover a wide area. Of course, one of the most notable additions in Sparking Zero is an array of characters from Dragonball Super, including the likes of Jiren, Beerus, and Bergamo. This allows for some hilarious matchups, like seeing the roided-up Jiren taking down the minuscule child Gohan.

My personal favorite is Hercule Satan, a bit of a joke character who throws presents at his enemies for every special move. At the same time, because Hercule is a low-power human he can’t actually fly, so instead leaps high into the air and slowly plummets to the ground.

The thing that interests me most about Sparking Zero, however, is its story mode, which brings a fascinating spin to the franchise. There have been dozens of Dragon Ball games that re-create the anime’s story, with varying degrees of success, but Sparking Zero isn’t just doing the same thing again.

This game’s story mode will have branching paths that can result in “what if” scenarios, like Goku choosing to take Raditz on by himself instead of with Piccolo’s help. What really made me giddy, though, is a feature that lets you swap from a third-person view in cutscenes into a first-person one providing a wildly different view of events that fans have seen countless times.

The one we were shown by Bandai Namco was when Piccolo uses his special beam cannon to blow a hole through Raditz and Goku. Seeing this play out in first person is wild, especially as that beam cannon hits you directly in the chest. It’s a small detail that could have some incredible payoff and provides a fascinating way to relive iconic scenes. A Bandai Namco representative also said there’d be multiple characters that provide a first-person point of view, not just Goku.

While each character has the same basic moveset, most feel nicely varied with little quirks and special attacks.

Bandai Namco

Apart from the story mode and battles, Sparking Zero will also have a highly detailed custom mode that lets you create your own scenarios, choosing the combatants, illustrations, twists, and even some light story moments.

I went into Sparking Zero expecting a bigger and better version of the Budokai series, and that’s exactly what I got, but that’s not a bad thing. The gorgeous cel-shaded visuals are absolutely stunning, and Bandai Namco has gone all out with stage destruction and flashy attacks that have you blowing apart rocks, buildings, and anything else that stands in your way.

Sparking Zero wants to assault your senses with its gameplay, overwhelm you with an ungodly amount of characters to choose from, and give you a new perspective on one of the most beloved stories in anime. This is one made for all the Dragon Ball sickos out there, and it’s doing the absolute most in the process — just as it should.

Dragon Ball: Sparking Zero launches on October 11 for PS5, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.

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