Outside of Super Smash Bros., it feels like there's something of a gap in the 3DS library when it comes to fighters, so the overseas arrival of Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden is a welcome one. A 2D, sprite based brawler that features characters and storylines from the perpetually popular manga and anime property, it's a solid if unspectacular beat-'em-up that plays things relatively safe – although it does have a penchant for plenty of nods towards the legacy of Akira Toriyama's bombastic creation.
Upon booting up Extreme Butoden story mode will likely be your first port of call, as you'll have to complete the initial storyline in order to unlock the more robust adventure mode. If you're a fan of the source material, or if you've played any of the numerous Dragon Ball Z games that have popped up over the years, then you'll already know exactly what's in store here.
Following the plot of Dragon Ball Z beginning at the first fight with Raditz and ending after the final duel with Kid Buu, it's a narrative that's been retold so many times now that it's difficult to feel any kind of excitement, and to make matters worse Extreme Butoden employs still character portraits and bland, basic text descriptions of each event. The result is an incredibly banal tour of a story that should be soaked in glorious battles and ridiculous moments.
Fortunately the whole affair is over quickly, as each saga only features a couple of quick battles at most. Once it's done you unlock alternate storylines – some of which offer slightly more interesting perspectives – and you're also free to jump over to the far superior adventure mode. The latter is easily the most in-depth component of the release, as you join Goku on an original adventure that sees you travelling the world and gathering the dragon balls.
The plot of adventure mode, which is exclusive to the game, is little more than an excuse to have all of the vanquished villains return for one big world-ending series of battles, but it's the finer points of the narrative that make it worthwhile. Goku will often reminisce with various characters about times past, and many conversations even hark back to the days of the lesser known Dragon Ball in which Goku was just a child. Fans of the original series will appreciate the attention to detail in a lot of the dialogue, and a healthy dose of cameos from less popular characters seem like thoughtful additions, too.
It's a shame, then, that the playable character roster is actually quite stunted. The mainstays are all here – Goku, Vegeta, Gohan, Cell, Majin Buu – but there's a distinct lack of secondary personalities, which, let's face it, isn't what you expect from a Dragon Ball title. Instead, the vast majority of fighters have been pushed to one side and only appear as assist characters who can be called upon in the heat of battle. Sure, it's satisfying to be able to summon Dabura and watch him unleash a powerful move, or chuckle when Bulma runs your opponent over with a capsule bike, but with so many fantastic characters relegated to what are essentially cameo appearances it's hard not to feel disappointed.
It takes a heck of a long time to unlock all of these assist fighters, too, as you'll need to earn high ranking scores throughout adventure mode. This can be a tall order, as the further that you progress through Goku's journey the tougher your opponents become, with later stages really ramping up the difficulty. Needless to say you'll need to get to grips with many of the game's intricacies before you're able to meet the likes of Broly on equal footing.
Indeed, on the surface, Extreme Butoden may look a bit like a 2D button masher, but it actually houses a decent amount of depth. Although command inputs generally stay the same for each character, there are several different combo types to master, and the inclusion of unique special moves is just enough to keep fighters feeling sufficiently different from one another. Add in the fact that the title is primarily a team based brawler that allows you to switch between combatants on the fly, and you've got a combat system that's worth experimenting with when it comes to building your perfect band of warriors.
Alongside basic combo strings, launchers, and powerful long range blasts, defensive techniques also play a big part; tapping the quick dash button just as an incoming blow's about to hit, and you'll teleport away from the strike and be primed for a counterattack, for example. Learning the ins and outs of combat can take a lot of practice, but the system's overall accessibility – mostly thanks to the game's somewhat simple controls - means that it never becomes an overwhelming process. With that in mind, it's safe to say that the release maintains a nice balance between casual and advanced play, and all in all Extreme Butoden is buoyed considerably by its fast paced, fluid and fun fisticuffs.
However, since there's no online functionality you'll have to make do with challenging local players and the artificial intelligence, which isn't ideal when you're eager to test the true extent of your skills. In fact, given that the release encourages you to form your own dream team of Dragon Ball personalities, an online versus mode would have at least allowed friends to live out crazy battles that they had previously only imagined. As such its omission is puzzling, especially for a fighting game in this day and age.
Meanwhile, in terms of presentation, Extreme Butoden is reasonably slick. Some nice sprite work breathes life into the colourful cast, and although the animation isn't the smoothest that you'll find in the genre, iconic moves from the source material are recreated well. That said, it's the 3D capability that really sets things off, despite its rather basic implementation. With 3D turned on, health and ki bars jump to the foreground, with the action happening in the middle distance. Again, it's a simplistic way of doing things, but it gives the title a much more dynamic look.
No online modes and a lacklustre character roster are a punch to the gut of Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden, but the day is saved by an accessible and fast paced combat system that houses an enjoyable amount of depth. If you've got an itch that only a kamehameha can scratch and you're looking for some punchy brawls on your portable console, then this is a fighter that's certainly worth a try – just don't expect it to blow you away.