Reviewed: July 25, 2006
Released: June 6, 2006
Originally released in Japan about two years ago, Dragon Ball: Advanced Adventure has finally made the jump stateside. Created by veteran development house Dimps (the wizards behind the Dragon Ball Z: Budokai games) and distributed by Atari, this game sets the clock back a couple of decades, to when the famous Saiyan hero Goku was a mere child. It is based on the original Dragon Ball TV show, which was mega-popular in Japan some years ago and which, along with the Dragon Quest/Dragon Warrior games and the less-known (in the US, anyway) Dr. Slump manga series, made Akira Toriyama a household name in Japan.
The track record for Dragon Ball-themed GBA games isn't exactly a good one. The legacy of Goku games were a bit below mediocre, even for fans, and we'll just not talk about the DBZ Collectible Card Game for GBA. However, happily for fans of the series, Dragon Ball: Advanced Adventure bucks that trend. Even better, this game is good enough to be a treat for any fan of a good action game, whether or not they are familiar with the show.
Dragon Ball: Advanced Adventure is a side-scrolling beat-'em-up in the vein of such classics as Double Dragon and Bionic Commando. Finally! I was wondering when someone would realize that action is the perfect genre of game to capture the feel of an action-filled anime like Dragon Ball. Little Goku, still only a child at this point, runs from left to right pounding the living crap out of plenty of classic Akira Toriyama baddies, including lots of generic soldiers and several memorable bosses adapted from the show (many of whom later become Goku's allies). He moves quickly, and can jump, dash, punch and perform various combination attacks with his power pole, an extendable red staff. He can also spin the staff to deflect projectiles back at their originators, an easy and useful technique.
As the game continues, Goku earns a few more special abilities and upgrades (for instance, the Kamehameha energy wave for shooting baddies from afar). Impressively, all of the game's many moves are easily executed using the face, shoulder and directional buttons, but you'll never have to push more than two buttons at once (usually a direction and a face button) to execute them. This makes Dragon Ball: Advanced Adventure very easy to get the hang of right away.
Occasional special stages allow Goku to fight in mid-air using the reliable old Flying Nimbus cloud for footing. Aside from being able to maneuver up and down freely, these sequences aren't terribly different from ordinary combat, but they look pretty cool at least. For instance, Goku can still jump through the air just as he can on the ground, but the Flying Nimbus rushes out to catch him instead of him landing on the ground. There are also a few Tournament stages, which are basically boss battle fights with a different setting. The Tournament mode is also the only multiplayer mode, unfortunately (but more about that in Value).
The levels themselves are quite large for a side-scrolling game--I might even venture to call some of them massive. Even better, practically every step of the way is filled with hectic, non-stop combat. A small amount of exploration options in most levels allows resourceful players to find one-ups, health refills and other bonuses without taking much time away from the main flow of the action. There is no way to save your progress through a particular level, but there are checkpoints that keep you from having to redo a lot if you let Goku die at some point.
The game roughly follows the storyline of the original Dragon Ball TV series, chronicling the journeys of Goku and his friends as they travel the world in search of the Dragon Balls themselves which, when gathered together, will grant any one wish, but can be used no more than once in a year. The tone is pretty light-hearted and the main storyline is straightforward. However, some of the details will be lost on people who have not seen the TV show before. The story is told in little cut sequences with talking heads and dialog, and advances across a simple world map that also serves as a rough means of tracking your progress (and replaying any level you've beaten if you want to).
All told, Atari has put together a nice little game here, one that is a perfect match for the "short burst" style of gaming that a handheld system offers. Big levels, responsive controls and just enough extras are combined with some surprisingly solid boss battles and three well-curved difficulty settings to make Dragon Ball: Advanced Adventure a fun, action-packed beat-'em-up romp for fans of the action genre in general, not just fans of the Dragon Ball TV show.
Being one of the few American gamers in existence who has not yet upgraded to a backlit GBA or DS, I was pleasantly surprised to see that even in average, indirect sunlight, the vibrant graphics of Dragon Ball: Advanced Adventure were clear and easy to see on my old, unlit GBA's screen.
Beyond that, the graphics are a matter of personal taste. There's a group of people out there who can't stand the style of Akira Toriyama's animation, so for them, this game would probably be miserable to look at. However, even they would not be able to deny that the graphics are crisp, clear and detailed. For fans of the "Toriyama look," The game is quite a treat. It certainly beats the pants off of the cruddy old Legacy of Goku games in the graphics department, at any rate. It's bright, colorful and fairly detailed without feeling cluttered.
The soundtrack to Dragon Ball: Advanced Adventure is bright, energetic and cheerful. As with most GBA games (Castlevania series aside), not a lot is lost with the music turned down, but for what it's worth it does add a welcome layer to the gameplay experience. When surrounded by enemies who just don't seem to want to die, hearing a bounding refrain in the background is helpful to keep you from getting too frustrated. Probably the best application of the game's music is in its cut scenes. Since the cut scenes are mostly still pictures and dialog, the music helps to convey the mood around what is being said quite nicely.
There are a couple of cruddy little voice samples in the game, but nothing worth writing home about. Most of the sound effects are whooshes and smacks seemingly lifted right from the TV show, and they do their job well. Overall, while the sound in Dragon Ball: Advanced Adventure doesn't really stand out, I can't say I have any complaints with it.
To me, Dragon Ball: Advanced Adventure is the ideal Dragon Ball game. It's long for a beat-'em-up, fast to learn, never dull for a moment, and faithfully conveys the happy-go-lucky feeling of the TV show it is based upon. To go through the whole game takes a few hours, but to complete every area (by getting all the hidden secrets) should take a couple hours more--or, you can double your pleasure by beating it once, then playing through the levels again to collect the items you missed.
My only complaint in the value department is that the multiplayer mode (which requires two copies of the game and a link cable) only allows head-to-head Tournament play. Beat-'em-up action games are always more fun when you and a friend can fight side by side in the regular levels (remember Golden Axe?).
Finally, Dimps and Atari have conspired together and brought us a good solid GBA game based on the Dragon Ball franchise. Not only is this game quite the treat for fans, though, it also holds its own admirably against other action titles available for the system. Though it's no River City Ransom, think of it as "Metal Slug Lite." Dragon Ball: Advanced Adventure is a fun translation of a fun TV show, yes, but it's also just plain good, regardless of anything else.