June 21, 2007 - We won't lie to you - we stopped watching Dragon Ball Z a long time ago. We're talking years ago, now. Apparently we're in the minority though, judging by the influx of Dragon Ball Z titles that have been pouring out of Japan like so much rice wine. Shin Budokai 2 returns to the fighting arenas and open landmasses of the first, and the PSP experience is surprisingly enjoyable, but pretty derivative.
To be honest, Shin Budokai 2 is hardly a true sequel - there is a new story to play through, simply titled 'Another Road', which pits Trunks against the nefarious Dabura, the pink, horned freak with giant ears and a dastardly goatee, and eventually Majin Buu. The story branches out based on which foe you defeat and what choices you make along the way - which cities you save and how well you perform.
At its core, combat is the focus of the game. Adventuring is just a means to an end - games like this live and die by their fighting engine. Happily, Budokai 2 takes the first game's move-sets and ups the responsiveness and flexibility. Basically, each character has a base set of moves, and these can be customised on the Boosters screen. By customising and increasing your powers, you're a little less likely to have your backside handed to you in battle - as we found after clearing the first few stages.
It's a good looking game - we dig the little touches, like a trail being driven into the ground as you blast your opponent.
In terms of combat in the game, there are 50 new moves to be unlocked this time around, which might just be enough new potential for combos to make investment worthwhile for owners of the original. Also new to the game is the Z-Trial mode, where you can take part in time trials, challenge modes and survival modes. By working your way through these, you can accumulate a bit of scratch and buy new costumes, upgrades, stages and all that jazz.
There are nine Booster slots, so you can have up to nine of them in place at any one time. Of course, you only start off with five - you must unlock the rest at the Booster Shop, by choosing 'Unlock Slot'.
There are three kinds of Boosters, each ranked from one to nine in terms of strength - Normal, Power-Up and Ultimate varieties. Basically, they work like playing cards - each has a listed ability, displays what area of your status is affected by equipping it and each is numbered out of the total number of Booster cards you can collect. Still with me there? Good.
Combat is actually a lot of fun - the buttery framerate, generally set at 60 frames per second, helps immensely. While the environments and arenas are generally geometrically simple, the cel shading is well done. It suffers from the PSP's lower resolution, highlighting a lot of jaggies, but the character models and movements are excellent and the game generally retains a lot of the charm of the show. The overworld of Namek, on the other hand, is ugly and blocky. Again, this was probably a trade-off for the framerate, but it's still pretty dated looking.