There's a lot riding on Dragon Ball FighterZ. It's the first dedicated Dragon Ball fighting game in quite some time, it departs greatly in structure from the more recent Dragon Ball Xenoverse games, and has a certain weight of expectation, launching in the wake of the spectacular success of resurgent anime Dragon Ball Super.
That FighterZ is visually stunning – it honestly looks like playing an episode of Super – helps meet those expectations, but thankfully beyond its good looks, it's a really solid fighting game.
The new anime means FighterZ trades as heavily on the inclusion of fresh and unfamiliar characters (hi Beerus, feline god of destruction) as it does decades old fan favourites such as Tien. OK, that's a lie – Tien is no-one's favourite character, but there's a sizeable roster of roughly 20 to choose from here, although some do require unlocking.
It looks like playing an episode of Dragon Ball Super.
That is still notably smaller than some fans may be used to from a Dragon Ball game, but works well for FighterZ's mechanics. Its sophisticated fighting system echoes classics such as Marvel vs Capcom 2 – you'll take teams of three characters into battle, balancing their individual skills and strengths to suit your play style. If you favour a speedy play style, the likes of Gotenks will be a regular fixture, while Goku Black – a new character from Super – exudes raw power. Mixing and matching the nearly two dozen fighters provides hundreds of potential teams to get to grips with.
Alongside well balanced characters, FighterZ abandons hyper-complex combo patterns for each character and demanding button timing to pull of super moves, instead favouring a universal set of move prompts. It makes simple but effective use of any joypad's four face buttons, with light, medium, and heavy basic attacks, plus ki blasts special attacks on the fourth. Combining these with move prompts and learning clear distance differences for attacks opens the game up tremendously – the old maxim of easy to learn, difficult to master.
Far from dumbing the battles down, this levels the playing field – attacks are still detailed enough that you can't button bash, but easy enough to learn that the game opens up to genre newcomers. It's perhaps no surprise – FighterZ is the work of Arc System Works, the developers of insane but brilliant fighters BlazBlue and GuiltyGear, and this is sure to join those games on the eSports circuit.
Fans of the source material will also enjoy the story mode – three lengthy arcs, centred on the machinations of new character Android 21, designed by Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama – and there's plenty of bonus content such as lobby avatars and colour variants to unlock. It's disappointing that the RPG and exploration elements of past Dragon Ball fighting games are absent, and there's a baffling lack of mid-fight power-ups – Super Saiyan Goku is a basic selectable character, for instance – but as a pure fighting game experience, FighterZ is one of the best.