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There's good fan service, and then there's Dragon Ball: Sparking! Zero

I played perhaps the most luscious, loving send-up to source material in years.

Dragon Ball: Sparking Zero Broly image
Image credit: Bandai Namco

Let's cut to the chase. Dragon Ball fans, you're going to be eating good with Dragon Ball: Sparking! Zero. I was able to sit down and play around an hour of the game at Summer Game Fest 2024 earlier this month and it was a surprise hit for me. A platter of syrup-sweet desserts specially made for the Dragon Ball palate. It is the word hype fully capitalized, and the H is glowing and screaming at you.

I, like everyone else present, was presented with the features before getting to try out the versus mode. As such I can only really write firsthand impressions of the standard battle system, but for what it's worth I feel the full suite of modes looks fantastic. A story mode allowing you to sit down and power through decades of Dragon Ball story arcs is something we've seen done before, but certainly not with this level of graphical fidelity. The game is a stunner, blasting vivid colours and nostalgia at you in a constant stream.

The team responsible could have left it here and people would have probably been content, but the addition of alternate scenario endings - special non-canon story moments that players can either opt into willingly or unlock through their performance in fights - is truly enticing. It's a fun solution to a genuine problem with Dragon Ball games that goes back through the series' history. You can only have fun seeing the Frieza saga so many times. Everyone knows what happens. But, add in a little spice, a little what-if, and suddenly there's a whole new reason to do it.

You can even make your own little story segments! You can place any characters in custom scenarios, playing out the fights of your childhood dreams. It even has a photo mode! This isn't usually the sort of mode that I spend a lot of time in, but I can appreciate the draw it'll have for a portion of Dragon Ball fans who want to mess around with the characters and set up their own fan-canons.

All of this is nice, but can only be as good as the core gameplay that ties it all together. If the fighting is wack, then the game is wack. It wouldn't really matter how nice the presentation is. Thankfully, it's dope. We were told that the game is a sort of spiritual successor to the Dragon Ball Z: Budokai games, and while you could certainly just look at the game and see it as an obvious point of comparison, you feel it too.

I never played the Budokai games as a kid, instead they're something I tried out well into adulthood, but I was floored by the shameless fun of them. Sparking Zero has that same energy. It's not some balanced PvP experience, a lot of keystone decisions other arena fighters would make are thrown to the side for the sake of faithfulness to the IP and cool factor, and the game is so much better for it.

Dragon Ball: Sparking! Zero Gogeta super
I mean look at this. Look how cool it looks. | Image credit: Bandai Namco

So your team has three character slots right? You can pick Goku, Vegeta, and... who cares, Mr. Satan. If you gather enough resources you can do the fusion dance - beautifully translated from manga and anime - and create the drastically more powerful Gogeta. Yes, you can just pick Gogeta from the character select without having to go through all the busywork, but screw you! That busywork is cool as hell!

In the build I played there were loads of variations of Goku and Vegeta (as you might expect), but each variation had different supers and special moves! The first character I rushed to was Broly - who has two levels of power ups and drastically different move sets depending on the form you're in. It's like candy, you just want more of it. If you've got a favourite character they'll probably be in the release build and packed with all the fan service you could ever want.

I stepped away from my short preview of Dragon Ball: Sparking Zero thoroughly impressed, and frankly excited. I still have desires for it that I've not seen fulfilled yet - for example, I hope there's an easy way to see which story outcomes you've unlocked and that it's not too painful to jump back and collect them all. I hope the online netcode is good, so people can hash it out frustration free. But, barring some tragic botch on release day, it's a game I absolutely recommend for anyone with an interest in the series. For dedicated fans, book the week off.

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