Preview: Playing Dragon Ball: Sparking! Zero with Zero Knowledge of the Series 1

This author has to be straight up with you: he’s never engaged with Dragon Ball in any real way. Playing Dragon Ball: Sparking! Zero at Summer Game Fest Play Days is the most he’s ever interacted with the iconic franchise, and that’ll certainly be heresy to some. However, before you crucify the poor guy (who has been travelling for about 13 hours so far and really needs to go to sleep), know that he loved the ridiculous spectacle of this over-the-top 3D fighting game.

Sparking is the long-awaited return of the Budokai Tenkaichi series — a collection of Dragon Ball games that let you partake in explosive battles with heroes and villains from throughout the saga. We got to play matches versus the CPU for roughly 30 minutes, and while some of the context was lost on us (this author’s eyes are feeling heavy, please maintain sympathy), the overall takeaway is that this is undoubtedly a brilliant title for the fans, but probably nobody else.

Matches are three-on-three tag-team affairs, allowing you to create a trio of your choosing to take into the arena. For those who understand why it’s valuable to have over 9,000 versions of Goku (he made a reference! But he’s also feeling a little woozy), the ability to create your own scenarios by choosing your and the CPU’s team will be pretty exciting.

The gameplay will likely be very familiar to those who’ve played one of these before. This is a 3D fighter set within wide open battlegrounds, giving each character the opportunity to really let loose their outrageous powers. After having the basics explained to us (he’s heading to the bag drop-off now and swaying a little as he walks, bless him), we found the combat to be really quite interesting. It’s basically an ebb and flow in which you’ll get up close and personal, knock the enemy away, charge up your abilities, then let them fly, delivering big damage.

The fisticuffs always feel very fraught and dangerous, as each fighter can teleport behind you and punish if they’re quick enough. This is contrasted by the long charging phase, which sees characters building energy before unleashing it in spectacular fashion. It’s great to watch these moves play out, and quite satisfying watching your opponent’s health bar shrink so dramatically. However, while it’s all very exciting in the moment, it strikes us as quite shallow when you zoom out (he’s through security and probably a bit hangry too).

We’ve no doubt there’s a skill to playing this competently at a high level, but for us (meaning this author, who’s really trying to avoid being one of those airport sleepers who take up three seats), we struggled to lose at any point. Once we found our feet, we had no trouble at all destroying the AI combatant and this author’s a complete novice. Furthermore, we go so far as to say every character feels essentially the same, whether it’s Goku, Blue Hair Goku, or even Yellow Hair Goku (he’s just irate because he’s tired, promise). In all seriousness, we did try out a wide range of fighters, and easily applied the same strategy to all of them with zero consequence.

There are a few things to consider. Firstly, the AI difficulty might have been dialled way down for our hands-on demo. Secondly, perhaps it’s entirely the point that Sparking makes you feel like an unstoppable force. Third, we’re under no illusion that fights against other players — be they in online or local multiplayer — may be a lot tougher. Finally, it could be that we’re just innately insane at Budokai Tenkaichi and never knew (the jet lag is clearly setting in).

Despite our concerns about the depth of the fighting, we came away from our demo with a smile on our face. Dragon Ball Sparking! Zero is a feel-good game, because it’s bringing back a fan-favourite fighting series and doing it in fine form; the presentation is excellent, the battles are always a thrill, and the amount of options players have is solid. The good news is that this author’s flight is nearly ready to board, and the next time we cover this game, it’ll almost certainly be from the perspective of our very own Robert Ramsey, who knows what a Frieza is, why you really should respect the name Piccolo, and much more besides.

Are you looking forward to Dragon Ball: Sparking! Zero on PS5? Do you think this author has managed to get any sleep yet? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below.