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Dragon Ball: Sparking! Zero is the anime sandbox of your dreams

Goku in Dragon Ball: Sparking! Zero.
Bandai Namco Entertianment
Summer Gaming Marathon Feature Image
This story is part of our Summer Gaming Marathon series.

Some of the best licensed video games of all time feel like sandboxes for their respective franchises. My favorite game of all time is 2005’s Star Wars: Battlefront II because it becomes just that for George Lucas’ vast sci-fi universe. For fans of Dragon Ball, the Budokai Tenkaichi games accomplished that with their large cast of characters and destructive 3D brawls. Now, that series is making its grand return later this year with Dragon Ball: Sparking! Zero.

I went hands-on with Dragon Ball: Sparking! Zero during Summer Game Fest, and I think it’s going to be the perfect sandbox tool for hardcore Dragon Ball fans. It’s got a story mode that covers the manga’s iconic narrative, a vast cast of characters to use in satisfyingly bombastic brawls, and a Custom Battle mode that will let players create the battle scenarios of their dreams.

DRAGON BALL: Sparking! ZERO - Release Date Announcement Trailer

Dream sandbox

The Budokai Tenkaichi games are 3D fighters where players face off against each other in massive Dragon Ball environments. Although the combat isn’t as intricately refined as something like Arc System Works’ Dragon Ball FighterZ, these games more than make up for that in spectacle thanks to flashy animations and environmental destruction during battles. Dragon Ball: Sparking! Zero is no different and ups the ante even more. There is something simple and satisfying to see Goku go Super Saiyan, charge a Kamehameha, and then send that blast right into Vegeta, who crashes through some buildings in a city. Dragon Ball: Sparking! Zero has not lost any of the charm that made Budokai Tenkaichi so beloved in the first place.

That core gameplay is what players will actually be doing in the sandbox, but Dragon Ball: Sparking! Zero also provides all the tools that go around them. There are competitive matches where two players can face off with teams of up to five Dragon Ball characters. They all have unique interactions with each other; a fight I did between Android 18 and Krillin, in particular, garnered the attention of the PR people watching me play my demo. If you’ve ever wanted to know how Broly would interact with Mr. Satan or how Dr. Gero would speak with Beerus, this fighter gives you all the characters to make that happen.

Combat in Dragon Ball: Sparking! Zero.
Bandai Namco Entertainment

Speaking of Beerus, it’s confirmed that Dragon Ball: Sparking! Zero will tap into content from Dragon Ball Super, which the older Budokai Tenkaichi games couldn’t do because Super did not exist yet. As is the case with most Dragon Ball games, the story is a retelling of the Dragon Ball stories we all know and love. Dragon Ball: Sparking! Zero is doing some things to make its interpretation stand out, though, such as letting players view all cutscenes from a first-person perspective and make choices that go against canon.

The feature that will really let players go wild is its Custom Battle mode. As its name suggests, this allows players to create their own Dragon Ball fights with specific characters, parameters, and even cutscene interactions. From there, players can share what they create online, either as a challenge for other players to overcome or as player-made fan service. While I wasn’t able to go hands-on with Custom Battle, hearing about it reminded me of the countless hours I spent creating Star Wars stories with my brother in the Galactic Conquest and Instant Action modes of the original Star Wars: Battlefront II. It seems like Custom Battles will do the same exact thing for Dragon Ball fans, and I’m happy that Bandai Namco is giving players such a vast sandbox to play around in with this massive roster of characters.

The menu for Custom Battle mode in Dragon Ball: Sparking! Zero.
Bandai Namco Entertainment

All in all, this is shaping up to be a promising release for Dragon Ball fans, although there’s one notable caveat. While Dragon Ball: Sparking! Zero will support local multiplayer, it is limited to just one stage: the Hyperbolic Time Chamber. That’s disappointing, as it means those who want to play with friends offline have much fewer options to craft their Dragon Ball sandbox to their liking. If you don’t mind playing online, then you don’t have much to worry about. Instead, you can be excited about the fact that from its canon-altering story mode to its dynamically destructive levels to its Custom Battles mode, Dragon Ball: Sparking! Zero is giving players all they need to go wild in the ultimate Dragon Ball sandbox.

Dragon Ball: Sparking! Zero launches on October 11 for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, and PC.

Tomas Franzese
Tomas Franzese is a Staff Writer at Digital Trends, where he reports on and reviews the latest releases and exciting…
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