When I was a kid, my great-grandmother picked me up from school about three or four days a week, went straight to her back office and turned the TV on Cartoon Network just in time for her toonami block to start. Through Toonami, me and many other kids got their first experiences with anime like Rurouni Kenshin, Sailor Moon, Gundam and everything outstanding: Dragon Ball Z.Based on the iconic manga by Akira Toriyama, Dragon Ball follows the life of a man named Goku, the aims to become the strongest fighter in the world, and later the universe. It’s a show known for its brilliant battle choreography, well-written villains, and fantastic character designs, and is often considered one of the most acclaimed animes of all time. After all that has been said, one would think that Dragon Ball would translate very well into the world of video games. It’s a show about fighting and getting stronger, perfect for that particular medium. Unfortunately, most Dragon Ball games range from just fine to just plain junk. Although much better than it could have been, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot can only be classified under the “just fine” category.
Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot follows the entire story of the series, from Raditz to Majin Buu. This was a pleasant surprise on the announcement as Dragon Ball games have a bad habit of getting into Frieza and rolling the credits. Despite the title, large chunks of this game are actually spent controlling everyone but Goku, with most of the time putting the player in the shoes of his son Gohan, although he sometimes also plays as characters like Piccolo or Vegeta. Each character controls largely the same thing in both the open world and combat, with the only real difference being the use of their signature moves, although these are quite frankly pretty much the same in the long run.
And that’s Kakarot’s biggest mistake in the end: a lot of the game feels like you’re doing the same thing over and over again. The fight always seems to be the same series of quick combos, followed by a Kamehameha Wave or a Galick Gun, followed by a rush on the opponent and the whole thing to the point of vomiting. Chance encounters are rare as you will generally fly faster than any enemy on the overworld, so you are unlikely to run into anything unless you actually want to. If you’re not creating main story content, you also have the option of doing side quests, which are usually given by less important members of the cast like Yamcha or Yajirobe, or even pre-Z characters like Eighter or Launch, but even those are in the Usually the same sidequest every time with a different coat of paint: get the object, fight against the little fish enemies, have a short conversation, done.
For the most part, I’m happy with Kakarot’s performance on the Switch. When I was on Earth I didn’t notice any frame drops or rendering issues to speak of, although in handheld mode, admittedly, shadows appeared in front of me in a few cases. Otherwise, a few slightly muddy textures are the worst you are likely to encounter on earth. Namek, however, was a completely different story. I’m not sure if it’s because all of Namek is one large map, unlike Earth, broken into explorable sections, or because Namek’s landscape is much less mountainous than the Earth’s surroundings, but all of the time When I was on Namek, the frame rate dropped noticeably, sometimes even in cut scenes. This didn’t seem to affect the fight at all, and since most of the post-Frieza game takes place on Earth, it didn’t really seem like a huge problem to me. Be aware, however, that there are performance issues in this area of the game that weren’t there in the PlayStation 4 version. A much smaller graphical issue can be seen in the pause menu when viewing characters, where for some reason the models are very blurry and much worse than anything else in the game.
Kakarot is strongest when it comes to the story of Z, with beautifully animated cutscenes that sometimes feel like they jumped straight out of the anime. Certain boss fights are incredible hype, like the final fight between Goku and Frieza that made me cheer as every punch shook the screen and it really felt like I was fighting a fight on a planet that was about to explode. That’s what it all boils down to in the end: For people who are already big fans of Dragon Ball Z, overall, Kakarot has some value as a stroll back in time and a way to see the show in a completely different way. However, if you are not yet a big fan of the adventures of Goku and Co, unfortunately Kakarot has absolutely nothing for you. Without the nostalgia factor, this game becomes a slow mess of equal gameplay that is unlikely to grab your attention for very long.