Dragon Ball meets asymmetric multiplayer in this action game from Dimps.
Sometimes combining two existing things that are great can lead to something even better. In Dragon Ball: The Breakers, Dragon Ball's iconic combat and characters are coupled with the tense fights of asymmetric multiplayer. Seven civilian 'survivors' (with a power level nowhere near 9000) take on a single powerful 'raider' playing as either Cell, Boo or Frieza. Who wouldn't want to experience fighting Cell as just an ordinary person? At around 20 Euros or Pounds at launch on PC, Switch, PS4/5, Xbox One/Series, the potential for a great game that doesn't break the bank is there, but how does it play in practice?
Let's talk about single player first. I remember Dragon Ball episodes could draw out the story endlessly, easily taking three or four episodes to show a single fight. Dragon Ball: The Breakers is pretty much the opposite of that: the game's whole single player story consists of just one tutorial that's completed within 15 minutes. In a nutshell, Cell attacks the city where you live and Trunks comes in from the future to save you. However, things don't exactly go according to plan and you're sucked into a 'Temporal Seam' where space and time are in disarray. The end of the tutorial drops you onto a floating platform that serves as the multiplayer lobby and as the place where you shop for cosmetics and unlock characters.
When starting a multiplayer match, your character gets sucked back into the temporal seam, where the raider awaits you. The main objective of you and the other survivors is to escape the temporal seam by calling in and escaping with a time machine. The different phases in the game mimic those of other successful asymmetric multiplayer games, such as Dead by Daylight or Predator: Hunting Grounds. In the opening phase you focus on placing six 'Power Keys', which call in the time machine. Survivors can use various gadgets, including 'Transpheres' that allow you to briefly play as iconic warriors such as Piccolo or Goku to fight or escape the much stronger raider. A cable gun, smoke bomb and trampoline allow you to quickly move away from danger. When playing as the raider, you obviously must do everything you can to stop the survivors and to destroy the time machine.
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While not as scary as Dead by Daylight, I did find the matches to be quite thrilling. As a survivor, I usually start out looking for energy power ups and Power Keys, but I like to focus on reviving as many downed teammates as I can. As more survivors get downed or killed by the raider, the raider gets stronger and it becomes harder to survive. The Breakers manages to deliver quite some tension when you're hiding from a Perfect Cell or Frieza, because you know you're pretty much dead when the raider spots you and manages to come close. It's probably the reason why there are seven survivors, which is quite a high number, because most of the time you simply don't stand a chance. The raider's distraction with killing the others is the only reason why I am still alive most of the time. With the music and heartbeat sounds intensifying when the raider comes close, I'm enjoying that mixture of panic and fun most of the time.
The iconic Dragon Ball combat is mostly limited to short moments when a survivor uses the aforementioned Transpheres. For about 30 seconds, you can shoot energy balls, teleport over short distances for dodging, dish out some kicks and punches and even use special attacks such as my favourite: Piccolo's Special Beam Cannon. When playing as the raider, you can do these things all the time. In my experience so far, as soon as you play with more experienced players, actual Dragon Ball fights become more common, as they know when to activate the Transpheres at the right moment. I actually got defeated in typical Dragon Ball combat by a team of survivors this way as a raider, because they all came at me at the same time.
At times, the game can feel a bit unfair. The matchmaking seems to throw all player levels into one big bowl to fill a lobby, meaning you'll often see total beginners mixed with higher level players. I had some matches that were over really quickly because of an experienced raider fighting a bunch of beginning survivors, including myself. You could say that it's partly inherent to asymmetric matches, though. The times that I've managed to win as a survivor have been few so far, but it seems to me that you need to play The Breakers for a bit longer to actually grasp its tactical gameplay elements.
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Graphics-wise, Dragon Ball: The Breakers looks great when you're looking at characters up-close. The world you're walking around in is colourful and looks exactly like the Dragon Ball cartoons. On the other hand, I was really let down by a lack of depth in this department. For instance, just before you take control when a match is starting, all characters move exactly in the same way like a group of clones. The first time I observed this, I felt like I was playing a game on a PlayStation 1: in 2022, how much effort can it be to just slightly change the timings of different characters doing the same animation during a loading scene?
The lack of variation and visual assets is also noticeable in the game's environments. The game lets you fight in clearly recognisable Dragon Ball environments, but unfortunately the maps feel very empty. There's simply not much to look at anywhere you go. Watching the game's trailer, I imagined hiding from Cell as a civilian in a city among Dragon Ball's typical buildings, cars and people. In reality, the urban parts of the maps are nothing more than a group of highly similar buildings, with very little details to make them come alive. I would have loved to see more in this regard, although I must admit that it becomes less noticeable when you play more often and focus more on the game's combat and objectives.
The playable characters in the game are varied enough and could include additional characters in the future. Playing as different raiders adds some variety, as does the ability to play as either your own unique survivor or as Bulma or Oolong, who have alternative special powers. In the case of Oolong, you can morph into a chair or a big flower pot to hide, which is both funny and exciting. Unfortunately, a lot of additional content seems to be hidden behind microtransactions. There are so many different in-game currencies and tokens that I actually cannot tell what can realistically be bought for free and what you can't without paying actual money or grinding for ages.
Taken as a whole, I have mixed feelings about Dragon Ball: The Breakers. On the one hand, it delivers when it comes to asymmetric multiplayer. It's often thrilling, the game's characters are lifelike and I feel an urge to become better at winning. On the other hand, the environments are bland and empty, there are few animations, there are too many in-game currencies and because all player levels get lumped together not all matches are equally fun. In the end, it seems like Dragon Ball meeting asymmetric multiplayer could have been better than what Dragon Ball: The Breakers offers, and that's really a shame.
6 / 10
Enjoyable asymmetric fights. Characteristic Dragon Ball feel to it.
Environments are empty and lack detail. Unbalanced multiplayer matchmaking. Clone-like animations. Lots of microtransactions.