We have to admit, when we picked up the recently unveiled Dragon Ball FighterZ at E3 in Los Angeles, we didn't know what we were doing. As Gohan, son of series protagonist Goku, we're running back and forth across the battlefield at high speeds, delivering powerful blows to our opponent. Colourful explosions succeed one another on the screen, there's destruction all around us, and at times we're even flying, soaring through the sky, still pummeling each other.
In a three-versus-three match, two of our fighters are down and out, while my enemy's team is still complete. While channeling our inner underdog, we got to grips with the controls. We start dishing out medium and heavy attacks left to right, while at the same time avoiding our rival's special moves with some well-timed dashes. Finally, we bring the pain with a couple of projectile attacks, and follow them up with some aerial combos. Suddenly, Gohan's hair changes, as spikes rise from the top of his head and the dark colour turns blonde. We've transformed him into his Super Saiyan 2 form, and what follows is a slaughter. Our opponent loses two of his fighters before Gohan changes back to normal. We don't blink for minutes - the fast-paced combat won't let us, and while fighting, we almost mistake the stylish, cel-shaded graphics and the Unreal 4.0 models for the actual anime show.
We're mano a mano now, and through means of manic button mashing, it seems we somehow manage to activate some sort of super special attack. Gohan shouts in Japanese before he performs his father's signature attack - Kamehameha - which completely destroys our adversary's last fighter. The game proclaims me the winner, and the journalist next to me compliments me. We've seen some nutty fighting games in the past, and we're sure all this sounds just like a regular Saturday afternoon to some of the die-hard Dragon Ball fans out there, but this is just crazy. Crazy and equally amazing. I got to play Dragon Ball FighterZ for about an hour, and while it played great - it looked even better.
The fighting game veterans over at Arc System Works (Guilty Gear, Blazblue) are developing this new chapter in the Dragon Ball series, and it would seem that they know the source material. FighterZ felt and looked just like Dragon Ball, and even though we're not the biggest of fans, the unique systems and gorgeous fighting kept us coming back for more at E3. Just like with Arc System's previous titles, there's a lot of depth to be found in the fighting here. It took us 30 minutes to get the hang of things, but there were some easier combos in there that'll come in handy for newcomers before they become fighting gurus. Button mashing may look cool in FighterZ, but it won't get you very far; this game is being tailored for hardcore fighting game players and fans of the series alike.
What sets FighterZ apart from previous Dragon Ball fighting games is the fact that the matches are always going to be three-versus-three, much like how things work in the Marvel vs. Capcom franchise. One of the characters in your team will be the primary combatant, while the other two will be acting as support throughout the match, and as a part of this you'll be able to swap them in mid-combo to deliver an attack or two, or to initiate some devastating tag team attacks, before they retreat back into the background. There'll be a cooldown for these support attacks, however, but when your main fighter is on the verge of defeat you'll be able to swap them out completely in favour of one of your supporting characters. This is the key to victory since a character won't be able to help out once KO'd, and when the entire team is wiped out the match ends. Cutscenes will play out after KOs, during transformation, tag attacks, and other the special moves, to ensure a cinematic feel that makes the game look just like an episode of the Dragon Ball Z anime.
There's been no word yet regarding the story in the game or any traditional story modes, but we'll at least get to see characters from all kinds of different timelines within the Dragon Ball Z saga. Father/son duo Goku and Gohan were present in the playable E3 build, as were the strong and sluggish Majin Buu, the speedy Vegeta, Cell, and antagonist Freiza. More fighters are being announced continuously though, as just a few weeks ago we found out that Trunks will be joining the roster, and all Saiyan characters will be able to transform into their super forms through special attacks that cost Ki power.
There was a lot of fan service at play in Dragon Ball Fighter Z, and you can find out for yourself when the game is released for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One in early 2018. People who invest in the new and improved Xbox One X have 4K resolution and HDR support to look forward to as well, but if you can't wait that long you'll be able to try the game out through a closed beta sometime before the end of the summer. Bandai Namco has yet to reveal details regarding this, but we're being told that the beta will hit both consoles. We're looking forward to it ourselves, because even though we're not the biggest fan of Dragon Ball, the ultra-intense fighting has got us hooked.