The latest mobile Dragon Ball effort goes to great lengths to do the series justice.
Bandai Namco is going big on mobile with console-style projects that appear to aim to bridge the quality gap between regular phone-based experiences and fully-fledged games. The flagship project of the whole scheme is Dragon Ball Legends, a new 3D fighting game that the company says it hopes will become a “benchmark title” for others aiming to do similar things.
Legends is essentially a Dragon Ball fighter in the vein of the Xenoverse series of games, even coming from Dimps, the same external developer Namco partnered with for that series. It appears to use assets from those games that have been tweaked and adjusted to make them mobile friendly and features the same third person over-the-shoulder camera angle that keeps your attention locked on your enemy at all times.
In Legends everything is simplified for phones, of course, but Bandai Namco and Dimps have clearly tried to keep a strengths-and-weaknesses system that ensures anything you encounter has a hard counter that gives you an opportunity to respond – provided your reflexes and prediction are on-point.
Tapping the screen will perform basic attacks. Holding down your finger and dragging it around allows for movement. Swipes perform dashes and sidesteps. At the bottom of the screen there are cards that feature your special moves and tapping executes them. Pressing more than one card together might give you unique combination moves, and the specials are on a cool-down so you have to take it easy with the spam.
Before battle you’ll form a team of six fighters (the build we played featured Super Saiyan Goku, Piccolo, Pan, Vegeta, Frieza and Nappa) that your opponent will see at the versus screen. From this six you pick your final three for the battle blind, allowing for a degree of counter-picking based on your opponent’s team. Every character is unique in terms of things like their special moves and stats, so your choice in character will have a major impact on strategy.
Dragon Ball Legends feels fun to play, featuring the same frenetic and anime-accurate combat that made the Xenoverse series so loved. More importantly it does actually feel like there’s a level of skill and nuance to what’s going on. Yes, you’re tapping the screen a lot, but it’s tapping with purpose that encourages actual strategy and thoughtful approaches. Namco clearly seems to agree, as its already plotting real-world tournaments for the game where players will meet up in person to see who’s strongest.
Aside from the regular flow of combat there are also additional wrinkles such as quick-time events with rock-paper-scissors style decision making to see if you can counter a cinematic attack or not, timing taps carefully to ensure a series of combo attacks lands and the Rising Rush, cinematic finisher attacks that will only become available late in the game.
Legends looks and sounds the part compared to the Xenoverse games on console, then, but the most important aspect of its attempt to feel legitimate in scale is in its online play. This is where Namco’s partnership with Google comes in, with the internet giant offering the game the assistance of Google Cloud Platform to make multiplayer work.
In a fighting game lag is absolutely key, even one that is deliberately a little fluffier around the edges in terms of timing like this. What’s impressive is that this technology does just appear to work as intended when folded into Legends.
I got to play a few online matches against a player over in Japan, a 5000 mile difference, and not once did it feel particularly laggy or offer up something like my opponent jittering around through unstable network.
Obviously this isn’t featuring the three-frame reaction links of something like Dragon Ball FighterZ, but for the type of combat on offer in Legends on mobile the Google Cloud services appear to provide impressively stable netplay – though we will of course have to wait and see how it functions when real traffic is surging through the network.
The groundwork is clearly there, however. What’s on offer here is a mobile game that truly appears to be thinking hard about how to get the most out of the property upon which its based rather than how to cash in with a cheap and cheerful brainless mobile offering. It feels like a real video game. For that reason Legends is particularly exciting, and I’m keen to see how it shapes up as it enters closed beta and powers up for its final release.