Dragon Ball Z has always been known for it's spectacle of over the top fun, characters, design and action. Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z is no exception in this highly stylized spectacle fighter, which is easy to play, enjoyable to watch, but which can become repetitive before it gets fun.
There isn't really any story to be found in Battle of Z, instead the single player gets you to take part in some of the biggest fights from the Dragon Ball Z universe in a simple, yet effective, mission by mission format. The 60 missions in total are presented in an easy to navigate progression tree, where completing a mission unlocks the next and so on. After completing certain missions where you fight as the heroes, known as Z Fighters, you are given the option to play the same mission again but from the antagonists prospective in special "what if" scenarios. With a 70 character roster to choose from, unlocking each as you progress, it's a good idea to play through the main branch of the mission tree, then go back to replay the alternative version later.
The major focus in Battle of Z is team-based combat, often being 4-on-4, even some of the more classic 1-on-1 Dragon Ball Z fights have been rewritten to allow for the team-based system. Different characters are designated one of four combat roles focusing on melee, ranged, support/healing, or interference classes. Before the start of a mission, you are given the option to select which characters will fight alongside and support you, so if you're in a melee role it's best if you bring a healer, whereas the interference classes will aid ranged players. Whether it be ranged or in the face, its important to try to keep to your chosen role and work together with the AI or fellow players to wear down your opponents with attack patterns and chain strikes. The combat itself is straight forward, there aren't expansive lists of Mortal Kombat-style combos to remember. Instead, you have basic melee and ranged attacks, along with a set of special attacks distinct between characters and roles. Most of the work you will do in combat is in regards to movement and awareness because all of the characters can fly, so its vital to know where bigger threats are. Mastering combat isn't always as easy as locking on to your opponent and attacking before he strikes with a ranged attack since you fight as a team, so giving your team a command via the D-pad can distract your opponents, leaving them open to an attack from behind.
Supporting the combat is a very stylized art design. Similar to that of the Borderlands franchise, characters and environments have strong highlights and outlines with clean, comic book-style colouring, making them stand out nicely. This combined with Battle of Z being a third person fighter could make first time play disorienting for some because of the depth of field between the camera, character and map. Rest assured, if this does happen, your eyes will soon adapt - the same way they would if watching a 3D movie. Combined with great sound design, this art style really is a good choice as it brings the experience to life. Each strike and special move, given or received, looks and feels powerful and in some cases you can't help but say "Ouch!"
All this sounds pretty fun and it is, but you have to get through at least the first 15 to 20 missions before the difficulty and challenge are turned up a notch. If you don't play a lot of fighters or like to experiment with the large roster of characters, the pacing is fine, giving you plenty of time to learn before the real fights begin. If you're happy just going through as Goku, the first character you fight as, then you can find it can be a grind and it becomes boring after a bit. To get through the early grind and tougher fights later, Battle of Z offers an expansive catalogue of boosts and collectible items in a trading card format in order to keep you busy. These cards are used on a match-by-match basis, and can be earned from winning battles, bought with points (also earned from battles) or by selling cards you don't wont.
As stated earlier, Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z has an emphasis on team-based combat, so naturally multiplayer is key feature in the form of Co-op and Team Battle modes. Co-op is basically the single player package, but allows 3 other players to join you in battle against the AI, which can be extremely helpful when going against some of the more challenging opponents later the game. Battle Mode however is the main multiplayer focus and only the words "fast", "intense" and "insane" can describe the experience. Team Battle has 4 modes available: Normal, Iron Man, Deathmatch and Capture the Flag - though you will probably spent most of your time in the normal 4-on-4 battle's servers because of the limited player base. Like most competitive online fighters, dropping the ball or losing focus for a second can mean that your game is over. It's a fast and visceral experience where you will always be either competing against or allied with players that are a higher level than you. To put it in perspective, you could easily go into a team battle at level 16, end up fighting against levels of 400, 700 or 900, and get destroyed. Some would call that unfair, but it's actually part of Battle of Z's charm and when you really think about it, the main proactive focus of the Single Player is to simply train you for the extreme experience of online Team Battle.
Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z ended up providing more fun than originally expected, even though the first few hours are very repetitive. If you aren't a fan of the series then this may not be your cup of tea, but as a standalone title it could easily give you an evening's simple and senseless entertainment - especially with a few friends.