Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3 is a stellar example of what a fighting game on the Nintendo Wii can be. The graphics are clean and crisp, and look cartoon-like. There are over 150 playable characters, 10 game modes, and an online component. Best of all though, it is incredibly fun to play.

Due to the vast number of characters and modes of gameplay, users may be intimidated at first, but the game’s wonderful use of the Wii remote and nunchuk, make everything easy to get the hang of. Not very long after picking up the game one becomes skillful enough to play decently, yet there are always more move combinations for a long-term player to master.

By selecting any one of the available game play modes and a character, a user can quickly jump into a battle and learn on the fly exactly what is required to win. Those that prefer a tutorial before jumping however will not be disappointed, as the game sports such a section in order to teach the various move combinations. The majority of these require pressing a few buttons and performing movements with the Wii remote. Some of these combinations are too intricate to be performed successfully by an average player, but enough are possible so as to not overly frustrate the user.

The game’s “story mode” is entitled “Dragon History” and goes through various sagas within the annals of Dragon Ball Z. While this mode provides an interesting look into the history of the series and the characters, too often rather than simply fighting a battle, the stages are only winnable by performing certain moves, and pressing a button to swap out characters at the right time (the game even informs you of when that time is). Too little of the time does this mode allow for one to engage in a straight-up battle against your enemy.

Of course, other modes excel at one-on-one battles. There is a tournament mode, “Dragon World Tour,” which actually features several different tournaments, with differing rules, all playable at three different levels of difficulty. Additionally, there is an “Ultimate Battle” mode that features a series of battles that become more and more difficult the further into them you get. The section is actually divided into three different subsections including a battle simulator, a tournament, and a surprise mode that is locked to the initial user. It is “Ultimate Battle” that is the most fun, with the battle simulator requiring a player to train, rest, explore the world, and, of course, battle a myriad of opponents.

The game also sports the ability to earn “Z points” in order to customize the characters. Points can be used to purchase accessories for characters and to level-up characters so that they can carry more accessories. Not all battle modes allow for the use of customizable characters, but in the those that do maxing out on accessories is necessary to truly advance.

Battles themselves are face-paced affairs that still take an ample amount of time. It is possible to land incredibly powerful move combinations early on, but doing so will not immediately eliminate one’s opponent. Rather, each player has a large enough reserve of energy that, unlike some other fighting games, a single powerful move only provides a leg-up, not a KO. The game favors, as fighting games tend to, offense over defense, but due to the size of many of the battlefields (some are incredibly large), defensive tactics and maneuvering are crucial to playing successfully.

One of the biggest disappoints in the game is the “Dragon Net Battle” mode, which allows Wii users to play online against other opponents. Though this mode features several different types battles, it consistently takes too long for the computer to find an opponent. Once an opponent is found, things only get worse as the battle starts, stops, and repeatedly sputters due, presumably, to it requiring too much bandwidth to play fluidly. The sputtering and slow play makes it nearly impossible to complete moves and use all of one’s skill against an opponent. The level of frustration that accompanies Dragon Net Battle make it more trouble than it is worth.

Despite this failing, with loads of unlockables, tons of play modes, good looking animated graphics, and more characters than you can shake a stick at, Dragon Ball Z Budokai Tenkaichi 3 is the best fighting game I’ve laid my hands on in some time. It is by no means perfect, but it does the vast majority of things right.

Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3 is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Cartoon Violence and Mild Language.

Four stars out of five