Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is the blueprint for a perfect Superman video game

Gene Park

THE WASHINGTON POST – Flying men are tough to nail down. Just ask anyone still in recovery from playing 1999′s “sickeningly loathsome” Superman game for the Nintendo 64.

Heck, ask Bioware. Its 2019 title, Anthem, got the flying part right, but couldn’t figure out anything interesting to do while you’re doing it. Traversal in massive open-world video games is an eternal challenge for developers, especially of superhero games. Batman has a grappling hook. Spider-Man keeps you engaged with constant web slinging. But how do you make flying like Superman interesting?

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot may have the answer. Kakarot is the birth name of series protagonist Goku, whose origin story (and cultural impact) echoes that of the Man of Steel. And Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is a very good Dragon Ball game.

It’s the distillation and evolution of decades of concepts the franchise has explored since the first Nintendo console, from role-playing games to one-on-one fighters. And if you’re looking for a game that lets you fly around as a superman and fight supervillains, Kakarot is going to hit the spot.

The game boasts a simple but dramatic fighting system that’s been evolving since the Budokai series on PlayStation 2. This means combos with one button, quick dash-step and warping dodges (also with one button), and several of the signature special moves from the anime and manga series. It’s much simpler than 2018′s Dragon Ball FighterZ, a more pure fighting game intricate enough to nurture its own esports scene.

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is a very good Dragon Ball game. It’s the distillation and evolution of decades of concepts the franchise has explored since the first Nintendo console, from role-playing games to one-on-one fighters. PHOTO: CYBERCONNECT2 CO, LTD

I think that’s the lesson of Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot: The simplest and most obvious ideas can still be really fun. Everything in this game has been done before, and better: the flying, the fighting, the storytelling. Despite this, the game is still a blast.

As a long-suffering Superman fan, the lessons of Kakarot are the ones I’d like to see replicated in a Superman game.

A 2016 VICE article said that a video game about Superman is inherently impossible to make because player agency would immediately make your Boy Scout of Steel decidedly less Superman-like. To me, that reads like trying to fit Superman into a world with Grand Theft Auto laws. It also reminds me of the unnecessary anxieties Hollywood executives nurse over needing to keep Superman “relevant” to the modern viewer. Superman is and always has been relevant, and they’re simply overthinking it.

To which I say, don’t overthink a Superman game. Concepts like “player agency” tend to fall away when all you want to do is be Superman – or Goku. In Kakarot, you fly. You fly like a Super Saiyan. You fly like Superman. And . . . it can be pretty awkward. Flying height is controlled by the right shoulder and trigger buttons. The flying mechanic is far from the focus of the game; it’s simply a manner of getting from place to place. In that sense, Kakarot developer CyberConnect2 fails in the same way other games have when it comes to making flying fun. It even mimics the Nintendo 64 Superman’s “fly through the rings” missions by littering the Z Earth with orbs to collect to level up your characters.

But guess what? If you’ve been a longtime fan of Dragon Ball, there is simple elation in controlling a flying Goku as you engage in small skirmishes around environments based on the source material.

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot isn’t trying to be a game changer. I’m not sure any Dragon Ball game is made with that mind-set. Instead, it simply leaned further into what the developers and its fans already liked (the last three games in the franchise have sold millions).

Like the goofy Clark Kent, Goku’s character is similarly being a golden retriever of a man with an unbending and hopelessly naive streak of justice. The game gives you no room to do bad. It simply moves you from mission to mission to fight bad guys, and you fight some bad guys in between. Every once in a while, you learn a new move, and it feels good, and you use the new move on the next bad guy.

“Be a really strong good flying guy” is the one thing Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot needed to nail down, and it does. Your mileage may vary depending on how much you enjoy the Dragon Ball series. Big fans (as I am) will grade this series on a curve.

And as a media-starved Superman fan, I’d be willing to give the same leeway to a title about the last Son of Krypton. Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot proves you don’t need X-ray vision to figure out how to make a decent video game about flying supermen.