Dragon Ball: Sparking! Zero preview – Bottled lightning

Dragon Ball: Sparking! Zero is loud, fast, and dazzling fun.
dragon ball sparking zero preview

It’s been wonderful to watch the evolution of anime games over the last two decades. When I was young and brighter-eyed, I was obsessed with Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm, Naruto: Rise of a Ninja, and Naruto: The Broken Bond – all of which attempted to capture the look, feel, and dynamism of their source anime. They were largely successful, but it wasn’t until much, much later that games like them began to reflect the style and polish of their anime counterparts.

In Dragon Ball: Sparking! Zero, that art is almost perfected – in an incredibly stylish fighting game packed with cel-shaded details, bright colours, and a visual crispness that makes the action seem right out of an episode of Dragon Ball Z (or Super).

Sparking! Zero contains a story mode, where you can play through the events of Dragon Ball Z and Dragon Ball Super, as well as local co-op and multiplayer modes, with its gameplay largely focussed on hard-hitting, head-to-head battles. And with snappy controls, over-the-top attacks, and plenty of opportunity to get creative, its many fights certainly shine.

Dragon Ball: Sparking! Zero: Roster

Image: Bandai Namco Entertainment

As part of an early preview, GamesHub was invited to go hands-on with Sparking! Zero‘s single player battle mode, which included a massive array of characters from across Dragon Ball Z and Dragon Ball Super. (There is very little representation for Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball GT in this game, for reference.)

As you might expect, there’s a lot of character options for Goku and Vegeta. You can play Goku in multiple Super Saiyan forms, and with his Halo. Vegeta also gets plenty of Super Saiyan forms, and you can play as his combined form with Goku, Vegito. The rest of the roster is filled with an array of classic fighters (Gohan, Krillin, Piccolo) and plenty of villains (Beerus, Frieza/Golden Frieza, Buu).

Each fighter has their own particular style, adapted for a set fighting scheme with long and short-range attacks, charged powers, blasts, and a final, more devastating attack. For characters with Super Saiyan abilities, they’ll be able to power up to their next level within battles, boosting their capabilities as fights get tougher.

Goku is particularly great to play in Sparking! Zero because as you fight, you can level up between multiple Super Saiyan forms, each of which allows for new abilities to be unleashed. It’s an added flair that keeps the action thumping – and it adapts the anime very well, in this regard. Every time Goku runs into trouble, he seems to unlock another new, more powerful form. In Sparking! Zero, you can do the same.

In my time with the game though, by far the most wonderful fighter was Mr. Satan – who is an absolute joy in this adaptation. Those who’ve watched the anime will know Mr. Satan is a martial artist with very little combat talent, who gets by on claiming credit for other people’s battles. Regardless, he has a heart of gold – and even helped Goku and his friends defeat Majin Buu.

Image: Toei Animation / Akira Toriyama

Later in the events of Dragon Ball, he actually befriends Buu and they move in together – and it’s this particular factoid that serves him well in Sparking! Zero. On the battlefield, he’s fairly ineffectual. His punches and kicks don’t do much, and his special attacks rely on trickery (a bomb hiding in a present). But you can actually defeat other players as Mr. Satan, because one of his specials calls in Buu to fight for him.

It’s an incredible scene. Mr. Satan punches and kicks his opponents, getting absolutely nowhere – and then Buu flies in to deliver a massive punch that destroys half the battlefield. Beyond being silly and hilarious, it’s also a very neat touch that feels in-tone with the Dragon Ball series.

Dragon Ball: Sparking! Zero maintains this tone well, adapting strong fighting mechanics alongside a neat, tongue-in-cheek humour that keeps the action dramatic, but light-hearted.

Ultimate Saiyan Storm

For those familiar with the Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm series, there’s a fair amount of similarity in gameplay. You’ll spend your time trading blows with opponents, gathering energy in moments of respite, and then come out swinging with hyper-powered blasts and hits that’ll send your opponents flying across the screen.

There is one significant way that Dragon Ball: Sparking! Zero differentiates itself from the Ultimate Ninja Storm series, however, and that’s in the verticality of its battles. Each character in the game can fly, so while you’re trading blows, you’re also throwing opponents across sweeping battlefields, down ravines and into rivers.

Image: Bandai Namco Entertainment

Every attack has real heft. Throws can also buy you time to charge up your abilities, so your time in Sparking! Zero is largely filled with punching, kicking, throwing, charging, and then unleashing your biggest attacks to obliterate your opponents. In some scenes, you’ll see folks in your location scatter, and rocks crumble in the wake of blasts, lending a sense of dynamism to your battles.

That minor feature, combined with the game’s refined, cel-shaded art style makes Sparking! Zero feel a lot like playing through a Dragon Ball Z episode, which is exactly what a good anime game adaptation does.

While I haven’t gotten hands-on with the game’s story mode yet – which should deepen the stakes of each battle as you run through Dragon Ball history – it’s clear to me that Sparking! Zero has plenty going for it, even beyond this.

Whether you’re keen to play through story mode, or just to tackle battles in single player or local co-op, Dragon Ball: Sparking! Zero has something for you. So far, it’s shaping up to be a worthy homage to the work of Akira Toriyama, with clever, hard-hitting battles taking Dragon Ball fighting games to (literal) new heights.

Dragon Ball: Sparking! Zero launches for PS5, Xbox Series X/S, and PC on 11 October 2024.

Leah J. Williams is a gaming and entertainment journalist who's spent years writing about the games industry, her love for The Sims 2 on Nintendo DS and every piece of weird history she knows. You can find her tweeting @legenette most days.