When Bandai Namco announced Dragon Ball Legends during a Google talk at the Games Developers Conference, it was strangely sandwiched between lectures about in-game monetisation and the importance of analysing user data to give gamers exactly what they want.
But, having now played an early trial build of the game, it kind of makes more sense.
While the company is yet to fully reveal how its new mobile title will address the former - whether it will support ads, add-on content purchases or a mixture of both - it clearly gives gamers what they want. It is a game so finely and superbly tuned for its target audience that it could well become the next Pokemon Go.
That's because it is a Dragon Ball game made by Dragon Ball fans for other Dragon Ball fans.
Better still, it's a Dragon Ball game that could end up turning us all into Dragon Ball fans.
That's because it is the most accessible game based on the manga and anime franchise we've seen yet. It is also the most accessible mobile fighting game we've played. And we've played a lot.
Graphically and thematically, it is unmistakably Dragon Ball. However, Legends adopts a portrait aspect and swaps a myriad of kick and punch buttons for a simple tap the screen mechanic. Indeed, Bandai Namco claims you can play the Android and iOS game with just one finger.
That's because complex button structures have been replaced with a card game combat system and swipes. Taps on the screen perform attacks, swipes dodge out of the way. Quick thinking is still necessary during battle, but the game has been designed to rely less on split-second reactions and more on strategical decision making - vital for its player-versus-player gameplay.
Dragon Ball Legends, you see, is mainly played over the internet in real time and needs to provide a smooth, fast experience but without punishing those without a strong or speedy 'net connection.
The card mechanics help that. Instead of choosing to punch, kick, throw and the like, you tap any number of four cards that appear on screen at any one time. They are specific to each character in the game and perform different moves. A red card, for example, performs a melee attack, a yellow card a ranged attack and green and blue cards are for special assaults. They each take up energy, so you can chain them together as long as they don't use up more than 100 energy points at any one time.
Your energy replenishes, so you can fire away new attacks each round. And with three different characters on each team for each bout - chosen before you fight - matches are fun and varied in style.
Head in the clouds
The game uses Google's Cloud Platform to match-up and host PVP battles, which ensures a stable and steady connection no matter where you are in the world. However, if you don't have any internet - when on the Tube, for instance - you can play two other game modes, each against computer opponents. One will have campaign elements and the other is designed for quick and easy play.
It is the latter we played most in our hands-on session at GDC. We're sure PVP action will feel a bit different when fully available, but the AI provided a decent challenge, especially as we were getting to grips with the game.
Bandai Namco is hosting a closed beta soon - with sign-ups accepted from 21 March until 26 March - and we hope to try over-the-internet play then, but for now our initial opinion is based on CPU fights. Even with that in mind, we're still already impressed.
The game is frantic without feeling overwhelming. The tap and card mechanics work well and the 3D animations are, quite simply, stunning for a mobile platform.
We were also told that you can drop the graphical quality to ensure a more stable performance on your phone if it is older or not as powerful as some of today's flagships, but we got to play the game on the Razer Phone and it is beautiful in that context. Even a smaller screen size will display a handsome looking game, for sure.
Where Bandai Namco has got Dragon Ball Legends right so far is that it isn't trying to make a console game for mobile. It is designed specifically with the restrictions and unique properties of phones and tablets in mind.
The cloud PVP action will make or break the game for sure, but there's no reason why it should be the latter as long as Google's platform works well.
We can't wait to try that side of Legends fully. Until then, from what we have played so far, we're hugely excited by its potential.
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