In the West, it took awhile for Dragon Ball to make an imprint with US audiences. It was localized and brought over in the mid-90s in the hopes of making money in syndicated markets. There were over 200 episodes, so the reasoning was sound, but it just didn’t take off. It wasn’t until the property showed up years later on Cartoon Network that things changed and the rest is history. The gap though meant that a lot of other media associated with the brand was missing. Kids were getting hooked on the Cartoon Network broadcast and looking for other ways to engage the product, but other than a lone PlayStation fighter based on the sequel series (that was out of print at that point, plus terrible), there wasn’t much to turn to.
Eventually Infogrames stepped in and started producing titles based on Dragon Ball Z. The license would eventually switch to Atari when Infogrames went under and now is held by Bandai Namco. A quick search engine lookup of Dragon Ball Z video games will return dozens of titles now. What is still lacking though are games based on the original series: Dragon Ball.
If you’re only familiar with Dragon Ball Z, then you’re really missing out! Dragon Ball tells the story of Goku starting when he has a chance encounter with a young woman named Bulma in the midst of a search for the mystical Dragon Balls. Goku is just a kid at the start of the series, but by its end he’ll be an adult setting the stage for Dragon Ball Z. Unlike its more famous sequel series, Dragon Ball is more of an adventure-driven show with a generous dose of slapstick humor. Even though it is not as combat-driven as Dragon Ball Z, there’s still plenty of martial arts action especially during the many episodes that take place during the World Martial Arts tournament. The show was originally given the same sort of trial run that DBZ received in syndicated markets, but disappeared even quicker. Once DBZ took off, FUNimation returned to the original series and re-dubbed the few episodes that had been dubbed previously as well as the rest of the series. It aired on Cartoon Network in its entirety, though it didn’t have much staying power beyond that.
With the showing receiving a renewed push, Atari did turn to the property for video games, the first of which was Dragon Ball: Advanced Adventure. Advanced Adventure is a Dimps developed title, who was responsible for the Budokai games on home consoles, and it was released in Japan by Banpresto in 2004. Atari, somewhat surprisingly, waited until 2006 to release it in the West. As the title implies, this is a Game Boy Advance game based on the original Dragon Ball. It begins where the series starts and concludes with the battle against King Piccolo. My first thought when I saw the date was maybe Atari waited until Cartoon Network aired all of the episodes covered by the game, but the series finished broadcasting in 2003 so I’m at a loss as to why it waited so long. It’s also strange that the game did not include the Piccolo Jr. Saga especially in light of the fact that one could basically be covered with a few battles. Maybe Dimps just didn’t want to have to make more sprites for an adult Goku? Who knows?
Dragon Ball: Advanced Adventure is an interesting title as it combines a few different genres of gaming. The game’s story mode places the player in control of Goku who has to battle his way through various levels to advance the story. It begins like a platformer with an influence from the beat-em-up genre. Goku can run left and right and jump as well. Double-tapping either left or right will result in Goku breaking out into a sprint which is needed to evade certain enemies (think Indiana Jones) and clear certain gaps. He can also wall-jump, which is handy to know as the game doesn’t tell you he can do this. It’s a bit like Super Metroid in that to wall jump you have to first contact the wall at the height of a jump then quickly press the direction away from the wall and the jump button simultaneously. If you never liked that style of wall-jump then rest assured you could play the whole game without using it if you wanted.
When Goku encounters an enemy, he usually has to dispatch them with a flurry of attacks rather than bop them on the head or dispatch them quickly with a simple attack. Pressing the attack button in rapid succession causes Goku to dispense with simple combos, the majority of standard enemies will be felled by this. Adding in directional inputs can trigger Goku to utilize his famous Power Pole to flip enemies over his head or add some distance to his strikes. The A button causes Goku to jump and he can attack from the air as well with a jump kick or a diving kick. The jump kick doubles as a means of deflecting rockets back at enemies, while on the ground pressing up+B causes Goku to twirl his Power Pole which can deflect bullets.
Other stages in the game will place Goku on his flying Nimbus cloud in an auto-scrolling manner. This is hardly unique as many platformers do the same, but some levels will basically cause the game to turn into a one on one fighting game. In this mode, Goku and his opponent will have a break meter below their health. Repeatedly taking damage causes it to deplete and only when it’s depleted will a character take actual damage. The game still largely feels the same, though Goku ditches his Power Pole, but does pick up the ability to hover jump by twirling his tail. Goku can also launch his opponent into the air to deliver additional damage resulting in them being slammed into the ground. If this mode were released as a dedicated fighting game it would likely be met with a lukewarm reception. As a diversion in a beat-em-up title though it serves its purpose and gives the tournament portions of the story some added importance.
Throughout the story mode, Goku is tasked with finding special items. Many of these are easy to uncover and many more are all but mandatory. These items will be expand Goku’s health meter and even the length of his Power Pole strike. Goku will also learn the much beloved Kamehameha wave. At first, it does very little, but the charge bar for it will be expanded as the game moves along. Once completed, Goku’s charge meter (activated by holding R) will expand to four portions and a full blast results in a big, blue, Kamehameha. Goku can also use this meter to unleash a twirling Power Pole attack with the simple press of the L button. It consumes one “brick” of the meter and will need to be recharged. When Goku has a full meter, he can perform a super move by holding R and pressing L which is a big attack that comes in real handy during one-on-one fights as it can be aimed in different directions. During regular gameplay, the special move works similar to a grab attack as Goku will dash forward and if he connects will then pummel his opponent as he flurries all around them.
The main story mode will probably take around 2 and a half hours to complete. Several levels have exploratory components so one could conceivably spend more time in them than the average person, though many also feature gates on the first play-through. Even though the game isn’t terribly long, it’s a game best experienced with short bursts of play as the action can get repetitive. Adding to the repetitive nature of the gameplay is the fact that enemies respawn quite liberally which can become rather annoying, especially in sections with heavy platforming. The game is fairly average in terms of difficulty. Health items are plentiful enough to keep most going and I often found myself amassing a dozen or so extra lives. I’d then hit a troubling spot and maybe reduce them to six or so before moving on and eventually building my stock back up. Most of my deaths came against boss characters later in the game, many of which required some trial and error on my part. I also do not have an instruction manual for this game and the story mode doesn’t tell you about the ability to deflect certain attacks so I had to figure a lot out on my own. Defeating most bosses was largely an exercise in figuring out the best way to deal damage as some require a bit of possum to defeat effectively. Many more though just require some straight-forward bashing and liberal use of Goku’s ultimate attack.
Completing the game will unlock some bonus modes, the most notable is the ability to replay the story mode as Krillin. In extra mode, the player can switch between Goku and Krillin on the fly and replay stages in any order to access areas that were previously inaccessible before. You’ll also quickly gain the ability to use Goku’s super jump which is needed to find special items and was previously only usable at designated points. Krillin plays very similar to Goku, but obviously lacks the Power Pole. Instead, he can use the Solar Flare technique to temporarily stun nearby enemies. He also has a dashing kick attack that’s quite useful in closing in on enemies, though as far as I can tell he can’t deflect bullets. Pretty much every enemy encountered in the game can also be unlocked after beating the game with Krillin and finding their portrait in extra mode. Many of these extra characters are useless, but some (like King Piccolo or Tien) are pretty interesting because they’re both strong and can do something Goku and Krillin can’t: fly.
If you’re really into the one on one battles in the game, there’s also a one on one mode. After beating the game once, you’ll have access to six fighters, but a few more can be unlocked including one who doesn’t even appear in the story mode. There’s also a boss rush mode and a collection of mini games that you’ll probably never want to play. There’s a lot to unlock and experience in Dragon Ball: Advanced Adventure, but you’ll likely grow tired of the game long before you experience it all.
That’s not to say that Dragon Ball: Advanced Adventure isn’t worthy of your time. I quite enjoyed my time with the title and would deem it a mostly pleasant experience. It’s simple and easy to pick-up, but there’s a bit of hidden depth to discover as well. A lot of the early parts of the game’s story mode can be overcome with button mashing or spamming Goku’s stronger moves, but the game introduces enough curveballs in its later stages to keep you on your toes. And since it’s based on the original Dragon Ball it has a certain charm to it that any Dragon Ball Z game would lack. The actual cut scenes and such are pretty bare bones, and the game makes some changes to the story as well and chooses to omit certain things. It does have some speech elements, enough so that the voice cast received a credit, so the production values are certainly there. The sprite work is quite pleasing to the eye, and the music is good enough, though I’m actually not certain how much of it is based on the actual anime.
I played this game on my Game Boy Micro with an actual cartridge. It’s probably not the best way to experience it since this game requires the use of all of the Game Boy Advance’s buttons. It’s probably best experienced on a Nintendo DS or the original GBA as the layout is far more optimal. I often couldn’t play this for more than a half hour or so without my knuckles starting to ache a bit. The small screen on the Micro can make the one on one battles a bit tougher as well as I found myself jerking the unit around.
Of course, if you want to play Dragon Ball: Advanced Adventure in 2020 you may find it a bit difficult. Since the game arrived after the release of the DS it likely wasn’t manufactured in large quantities. It’s far easier, and cheaper, to acquire the Japanese version as a result and the cartridge alone will probably set you back between 40 and 60 dollars. After stalking eBay a bit for this one and missing out, I actually found it on GameStop’s website and was able to acquire it there. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I did receive a genuine US edition of the game, just without a box or manual. It also came with some gunk inside it that may or may not have originated from a pizza that I had to clean out. Clearly, GameStop does not inspect the games it resells at all so buyer beware. After cleaning it with some rubbing alcohol, I was momentarily dismayed when my first playthrough ended with the game freezing about 20 minutes into it, but all subsequent playthroughs have been issue free so maybe the alcohol had not completely evaporated when I first booted it up.
If you’re looking to experience Dragon Ball in video game form, I do recommend Dragon Ball: Advanced Adventure. The somewhat high cost of entry for a genuine copy of the game is off-putting, so I would recommend checking out some videos or something before diving in. There were Dragon Ball games released on the DS and Nintendo Wii that are considerably cheaper to acquire, though I find them to be a bit less fun. I probably would not recommend the Wii game, but Dragon Ball Origins for the DS is perfectly fine. If accessibility isn’t an issue though, then Advanced Adventure is the way to go. It’s fun, breezy, and will hold your attention for 6 to 8 hours which is solid for what is largely an old school action platformer. Plus it’s Dragon Ball, what more could you want?