There’s something strangely nostalgic about Dragon Ball: The Breakers. If you, too, were fed on Toonami marathons during dull, amber-shaded elementary school afternoons, then there’s a good chance that your nascent video game diet consisted of a lot of mediocre, budget anime games. Loads of forgettable Naruto and Dragon Ball flotsam tiled my local Blockbuster—Budokai, Ultimate Ninja Storm, I could go on and on. So please don’t take my warm feelings for The Breakers as a recommendation; this isn’t a very good video game, but the way it wobbles might bring you some joy if you’re of a certain age and disposition.
Need to know
what is that Dragon Ball cat and mouse game where you will run for your life from Frieza, Cell and Buu.
Expect to pay: $20 / £17
Release date: October 13, 2022
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Reviewed on: Windows 10, Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 Super, Intel Core i7-9700 @ 3.00GHz, 16GB RAM
Link: Official website (opens in a new tab)
There have been Dragon Ball RPGs, Dragon Ball Kinect adventures and Dragon Ball card fighters over the last 30 years, but The Breakers, published by Bandai Namco, brings the whole Saiyanhood to some uncharted territory. This is an asymmetrical, one-vs-all multiplayer game created in the tradition of Dead By Daylight and Friday the 13th. One player takes control of a marauding villain drawn from the larger Dragon Ball canon – Cell, Buu and Frieza. They will try to track down and exterminate the rest of us playing as innocent bystanders. The eight civilians in a match don’t stand a chance against whatever evil, intergalactic god is burning across the sky; our only offense is to run, hide and operate a macguffin in the center of the map that will send everyone home safely.
The Breakers comes on the tail of an unexpected cat-and-mouse multiplayer renaissance. The Evil Dead adaptation that arrived in May was a surprisingly strong package, and a promising Texas Chainsaw Massacre tribute is on the horizon. Dragon Ball Z may lack the sheer horror of its franchised compatriots, but lurks on the outskirts of Frieza. could be very silly fun, especially with the right group. Unfortunately, The Breakers is completely sabotaged by its camera and controls.
These maps are huge, and players seem to glide around the terrain without any ambulatory traction. The movement possesses the same wonderful buoyancy of a vintage MMO, which just doesn’t gel with the airtight bob-and-weave that makes Dead By Daylight’s dramatic pursuit so much fun. If Cell did spot me, I usually escaped using one of my abilities that sent me flying at terminal speed into a neighboring section of the map.
The game is better from the villain’s perspective—if only because it’s fun to make these earthlings run for their lives—but it doesn’t hold a candle to the masterful plot of other great one-versus-all experiences. There are no mind games, no misdirection, no opportunities to disturb creativity. Breakers understands the format of the genre it resembles, but it lacks its essence.
That said, if you’re a Dragon Ball Z survivor, there’s enough cute ephemera here to distract you from how sloppy it feels. The development team left no stone unturned: You’ll be able to loot Senzu beans that give players an extra life, or a glove that gives your hapless onlooker Vegeta’s Galick Gun. (It has exactly one round of ammo before it’s toast.) More memorably, the survivors are all equipped with a meter that charges through several different parts the closer the team gets to the climax. When it is prepared, you will be able to briefly inhabit the “spirit” of one of your chosen Dragon Ball Z protagonists, which allows you to fight directly to the predator lurking in the ether. It’s like when Pac-Man eats a power pellet and swallows the ghosts—you’ve been running for your life the entire game, but now Majin Buu has to fight a juiced-up Piccolo.
Unfortunately, the combat in The Breakers is terrible, to the point that I don’t know if I can adequately describe it. An aiming reticle is automatically placed over the enemy in your field of view, which certainly does it it seems as you have your opponent dead to rights. Then whenever you unleash a cooldown-budget Kamehameha, you’re pulled into a disorienting cutscene before delivering the payload—giving whoever is in the reticle enough time to dodge. It’s a really bizarre system. I haven’t been able to figure out how to reliably hit opponents with my offense, as The Breakers doesn’t seem to give me the options to do so.
It’s made even worse by the fact that all the battles take place in these wide-open multiplayer arenas, giving everyone plenty of room to slip away. The idea of your team tapping into Dragon Ball lore like Neo in the Matrix to turn the tide on Perfect Cell sounds incredible, but for the most part, The Breakers is too confusing and messy to cash in on the drama.
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Like many other Dragon Ball games before it, The Breakers makes a futile effort to justify its place in Toriyama’s overall history. We are, apparently, lost in some kind of space-time problem, which is why scoundrels like Cell—who are very much dead and gone, at least before Super—manage to torment us again. This is why you can magically transform from a random earthling to a Piccolo by filling a meter. Compared to Dead By Daylight, which doesn’t hurt nearly as hard to explain how we’re being hunted by both Freddy Kreuger and Nemesis from Resident Evil 3, and I found some charm in how hard the story stretches.
Of course, Breakers uses this epoch-making excuse to cram as many Dragon Ball characters as possible into its source code. This ranges from the standard cast of heroes – Goku, Krillin, Bulma – to characters only the most damaged DBZ die-hards know by name (that little pig from Kame Island is in the mix.)
(Okay, I’m the sick one: his name is Oolong.)
Despite the confusing combat and uninspiring mechanical depth, there’s something stubbornly appealing about The Breakers. Maybe it’s the fact that the character’s creator lets everyone build their own ersatz Gokus—spiky-haired, wide-eyed idiots put on this earth to run away from whoever tries to kill them. Maybe it’s about the fidelity of the animations; when Buu completes his coup, he will turn you into candy and swallow you whole.
The pure adoration that The Breakers have for the Dragon Ball universe has never been a question; it’s just let down by annoying mechanics and a dull, repetitive game of hide-and-seek that never gives you much to sink your teeth into. It’s like being stuck in a filler episode for all eternity.
In other words, this is a Dragon Ball game, warts and all.