A-ha! A fighting game!
Augh, my eyes!
OK, to be fair, Super Butouden is not an awful-looking game but it's very subpar. The graphics are very gaudy with extremely high-contrasting colours, over-detailed in many places (seriously, why is the sky drawn with pixelated noise?) and under-detailed in many more. I do have to give it credit for being the only of the fighting games for a very long time to include my favourite design of Gohan (i.e. his Super Saiyan 1 form; the vast majority of fighting games in the era only included his Super Saiyan 2 form).
This game was, to my knowledge, the very first Dragon Ball Z fighting game and with that in mind, it's an admirable first step. The physics lack polish and the game in general is very slow but it's actually an OK fighter.
However, it lacks a lot in variety; 3 of the 5 unlockable characters are alternate forms of characters in the default roster, several attacks make multiple appearances throughout character movelists, and the stage select is rather limited.
Truth be told, I had no idea this game was the first Super Butouden title when I first played it. I had played the 2nd and 3rd prior and was actually looking for Hyper Dimension. I downloaded this from a ROM site that incorrectly labelled it as being Hyper Dimension. And it's really no surprise that I couldn't tell it was the first of the Butouden series, it seems almost nothing like its 2 successors.
First of the differences to note is the method of unlocking secret characters, the first Super Butouden has its own unique code for it while 2 and 3 share a code. In the first Butouden, you unlock the secret characters by holding the shoulder buttons (L and R) and doing circles on the D-Pad and the face buttons (A, B, X, Y) while the intro is playing until you hear Goku's voice say something (I don't speak Japanese so I have no idea what it is).
The roster is as follows:
Starting Roster: Goku (base form), Vegeta (base form), #20/Dr. Gero, #16, Piccolo, Frieza (100% Power), #18, Cell (first form).
Secret Characters: Super Saiyan Goku, Super Saiyan Vegeta, Super Saiyan Gohan, Perfect Cell, Super Saiyan Future Trunks
This is actually the most secret characters of the 3 Super Famicom Butouden titles, but again 3 of them are just alternate forms of characters who are already playable without the code.
Mr. Satan also makes an appearance as a joke character during the story mode (which spans the Piccolo Jr. saga to the Cell Games saga). When you reach Perfect Cell, you are given the option of choosing to fight him with Goku, Gohan or Mr. Satan. Choosing Mr. Satan the first time will display a somewhat crude rendition of the scene in the anime where he attempts to attack Cell and Cell just bats him away into a mountain; I say it's crude because it doesn't even show the characters making contact, Mr. Satan kicks and punches the air a few times, then Cell swats at the air and it sends Mr. Satan flying.
After that, you're returned to the character select and you can still choose Mr. Satan one more time. This time, he'll just hold his stomach and keel over, much like in the anime when he pretended to have a bad stomach ache that was stopping him from fighting. After that, you'll return to the character select and Mr. Satan won't be an option anymore.
You may also notice that Piccolo is named Satan in the screenshots. This is due to it being the French release of the game. Yes, the Super Butouden games were actually released outside of Japan, just not in North America.
Movesets, as said before, lack variety; in all of the Super Famicom fighters, every character has a basic fireball attack. That much is understandable. But for an example of something less acceptable, Goku, Piccolo and Gohan all have a move called Goku Kick; performed by pressing Forward Down Kick while jumping. The following titles gave Piccolo and Gohan a variation on this attack called the Levitation Kick where, rather than just zooming at their opponent with a fiery foot, they stopped in mid-air and kicked the opponent several times.
The overall physics and combat mechanics aren't very strong when compared with other fighting titles at the time (especially the likes of Street Fighter II). It's still not an awful game but you're much better off with its successors.
Other major differences with the following 2 sequels include graphics (totally re-done in Super Butouden 2 and 3 maintained that style while altering the sprites it takes directly from 2), music (although this actually favours the first game; none of the soundtracks are very memorable but, in my opinion, the first title's music is considerably better than what followed), the aforementioned physics and speed (both vastly improved upon in 2 and tweaked again in 3), and the method of building energy/Ki.
I want to set the record straight here because there's a bit of misinformation on this game that is far too common (I actually had to correct the Dragon Ball Wiki on this matter). You can charge in this game. Holding down while flying causes your Energy metre to build twice as fast. Considering just how slow it builds on its own, it's still extremely slow when charging but I just want to get it off my chest that it can be done. In the 2 sequels, as well as Hyper Dimension, building energy was performed by holding Punch and Kick (Y and B respectively) and could be done either on the ground or in the air.
On that note, the flying mechanic in the first Super Butouden was a very gimmicky and under-utilized inclusion and, sadly, one of the few things the sequels did not improve upon. In practice, all it really did was create a second ground for your characters to traverse. While in the air, your character would still control just as they would on the ground (yes, even jumping).
Final Bout, the PlayStation successor to Super Butouden 3 improved upon the flying, as did Hyper Dimension, but those are different stories.
Super Butouden 2 (or La Légende Saien)
This game holds a very special place in my heart because it was my introduction to many things. It was my introduction to emulation. It was my introduction to Dragon Ball fighting games. It was my introduction to Super Saiyans. It was damn near my introduction to the Dragon Ball franchise. I had watched the 13-episode long '95 dub of Dragon Ball with very little interest and never gave Dragon Ball Z a second thought at the time. Super Butouden 2 enticed me to learn about the characters and, through a mix of that and the fact that there was nothing else on before school, I became obsessed with the anime.
That said...it's OK. It is a vast improvement from the first game but it still does very little to make it stand out as a gem among the other fighters that were available at the time. On top of that, the music is some of the worst, most uninspired tracks I have ever heard in a 16-bit video game.
This game did introduce certain staples such as the standard secret character code (which was even used in the much more recent Ultimate Butouden on the DS): Up X Down B L Y R A.
In this case, the code unlocks Goku (oddly enough) and Broly. Incidentally, if you have the French version of this game, the code doesn't do anything as those two characters are unlocked by default. However, you still get confirmation that you entered the code correctly.
During the intro sequence, when you put in the code, you hear Broly's voice say “Kakarotto”. I think this is a very nice touch and a neat hint at the characters you just unlocked; one character's voice speaking the name of the other (Kakarotto/Kakarot being Goku's Saiyan name for anyone who didn't already know).
The character roster this time goes Gohan (Super Saiyan 2), Piccolo, Super Vegeta, Future Trunks (Super Saiyan), Bojack (Second Form), Zangya, Perfect Cell, Cell Jr., and of course the unlockable Super Saiyan Goku and Legendary Super Saiyan Broly.
This is the first of the fighting games to feature Cell Jr. as well as not just 1 but 2 movie villains.
It also features a joke appearance by Mr. Satan in the story mode again. This time around, it renders the scene of his attempt at fighting Cell much more accurately by showing him actually making contact with the villain. However, some accuracy is also lost in the lack of a Cell Games Arena stage.
The story mode in this game covers the Cell Games and then moves into entirely original plots involving Bojack and, as long as you don't play on Easy, Broly. The game does not follow the plots of the movies those characters were introduced in.
Chief among the improvements from the first title are graphics. The game looks infinitely better than the first; it actually looks better than much of the third. In fact, I'd call it one of the best-looking fighting games on the console.
In addition, there are improved physics, and new gameplay mechanics were also included such as the famed “beam battles”. In the first game, when a character responded to an energy wave with one of their own, they just cancelled each other out. Now, they clash and the two players (or one player and the CPU) must compete to see who can mash the A button the fastest. The loser takes the full force of their enemy's attack.
The game still suffers from being too slow. Walk speeds are damn near intolerable but, thankfully, every character has a dash maneuver mapped to the L and R buttons that doesn't use any Ki and can be used as long as the player wants (the first game also had dashing and it could even be used to knock your enemy down; that bit was removed in the sequels). Unfortunately, building Ki is also intolerably slow and, unlike walking speeds, there's no way around it in this game. It's only ever so slightly faster than the first game.
All in all, you'll probably enjoy this game if you're a fan and even if you're not, it's still an OK game. There are far worse titles you could spend your free time on.
Super Butouden 3 (or Ultime Menace)
The last of the 3 Butouden games to appear on the Super Famicom and arguably the best. This game finally brought the speed up considerably in both movement and charging energy. However, this iteration does have some of its own problems.
Once again, a secret character can be unlocked with the same code used in Super Butouden 2. Input it during the intro where you see a portrait of Goku and Majin Vegeta fade into each other and you'll hear a swishing sound effect. This unlocks Super Saiyan Future Trunks.
The character roster goes Goku (Super Saiyan 2), Majin Vegeta, Goten (Super Saiyan), Kid Trunks (Super Saiyan), Future Trunks (Super Saiyan), Gohan (Super Saiyan) Supreme Kai/Kaioshin, Dabura, Fat Buu, and Android #18.
Note that over half of the roster is composed of Super Saiyans, adding to the feeling of minimal variety.
Goku's, Future Trunks's, and Vegeta's sprites are all lifted from Super Butouden 2 with modifications. Goku and Trunks both had their hair recoloured in a more orangey-gold palette. Vegeta's outfit was altered so it's accurate to his Buu arc appearance; you could argue that this makes it a new sprite entirely but his head remained completely unchanged (oddly leaving his Super Saiyan hair inconsistently coloured with some of the other characters) and all of his animations were the same. On that note, there is a colouring inconsistency with the hair as Gohan and Vegeta retain the shade of yellow from Super Butouden 2 (Goten's hair uses this shade as well), meanwhile Goku, Kid Trunks and Future Trunks all use a new, more gold-looking palette.
Additionally, beam battles also took a colossal hit in visuals. They look so lame this time around. In Super Butouden 2, clashing beams had a very detailed end sprite, complete with an animation of the beams struggling to dominate each other and even electricity effects flowing around them. That's all gone in the third title. Now beams just meat in the center of the screen, have a very dull, 'splash'-looking end sprite and don't move back and forth.
Aesthetics aside though, it is objectively a superior title to the second game, boasting much better speed and slightly better physics.
Next Time: Hyper Dimesnion. Awww yeah. That one gets its own post to itself.