There is something oddly nostalgic about Dragon Ball: The Breakers. If you too were nurtured on Toonami marathons during listless, amber-shaded elementary school afternoons, then there is a good chance your nascent video game diet consisted of a whole lot of middling, budget anime games. Reams of forgettable Naruto and Dragon Ball flotsam tiled my local Blockbuster—Budokai, Ultimate Ninja Storm, I could go on and on. So please do not take my warm feelings for The Breakers as a recommendation; this is not a very good video game, but the way it falters might bring you some joy if you are of a certain age and disposition.
What is it? A cat-and-mouse Dragon Ball game where you'll 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 site (opens in new tab)
There have been Dragon Ball RPGs, Dragon Ball Kinect adventures, and Dragon Ball card battlers across the last 30 years, but The Breakers, published by Bandai Namco, brings all of Saiyanhood to some uncharted territory. This is an asymmetrical, one-versus-all multiplayer game crafted in the tradition of Dead By Daylight and Friday the 13th. One player takes control of a marauding villain plucked out of the greater Dragon Ball canon—Cell, Buu, and Frieza. They will be trying to track down and eradicate the rest of us playing as innocent bystanders. The eight civilians in a match have no chance against whatever nefarious, intergalactic god is scorching across the sky; our only offense is to run, hide, and power up a macguffin at the center of the map which will send everyone home safely.
The Breakers comes on the tail of an unexpected cat-and-mouse multiplayer renaissance. The Evil Dead adaptation, which arrived in May, was a surprisingly strong package, and a promising Texas Chainsaw Massacre tribute is on the horizon. Dragon Ball Z might lack the grisly horror of its licensed compatriots, but hiding out on Frieza's periphery could be a lot of 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 uncanny floatiness of a vintage MMO, which simply does not gel with the airtight bob-and-weaving that makes a dramatic Dead By Daylight pursuit so much fun. If Cell did catch sight of me, I usually escaped by using one of my abilities that sent me flying at a terminal velocity 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 mastermind intrigue of other great one-versus-all experiences. There are no mind-games, no misdirection, no opportunities for vexing creativity. Breakers understands the format of the genre it's aping, but it's missing its essence.
That said, if you are a Dragon Ball Z lifer, there is enough cute ephemera here to distract you from how sloppy it feels. The development team has left no stone unturned: You'll be able to loot Senzu beans that grant players an extra life, or a glove that grants your hapless onlooker Vegeta's Galick Gun. (It has exactly one round of ammunition before it's toast.) More memorably, the survivors are all equipped with a meter that charges through several different tiers the closer the team gets to the climax. When it's primed, you'll be able to briefly inhabit the "spirit" of one of your chosen Dragon Ball Z protagonists, which lets you take the fight directly to the predator skulking in the ether. It's kind of like when Pac-Man eats a power pellet and gobbles up the ghosts—you've been running for your life all game, but now Majin Buu must contend with a juiced-up Piccolo.
Unfortunately, the combat in The Breakers is atrocious, to the point that I don't know if I can adequately describe it. A targeting reticle is automatically placed over the foe in your field of view, which certainly makes it seem like you have your opponent dead to rights. Then whenever you unleash a cooldown-budgeted Kamehameha, you're pulled into a disorienting cutscene before delivering the payload—giving whoever is in the reticle ample time to dodge. It is a genuinely bizarre system. I could not figure out how to reliably hit opponents with my offense, because The Breakers doesn't seem to give me the options to do so.
It's made even worse by the fact that all of the fights take place in these wide-open multiplayer arenas, giving everyone plenty of maneuverability to slither away. The idea of your team jacking 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.
Like so many other Dragon Ball games before it, The Breakers does make a futile effort to justify its place within the overarching Toriyama storyline. We are, apparently, lost in some sort of spacetime glitch, which is why scoundrels like Cell—who are very much dead and gone, at least before Super—are managing to torment us once again. This is why you can magically transform from a rando earthling into Piccolo by filling up a meter. Compared to Dead By Daylight, which does not ache nearly as hard to explain how we're being hunted by both Freddy Kreuger and Nemesis from Resident Evil 3, and I did find some charm in how hard the story strains.
Naturally, Breakers uses this epochal excuse to stuff as many Dragon Ball characters as it possibly can into its source code. This goes from the standard cast of heroes—Goku, Krillin, Bulma—to figures only the most damaged DBZ sickos know by name (that little pig guy from Kame Island is in the mix.)
(Okay, I'm that sicko: his name is Oolong.)
Despite the baffling combat and uninspiring mechanical depth, there is something stubbornly appealing about The Breakers. Maybe it's the fact that the character creator lets everyone build their own ersatz Gokus—spikey-haired, wide-eyed dunces put on this earth to run away from whoever is trying to kill them. Maybe it's the faithfulness of the animations; when Buu executes his coup d'etat, he'll transform you into candy and swallow you whole.
The sheer adoration that The Breakers has for the Dragon Ball universe was never a question; it's just been let down by janky 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.