- Released: 11/27/1986 (Japan), 1988 (US and PAL)
- Developer: TOSE
- Publisher: Bandai
- Copies Sold (Approximate): 2 Million
While not the very first Dragon Ball console game (that honor goes to a Dragon Ball title on the Super Cassette Vision), this really was where it all started. There was never any doubt that the Dragon Ball franchise would spin-off into the world of home video games. The manga began its run in 1984, and the TV animation in 1986. This game covers the first major story arc in the Dragon Ball series, which involves Son Goku and friends gathering the Dragon Balls, foiling the plans of Emperor Pilaf, and finally summoning the wish-granting dragon Shen Long. He’s pictured above in all of his 8-bit glory.
Before talking more in depth about this game, it should be mentioned that The Legend of Zelda was released on the Famicom Disk system in the earlier part of this same year from Nintendo. This would slowly but surely set a trend in motion of action/adventure games trying as hard as they possibly could to capture that magical feeling that Zelda gave off. Dragon Ball: Shen Long no Nazo was no exception to this trend.
This was one of the first anime games that I’m aware of to use its anime counterpart’s theme song, “Makafushigi Adventure” as the background music. Perhaps as a space saving technique or due to ineptitude by the game’s sound programmer, this song is on a very short loop. It’s likely to drive anyone crazy after a fairly short amount of time!
|Goku getting ready to take on the dog army in the first level||Dragon Ball: Now With Bears!|
The basic gameplay is very Zelda-like in that you’re exploring various areas from a top-view perspective and attacking enemies as you go along. You can collect various items from defeating enemies on the map or from extremely well hidden areas. The tricky part is that there’s never any indication as to where these areas are. You’ll walk into a tree or rock and appear in a hidden area) to obtain health, better weapons (such as the Nyoibo) and stocks of Kamehameha for use of more difficult enemies. So just try walking into everything that you see.
|One of the game’s secret rooms in which women appear to be chasing after Goku with hearts…but they still cause damage!||When villagers attack: A villager (or perhaps a construction worker) attack the evil conqueror Goku|
The graphics are a bit of a mixed bag. While you can see that they really did try to get all of the character sprites to look like the actual characters, they look like they were scribbled out by children. On the other hand, the amount of background detail put into the areas is pretty good for this time period, even when compared to The Legend of Zelda itself. Individual rocks and various flora are more noticeable and less just a “part of the scenery”. Perhaps it’s all imagined though, since you get into the habit of walking into everything to see if it will take you to a hidden area.
|Goku doing his “I found the key!” victory dance in an area that looks quite a bit like a Super Mario Bros. level. Yes, he can even break those blocks with his head.||The third boss battle against Yamcha. Look, it’s an actual Dragon Ball character!|
Perhaps the most annoying aspect of this game is that your life continuously ticks down, even by just walking around. Who thought that this was a good idea?! It’s not as though Goku is prone to just drop dead after a certain amount of time! You can collect food items to restore your health, but it’s really up to luck as to whether you get what you need before your life runs out. Collisions with or attacks from enemies will take your health away as well, so you really have to be careful if you hope to last until he end of an area.
On the subject of the enemies in this game…what are they? They appear to be dogs wearing armor, at least in the first level. Even the first couple of bosses are not Dragon Ball characters, but rather bears! In the second level Goku even has to fight the very villagers whose village he’s saving from Oolong! Has he become a conqueror now?
|An example of a “cutscene”: Goku and Bulma talking about the Dragon Radar||Muten Roshi thinking about his favorite thing in what is probably the game’s most iconic moment|
Despite its problems though, it does do a good job of capturing the feel of the early manga and anime. There are even small cutscenes with conversations between the various characters in the middle of levels. This helps to tell a very abbreviated version of the early Dragon Ball story. The thing that kills me about this game is that it’s so close to being a decent game. If it wasn’t for the ticking-down health it would be a fun game to revisit every now and then, because it really does have a good enough level of challenge to keep things interesting. The one exception may be the obscenely hard third boss fight with Yamcha.
|Some gameplay from the US version of the game, “Dragon Power”||The same “cutscene” from before, but in English|
Surprisingly, America also saw a release of this game in 1988 despite the cartoon not coming to the west until the 90s. Because of this it was dubbed “Dragon Power”, and every thing related to the Dragon Ball franchise was stripped out and replaced with the most generic Kung Fu nonsense that you can imagine. The Dragon Balls themselves became regular crystal balls and Goku’s sprite had its head swapped out for one with a plain white headband, yet still had the monkey tail. Its most memorable change was probably the sprites of panties revolving around Muten Roshi’s head being replaced by sandwiches in the scene where he asks to see Bulma’s panties. I don’t think I have to point out that the dialog was obviously not translated by a native English speaker either.
|Muten Roshi’s request to Bulma to show him her panties was turned into this in the US version||Ah sandwiches…wait, what did they do to Muten Roshi’s sprite?!|
For those who want to own this game but don’t care to hunt down the Famicom cartridge, you can pick up the DS title “Dragon Ball DS 2: Totsugeki! Red Ribbon gun” on which this is a playable extra.
I wish I could say that things would get better from here. The Dragon Ball series is about to sink into a deep, dark hole that it will not emerge from until the better part of the Famicom era has ended. Its new formula will likely leave you reminiscing fondly about this game before things get better again for this series.