How great a feeling is it as a gamer to see one of your favorite fantasy worlds come to life in a fully interactive way via the magic of video games? Well you won't be getting those feelings from these games. Though the following titles may share some characters, locations, and stories with the anime they're based off, they certainly don't share the quality (except for Dragon Ball GT which was a bad show, and as you'll see below, a bad game).
Even the most ardent fans and collectors should stay away from these products and save their time and money for some other, better merchandise inspired by the series' they love. Before we begin the list though, there are two qualifiers for the games making this list:
The game has to have had an official North American, translated release. There's a wide world of fan translated games that were never officially released outside of Japan, but that's another list for another day. All of these games are available for legal purchase through the used games market or a digital marketplace...though it's strongly recommended that you don't buy them
- The game can't precede the anime or be based off an anime that was already based on a game. For example, Gungrave is a lackluster title - as is its sequel - and though it spawned an anime adaptation, the games are not based off the anime; rather it's the other way around.
Dragon Ball GT: Final Bout
The very fact that this game was released outside of Japan in 1997 is baffling. At this time, Dragon Ball Z had yet to receive the massive boost in popularity that Cartoon Network’s Toonami would provide it, and even then it would be years before American audiences were far enough along in the series to get to the Dragon Ball GT follow-up.
Audience and continuity issues aside, Dragon Ball GT: Final Bout is just an awful fighting game. The controls are not only clunky, but there is often a noticeable delay between input and action, making combos especially difficult to string together. While the title does have a mode of play where you can level up a character and customize their stats, it’s not enough of a feature to counter how shallow the gameplay here is. Dragon Ball fighting games would be done much better in future years, and if it weren’t for the fact that this was the very first Dragon Ball game to be branded in America, Final Bout would not be remembered nearly as much as it is.
The Legacy of Goku
A Dragon Ball Z action/RPG sounds like a fantastic idea, but game developer Webfoot Technology’s vision for the concept falls flat. Though this Gameboy Advance title remains faithful to the plot of the anime from the Saiyan and Frieza story arcs, the actual gameplay is shallow, repetitive, and awkward. You play as Goku through a series of fairly linear levels, punching enemies and using chi based attacks.. Since the punches you can throw at your opponent are incredibly short range, moving in to attack means that the enemy can punch you just as easily - and do more damage to you than you do to them. This means the only effective strategy is to attack with a chi energy based attack like the kamehamaha, run away long enough for your chi meter to replenish, and then repeat the process. Fortunately, the sequels improved upon this type of gameplay, but this first title is frustratingly bad.
Digimon World might not exactly work for this list considering the franchise started off as a series of virtual pets as opposed to an anime. That being said, the game owes much of its look and story to the Digimon Adventure anime, so for those reasons we'll give it a pass for this list. The problem with the gameplay is that it relies too heavily on the handheld virtual pet toys. You don’t play as a Digimon, you instead play as a kid who winds up in the digital world and becomes the owner/trainer of a Digimon. Instead of controlling the Digimon you issue it orders as it follows you around. So instead of directly attacking the enemy, you order your Digimon to attack an enemy. But you also have to train it, feed it, tell it to poop, watch it grow old, die, reincarnate as an egg, and start the process all over again; while simultaneously trying to save the world. If the game had stuck more to the anime and standard RPG/adventure genre conventions, it would’ve been a much stronger title than this world saving, babysitting adventure.
Gundam: Battle Assault
Gundam: Battle Assault- a one on one fighting game - was the first Mobile Suit Gundam game to be released in the United States following the airing and subsequent popularity of Gundam Wing. In an effort to capitalize on this, Bandai and Natsume changed portions of the original Japanese version in order to shoehorn in Heero Yuy and Wing Gundam. The end result of this is a messy narrative and a whole bunch of playable Gundams that only die-hard American franchise fans would recognize. The gameplay itself isn’t atrocious, but it’s also nothing special. All Battle Assault is, is a competent, and ultimately forgettable fighting game that lacks any uniquely engaging mechanics to keep players coming back to it.
Fist of the North Star (1989 NES Release)
Considering the lack of American awareness of this highly successful manga and anime series in the U.S in 1989 it’s fascinating that Fist of the North Star otherwise known as Hokuto no Ken received an NES game in 1989. It was however, two years after it was released in Japan, so it’s not like anyone was rushing to get it to our shores. Regrettably for both the Japanese and American players, the game they received was an absolute mess, even by the low standards of game development at the time. The sprites look awful, the backgrounds look incredibly cheap, and the way that bosses can take you from full health to death with seemingly one attack and send you back to the beginning of a level, takes any fun out of progressing through the game. Sure you might be playing as Kenshiro, and you can kill basic enemies with one hit, but all the sense of feeling powerful gets taken away when you lose a boss battle in three seconds. Then you get to enjoy the process of collecting all the power-up icons again that you’ve now lost. Any gratitude anime fans might've had for getting a Fist of the North Star game means nothing when the product is this atrocious.
Mobile Suit Gundam: Crossfire
Apparently something was lost in translation with this Gundam title. When it was released for the PlayStation 3 in Japan in 2006, it received a glowing review from venerable gaming magazine Famitsu. The same could not be said for the American release with scores that averaged out in the 3/10 range. The game was derided for its poor graphics, awful frame rate, horrible camera controls, simplistic, repetitive action, and a narrative that made little to no sense. At the very least it tried to break away from the 2D fighting game formula into a 3D action hack and slash. However, there had been some decent Gundam games that came out for the PlayStation 2 that were much better constructed and more fun to play in that action based style. Crossfire was supposed to be the title that brought Gundam into a new generation of gaming consoles…it failed.
One Piece: Pirates’ Carnival
When you have an anime that’s as popular and long running as One Piece, you’re likely going to have a lot of video game adaptations. Sure enough, there are quite a few licensed titles under the One Piece brand, though Pirates’ Carnival rises to the top (or perhaps the bottom) of the heap. Unlike the straight-up action titles that most of the better One Piece games are, Pirates’ Carnival is collection of mini-games which also features a board game mode; kind of like Mario Party. The big difference is that Mario Party tears friendships apart through its competitive qualities while Pirates’ Carnival tears friendships apart because someone’s made their friends play this boring, uninspired, insult to the anime and its fandom.
Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode
At the very least, Golgo 13 is incredibly ambitious. Considering this game was released in 1988 for the NES and Famicom, it does an awful lot with limited technology. Golgo 13 tries valiantly to be a narrative driven, assassin and spy thriller with exploration, gun fights, and a healthy dose of adult themes. Regrettably, much more thought and effort was put into the conceptual phase of the game rather than executing the ideas the developers had. The presentation is awful, with the main playable character of Golgo looking like he was ripped out of an Atari 2600 title. The run and gun sections are populated with undodgeable enemies while you’re stuck with constantly draining health and a paltry amount of bullets. The first person shooting segments control like a mess, and the mazes you have to wander through are frustratingly awful. At least the game tried to feature realistic violence; so in a sense it was about 7 years ahead of its time. How many games can say that?
Yu Yu Hakusho: Spirit Detective
If a game looks like crap, it can be somewhat forgiven as long as it plays well. If a game sounds like crap, you can always turn down the volume and put on some of your own music. If a game looks like crap, sounds like crap, and plays like crap not only can you not really do anything to make it any better, you also have Yu Yu Hakusho: Spirit Detective for the Game Boy Advance. Atari cited the game as a sales success for them, but that can be attributed to the fact that it was the only Yu Yu Hakusho game available in America following its North American, Toonami premiere. It suffers from boring, repetitive action, awful level design, and the aforementioned terrible presentation.
Attack on Titan: Humanity In Chains
It’s hard to deny that Attack on Titan is rife with potential for a strong video game adaptation. Unfortunately, this 2015 Nintendo 3DS title wasn't it. The game attempts to capture the spirit of the anime it’s based on by using voice samples, video, and music ripped directly from various episodes but by doing so it doesn’t offer anything new to fans. The gameplay is modestly fun for the first couple hours of play, allowing you to swing through areas with your omni-directional maneuvering gear, but the actual combating of titans turns into little more than a couple quick time events. The game actually does have some interesting ideas, such as featuring a second mode of play that allows you to make your own character and partake in missions of titan slaying and resource collection. Unfortunately it’s still too shallow to be completely worthwhile.