Game Republic's Dragon Ball Origins adapts the first chapters of Akira Toriyama's classic manga into an action-RPG game. The perspective and the stylus-based controls recall The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass strongly, and it's clear that Game Republic had played Phantom Hourglass when designing Dragon Ball Origins, but Dragon Ball changes enough in terms of level structure and overall flow that it hardly feels like a ripoff. In fact, the transition from an epic adventure to an action-oriented, streamlined action game results in something a lot more enjoyable than would be expected from a licensed game.
Dragon Ball Origins is based on the original Dragon Ball manga, which is itself based on the Chinese legend of the Monkey King. A mysteriously super-strong country boy named Goku encounters a manipulative teenage girl named Bulma, and together they embark on a quest for seven crystal balls that, when collected, enable the possessor to make any wish. The setup is a pretty convenient excuse for Goku and Bulma to travel around to various exotic locations and meet characters like Yamcha the thief, Oolong the perverted shapeshifter, and Master Roshi the perverted martial arts expert.
The story is told using in-engine interstitial sequences, featuring blocky but still nice-looking character models. It's clear that Game Republic took care to accurately represent not just the storyline of Dragon Ball, but the layout of individual panels as well. As a result, Dragon Ball Origins is a pretty good way to introduce oneself to the manga! Or, for existing fans, to see favorite moments in a new, more animated (but differently from the anime) way. I'd like to note that hating Dragon Ball Z and its constant "HRRGGGHHH POWER LEVEL" and super-ridiculous seriousness is no indicator that you'll hate the light, fun, and wacky Dragon Ball.
These story sequences are punctuated by an action game very much in the style of Phantom Hourglass. The player moves Goku around with the stylus or the D-pad (both are always available), tapping the screen to attack. Goku can switch from "Combat Mode," in which he can do quick combo attacks with his fists, and "Power Pole Mode," in which he attacks with his extending Power Pole. Over the course of the game, he learns new abilities in both modes, including the Kamehameha, that allow him to defeat enemies and also solve puzzles. Each ability is accessed by a different gesture. To spin the Power Pole in front of Goku, for example, you must tap Goku and then draw circles in front of him. The levels mostly involve defeating enemies in order to open up pathways, though there are "dungeon" style levels that involve switch puzzles as well. All of the environments feature hidden paths with treasure chests.
Dragon Ball is, in general, much less complex than Zelda. For one thing, it's completely linear. Where Zelda has a whole world to wander, Origins is a series of self-contained levels, unlocked in sequential order. Side quests take the form of silly "bonus" episodes unlocked after completing a chapter. This may be a dealbreaker for some, but for me it was nice not to have to wander around. It makes Origins a different, more straightforward kind of game.
Furthermore, most levels have a fairly obvious progression, again eliminating wandering. With the exception of the dungeons, which require some exploring, the levels are point A to point B with a few digressions for extra treasure. The focus here is on fighting, and not on exploration. Luckily, the combat is great, thanks to the variety of attacks Goku has and the enjoyable touchscreen controls.
The biggest problem, then, is this focus on combat: you basically walk from location to location, beat up a few enemies, and find the exit, learning a new ability every few levels, and building up points to level up existing abilities. Some players may find this repetitive, especially those coming in expecting a Zelda-like adventure. The combat is also rather easy, with few enemies posing a threat except for the bosses.
But for me, these problems weren't a big deal. Dragon Ball Origins was just a joy to play. I kept waiting for it to get awful and fulfill my expectations of a licensed adventure game, but I never did. I just had a great time playing it.
Final score: 8/10