When Super Dragon Ball Heroes: World Mission was first announced for Nintendo Switch, I was pretty excited. I knew it wouldn’t have the depth of other collectible card games (CCGs) like Yu-Gi-Oh!, and I was okay with it. This is literally an arcade game in Japan, after all. So I covered this game closely every step of the way for Nintendo Enthusiast, and then I volunteered to review it.
Now, after having actually played the game, all I can say is I made a terrible, terrible mistake.
On paper, Super Dragon Ball Heroes: World Mission should be phenomenal. It aims to distill the thrill of Dragon Ball combat into a fast-paced card game where every match ends in five rounds or less. Rather than focus on just one era of the series, Super Dragon Ball Heroes incorporates every movie and timeline, even including stuff that isn’t canon like GT. It then tosses in additional characters and allows for lots of fun impossible situations, like Super Saiyan 3 Bardock or Super Saiyan 4 Broly. This results in the game having over 1,100 cards and 350 characters.
The card art is beautiful, and it’s really enjoyable to just cycle through the incredible number of illustrations included in the game. The character models for these cards that come to life during combat are decent-looking as well, but they definitely don’t take full advantage of the Switch’s capabilities.
Unlike in almost any other CCG, Super Dragon Ball Heroes cards consist entirely of playable character cards. There are no traps or energy cards; nearly all special powers are baked into the character cards themselves. So every game is played by just making a team of seven characters. Each one has distinct HP, Power, and Guard stats too.
The playing field consists of four rows for each player. How you place the cards on the field determines how much power your characters use when they go to attack, or placing them in the back row lets them gather their strength. Ostensibly, the strategy comes from knowing when to conserve energy, when to have characters team up for combos, and when to go all-in for a big finish. The ultimate goal is to drop the enemy health to zero.
There are additional arcade-borne elements thrown into the strategy. For instance, for every normal attack or defense opportunity, there is a timing-based mini-game to hit the A button when a gauge is full. Whoever does better at the mini-game earns a large advantage for that attack or defense. There are also lots of silly mini-games completed with the left thumbstick or the touch screen that involve filling a gauge or sliding virtual cards around the screen. (I imagine the latter is a lot more exciting in Japan, where you would be sliding real cards on an arcade machine.) These are mostly very easy and feel like a mandatory waste of time instead of a fun inclusion.
Unfortunately, most of the game feels like a mandatory waste of time.
One match, including startup and conclusion, will typically only last between five and eight minutes. However, it still feels like an eternity for too many bad reasons. For starters, the game will pause for about a second each to announce every special ability that is active in a round of combat, and there are usually a lot of active abilities. When you combine that with the abundance of required mini-games described above, it makes for a very plodding game experience, even with all the characters pounding each other and blowing things up.
But what is infinitely worse about playing Super Dragon Ball Heroes: World Mission is that it doesn’t require any actual thought. The correct “strategy” to win every single match is to just pick the seven most powerful cards you have (maybe making some exceptions to include cards that combine well) and have them attack all at once in the first or second round. I used literally the same strategy — and often the same exact cards — to win every match. Going through the same motions in the same ways to win dozens upon dozens of matches was one of the most mind-numbing experiences of my life.
Even in the online mode (which ran perfectly fine), other players used the same strategy as me, except they were better at the timing mini-game and whooped me good. But it mostly just amazed me that there were other people playing this game voluntarily.
Super Dragon Ball Heroes: World Mission offers an assortment of game modes, but they’re often as half-baked as the card battling itself. For instance, the Story mode drags on forever because there are just so many battles that don’t play any different than what came before them. The story itself is similarly fan fiction-flavored nonsense: The main character lives in a world where Dragon Ball is just a video game, except then the real Dragon Ball world crosses over with that one, and havoc ensues as irrelevant new characters team up with the likes of Trunks and Goku. Aside from moments where fun and goofy non-canon characters show up, there is very little to enjoy in the story. The same can be said of the Arcade mode.
Even the shops in the game are poorly conceived. Most of the things that can be bought (like accessories that power up cards for certain game modes) are astronomically expensive for no reason, encouraging you to just hope you unlock them through winning matches instead. Meanwhile, cards themselves can’t even be bought; they can only be obtained via lottery from tickets earned by winning matches.
One thing Super Dragon Ball Heroes tragically gets right is the card creation mode. Within numeric constraints, you are allowed to create your own cards, assigning their stats, abilities, and art. You can make really fun and attractive cards, assuming you were lucky enough to win nice art in matches. You can also create your own missions, which just amounts to assembling an enemy team, assigning win conditions, and uploading it online. That too is fun in some odd way. But it’s tragic because these fun modes are supporting gameplay that just isn’t interesting at all.
Don’t buy Super Dragon Ball Heroes at full price
I can understand why people in Japan would enjoy playing this at an arcade: Collecting physical cards and battling friends for just a few minutes at a time could be really fun. But as a console game on Nintendo Switch, Super Dragon Ball Heroes: World Mission is a frustratingly monotonous, plodding, mindless game. Being skilled at hitting the A button at the right moment is more important than the cards you bring into a battle. There is absolutely no reason to pay $60 for this game, and I wouldn’t recommend spending more than $10 on it. Even then, Super Dragon Ball Heroes is strictly for Dragon Ball mega fans looking to have some fun with the series canon. Everyone else should stay far, far away.