Who would win in a battle between Naruto, Luffy, and Goku? Will it be the host of the demonic Nine-Tailed Fox? Perhaps the future king of the pirates? Or maybe it shall be the world renowned martial artist Goku? You can find out in Battle Stadium D.O.N. for GameCube and PlayStation 2. Released in 2006 by Namco Bandai Games, and quickly relegated to the depths of the bargain bin, Battle Stadium D.O.N was doomed from the start. Especially after Battle Stadium D.O.N launched to average reviews from Famitsu magazine. But what was the reason it never got a release in the West? How bad could those average reviews be? Why wouldn’t a teenager want to kick Naruto’s annoying ass with Goku? Who in their right mind would pass up an opportunity to pit Super Saiyan Goku against Sharingan Kakashi in a clash of the titans? I’m honestly not sure…
Battle Stadium D.O.N is basically the bastard child of Super Smash Brothers Melee and anime. A winning combination on paper, of course, but on execution is rather lacking. The player can choose from an initial roster of 12 characters (26 max), each with their own special moves and abilities. The core concept of gameplay is not eliminating the opponents, but rather capturing orbs similar to the coin match mode from Smash Brothers. Whoever gathers the most amount of orbs will eventually experience a “burst mode” in which their character becomes more powerful until they gather all of them and win the battle or the timer runs out. For variety purposes, during the match, they’ll have different missions which can range from knocking out an opponent a set amount of times to jumping a 100 times in a single round. If you finish the missions successfully, you’ll earn coins to gamble at the slot machines once the game is complete.
While gambling in most games is optional, in Battle Stadium D.O.N it’s downright mandatory. The only way for the player to unlock any characters or stages is to earn them during the gambling portions of the game. This made unlocking anything a nightmare, especially if you’re unlucky. You can possibly go an indeterminable amount of tries until you unlock your first character/stage, and Battle Stadium D.O.N has this as a primary feature. It’s also potentially one of the reasons that it never came to the West, as our laws regarding gambling are much stricter. An example of this would be Pokémon Heart Gold in which Nintendo removed the slot machines due to Europe’s concerns regarding children gambling. Yet, that wasn’t the only reason for its lack of release overseas; there is a lot more paperwork involved in the licensing of these characters in the United States and Europe.
It’s important to remember that unlike Japan, which has an easier time releasing games featuring characters from their own country, the United States has different entities owning the rights to all of these characters. It would be a logistical nightmare for Bandai to release Battle Stadium D.O.N anywhere in the West. This had to be the primary motivation for the lack of an English port, but if I had to give my personal opinion: it’s because Battle Stadium D.O.N is rather boring. Characters don’t play or feel like the ones in Smash Brothers Melee, despite its similar style of gameplay. At times, controls feel floaty, and it makes it harder for the player to get full control of the situation. The missions are strange as they ruin the pace of each battle. The method of unlocking anything relies on too much luck. Combined with the battle mode being restricted to collecting spheres instead of a more traditional lives system ruins whatever enjoyment could be had from fans of the genre.
It’s not a terrible game by any means, but Battle Stadium D.O.N could have used a better execution. Namco Bandai had a winning combination of characters, yet they altered the formula too much in a foolish attempt at being unique. While trying something different should be praised, it is to be noted that Nintendo had a very similar mode in a much more varied game with Super Smash Bros Melee. The fact that Namco Bandai released it so late in the GameCube and PS2 era would also be the final nail in the coffin, as everyone had moved towards the Wii, PS3, or Xbox 360. All of these factors combined ensured that we would never see Battle Stadium D.O.N released overseas.
Truly it was a shame, as growing up, I was a huge fan of Dragon Ball Z, Naruto, and One Piece.