I had the chance to play Team Ninja’s portable fighter Dead or Alive 5 Plus on the PS Vita over the past week. Before I go on I should quantify some things. I enjoy the odd fighter now and then, and one of my more memorable experiences with the DOA franchise was on the Nintendo 3DS when Tecmo released Dead or Alive: Dimensions during the launch of Nintendo’s handheld. I played the heck out of that game and I enjoyed it immensely, so needless to say that I had pretty high expectations when playing the recently released DOA 5 Plus on the more powerful Vita. That being said, I was somewhat weary too as this is a port of the home console version of DOA 5 that looked and played solidly. Well I have to say after putting the Vita game through its paces I am pretty impressed with how much console experience is in the Vita version.
The DOA franchise has always had two camps when looking at the franchise. The first camp claims they are sexist and male oriented games due to the nature of the costumes of the female fighters and the physics that seem to emphasize the nature of the female characters breasts. The other camp is those who look beyond the female characters and find that the control and fighting mechanics are incredibly deep. In DOA 5 Plus, the female characters are indeed back and the physics are back as well. Heck, you can even turn up the physics should you like; however, physics or not, this game is still able to meet the demands to the other camp, those looking for a deep fighter with more than just “hitting the buttons” to get through a match.
If you have played DOA 5 on your PS3 or Xbox 360, then you will know what to expect here, right down to the Facebook integration, so there is no need for me to explain it to you; however, if you have not played DOA 5 at all, and the PS Vita version is your first foray into the game, then you are in for a treat. The game has lots to do, so much that I won’t be going to into a ton of detail as I could write forever, but I will indeed give you the highlights of what is offered in this handheld version, and let me tell you, it is one of the truest console fighting experiences I have ever played on a handheld system.
There is a story mode in DOA 5 Plus, but to tell you the truth I had no idea what it was about. The story takes place about five years after the previous DOA and all the original characters are present and accounted for, along with a few new ones, but in the end I had no clue how each character and their story arc applied to the narrative as a whole. The hunt for the character Alpha-152 was a main theme, but that was the only thing that was clear. In the end you’ll find that the story is really about watching some gorgeous cutscenes that lead up to fighting as specific characters throughout the timeline. The story does not make or break the experience, but in the end it seems somewhat strange in regards to content.
First and foremost, DOA 5 Plus is a DOA fighter, so you will find that although you may be successful now and then with mashing the buttons, the game is much more strategic then this. You will need to ‘bait’ your opponent into making a move and you can then counter it with something new and more effective. It’s a chess match so to speak and there will be more than a few times when you commit to a move or two only to be walloped by a well-planned counter attack. I found there were times when I was very successful with a specific strategy against certain characters, only to find that I had to change my attacks against others as my previous strategy just didn’t work. I’ll also be honest, I had my ass handed to me more than a few times, both against the computer and other humans.
Where this game really shines is in teaching you how to become a good fighter. The options to learn how to master the moves of the game are HUGE. Yes, I put that in caps to emphasize what I am talking about. The tutorial system is deep and has every aspect you can think of to become a DOA master. I utilized this after tooling around in the fight mode for a while. I was amazed how deep the guard system really is and how to truly implement all the moves at my disposal. If you have not spent much time playing any DOA games then you will want to invest a lot of time here. Add to this the ability to go into a “combo-challenge” mode (tests your ability to string combos) and a “command training” mode (individual moves for each character) and you have a deep and robust training suite as a whole, and this was an area that I really did appreciate as I could hone my skills on a regular basis.
If you get tired of fighting against the computer AI in training, story, or fight mode (versus, arcade, time attack, or survival), you can head online to test your fighting might. This is an interesting area as you can play against other PS Vita owners or PS3 owners. That’s right, DOA 5 Plus supports cross platform play. This is a great feature, especially if some of your friends have the PS3 version and you are late to the DOA 5 world. As noted earlier, I got my ass handed to me more than a few times, and this includes online against PS3 or PS Vita owners. Sure, I got lucky now and then and won the odd match, but man those who are online are good, no doubt about it. I did notice that more than a few matches were affected by lag. I don’t know if this is PS Network or PS Vita specific, but I have a solid connection at my home office and have no problem playing online with other games. That being said, I also took this game on the road and the hotel connection was less than optimal. Regardless, the issues of lag, or input delay, was more often than I would have liked. When it did work though the online play was pretty cool.
If there was one area that I was not particularly impressed, it was the touch screen mode of DOA 5 Plus. While I give kudos to Team NINJA for trying to utilize the unique features of the PS Vita, the implementation of this mode just didn’t work. It was fun for a brief moment, as when you fight you have a first person view of the opponent you are fighting, but tapping and swiping the screen to battle was not overly fun, especially for extended periods of time. I don’t know, I guess they wanted to add something unique here, but unfortunately the touch screen mode is a novelty at best.
If there was one thing that really impressed me it was the visuals found in this game. It ran buttery smooth and I would venture to say that it runs as fast as the home console versions (60 fps). There was no noticeable slow down and the characters move across the screen without as so much as a hiccup. Take into account that this was in some very visually stunning levels (e.g. on a roof top with a subway train running by, on a floating raft on a river, on a helipad on a cruise liner, or on a sandy beach with crystal blue water and dolphins playing in the background). It there is one thing that Team NINJA has always done right it is show off their programming prowess and DOA 5 Plus is no different. From great lighting and particle effects to some great use of animated backgrounds and multi-tiered levels, the environments definitely complement the fighters in this game, and everything makes this handheld fighter look good.
Wrapping up the presentation is the audio package. I have to say that I love listening to the dialog during the opening scenes of each fight with each characters taunt or introduction. In regards to the story’s cutscenes, the voice actors won’t win any academy awards for their acting, but it was enjoyable in a campy way nonetheless and the variances in each character was neat to hear (Tina’s hillbilly like accent is over the top). As for the music, you’ll find some rocking tracks throughout each level and even more over the top music for those bigger battles later in the story mode. As for the sound effects, they are just as effective as the music, as you’ll get the right sounds for the right levels. I can’t help but reflect on the level with a floating raft and how raft literally creaked and groaned as it was old and rickety. Of course the sounds of fists or kicks hitting their marks and bodies being tossed into the air and landing on the ground do their job well. As per usual, put on a set of headphones for this game and get ready to be even more immersed by the sounds.
After I put down my PS Vita to start writing this review there were many times that I just wanted to stop and play this game. The visuals, the sound, and the amount of depth that this fighting game has really makes it worth looking at for any gamers on the run. Simply put, Dead or Alive 5 Plus is not only a solid fighter, but a really good PS Vita game too.