Dead Or Alive wowed arcade gamers years ago when it first made its debut. Influenced by incredibly popular fighting games like Virtua Fighter, Dead Or Alive found a place for itself in the sea of fighting games. The counter attack mechanic coupled with the Danger Zones gave Dead Or Alive an identity of its own. I should note that its physics engine certainly gave it an identity too. Dead Or Alive 5 was released in late 2012 on consoles and the most recent release, Dead Or Alive 5 Ultimate, which is what this review is about, is an enhanced rendition of its predecessor. This time around Team Ninja has packaged in more bells and whistles, but is it enough?
Naturally Dead or Alive’s fighting system has changed since the franchise’s debut during the 90’s. Now Featuring stuns and crumples among counter attacks Dead Or Alive’s combat is less combo based than many of its fighting game brethren. Brawling requires you to watch for opportune moments. Stunning an opponent gives you a chance to unleash a combo on your enemy. For the enemy to break out of their stun, the only option is to counter. Countering involves an attempt to grab ones opponent, but the grab must correspond with the enemy’s attack. It really becomes a guessing game until you play the game enough to recognize move sets. Learning to identify if it’s a high-punch, mid-punch or mid-kick takes time and practice. Flailing around and using the wrong counter attack ultimately damages you more in the end.
Generally speaking, much of the new content in Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate comes down to aesthetic goodies. Five new arenas are available, and among them are stages with asymmetrical builds. Sky High Tokyo features a massive Buddha that can crush players. Lost world was my personal favorite, offering a number of small and beautiful cliffs to do battle on. Given that the cliffs were so small, often times my opponent and I would traverse through several peaks during a fight. All in all the new characters disappointed me. Leon and Ein are returning Dead Or Alive characters. Momiji comes from Ninja Gaiden with Rachel. Lastly Jacky is from Virtua fighter. Not much excitement to be found here, but die hard fans may find these characters somewhat of a neat addition.
In regards to gameplay, survival mode is a new addition. Pitting you against endless waves of enemies with no load times, survival mode makes for great practice. Fortunately health bonuses show up every once in awhile giving players a bit of a break. These and the point bonuses are incredibly important to grab in order to hit a high score.
Dead Or Alive in its essence is not meant to compete with combo heavy brawlers like King of Fighters. With much less memorization going on, players can sink into its combat mechanics and enjoy what it has to offer more immediately. This does however mean that the game can be shallow at times. The online versus play does offer some fun to be had. Online play adds variety to the games shallow nature, and lag didn’t seem all that common.
Visually Dead Or Alive 5 Ultimate looks no different then its predecessor. That being said, this is by no means a bad thing. The animations are as smooth as ever and lovely details such as sweat and dirt look great. Colours are vibrant and character models look fantastic, as do the various levels that you fight on. We can’t forget that some of these levels are multi-tiered too, which I mentioned earlier on. In regards to the games audio, it fares well too. Intense background music pumps up combatants and appropriate groans, smacks and thuds resonate as characters pummel each other. Everything mixes well for a solid sounding experience.
At the end of the day Dead Or Alive 5 Ultimate is a good game. Its core remains strong, with great visuals mixed with enjoyable combat. Priced at $39.99 returning fans of the series will have to decide if the new characters and bonus features are worth the price of entry. The extra content is neat, but given that most of it is only visual it’s difficult to justify the price point; however, beyond the layer of shiny aesthetics and ridiculous physics is a fun fighting game accessible to both casual and hardcore gamers. If you’re looking to get into the Dead Or Alive series, this would be a great place to start.