(Note: You can also check out this preview on Front Towards Gamer)
I have to admit, I’ve never been a huge fan of fighting games. The idea of waiting in line at the arcade to play Street Fighter II never really appealed to me. To be honest, I had more fun watching the ridiculous moves other people would come up with than getting in on the action, myself. I suppose the same logic could be applied to something like Counter Strike, but I never felt the same barrier of entry with shooters as I did with 2D fighters. One of the few fighting franchises that I have always enjoyed is Dead or Alive. Though it has the unfortunate distinction of being better known for its liberal female physics than anything else, Tecmo’s longtime fighting franchise has always struck a good balance between skill and button mashing.
With the recent release of Ninja Gaiden 3, those who pre-ordered or bought the collector’s edition received an exclusive alpha demo for Dead or Alive 5, which is set to release later this September. Though it only features four characters – Ryu, Hayate, Ayane, and Hitomi – and one stage – a Tokyo rooftop, this early build of Team Ninja’s first real Dead or Alive since Tomonobu Itagaki’s departure shows a lot of promise.
The most apparent difference between Dead or Alive 5 and its predecessors is in the game’s art style. In the past, characters had a pseudo-anime look, with exaggerated eyes and plastic-looking skin. No longer is that the case, however, as characters are now portrayed far more realistically. In addition, fighters will now degrade over the course of a battle, sweating and gathering dirt as they mix it up. It’s not on the scale of Mortal Kombat, but Team Ninja did an absolutely phenomenal of updating the look of a franchise begging for a stylistic overhaul.
The actual fighting remains largely intact from previous iterations, though there are some pretty big additions this time around. Other than the usual assortment of move list refinements, character interactions with the environment are a lot more prevalent in Dead or Alive 5, with several opportunities for the ever-polarizing quick time sequence. The AI starts out stupidly easy, but gets tougher the more you play, though even when I did lose, I never felt cheated like in DOA 4.
Even with only one stage available at this point, Team Ninja’s emphasis on “fighting entertainment” this time around could not be more obvious. “RB” (or “R1” on PS3) now enacts a heavy-hitting slow motion attack, the final blow of which allows you to choose which direction the poor soul on the other end of your fist goes flying in. If that direction happens to be one of a stage’s many danger zones, then prepare for absolute chaos.
If DOA 5 is any indication, the Japanese government should really look into the stability of its building construction, because one hit to a generator is apparently all it takes to completely level the top story of a Tokyo skyscraper. And while the ensuing pandemonium may suck for all the hapless Joe Shmoes below you, it sure makes for one hell of a fight.
At this point, Dead or Alive’s M.O. should be no secret. If you’re looking for the deepest, most technical fighting game ever, you’re barking up the wrong tree. But if you enjoy the thrill of watching an EVO tourney, but lack the time or patience of competing in one, or you just want to beat up your friends, Dead or Alive 5 looks to be right up your alley. It speaks to how much fun DOA 5 is that I’ve put in well over five hours in a demo that features a scant four characters and one stage, and I still can’t get enough. Going into the demo with absolutely no expectations, Dead or Alive 5 is now my most anticipated game of the fall, without question. Whether Team Ninja can translate that anticipation into success remains to be seen.