Boobs. One word that pretty much sums up the pre-release talk of Dead or Alive 5. Team Ninja has revealed how they have probed and examined breast movement and spent enormous sums of money on getting them just right. And while breasts can be delightful, it's worrying that there hasn't been more talk about the mechanics and gameplay evolution. It doesn't take long with the final product to realise that something went wrong.
To me the Dead or Alive series has always been a tactical fighting game, where combos and juggles are more important than in other games as you could, with rather simple means, counter your opponent and win. Random button mashing is subsequently severely punished.
That is until the next round kicks off soon thereafter. The intuitive combat system and the swift action has also made it a favourite among those who normally don't devote much time to fighting games, but still want to engage in the occassional fist fight.
The latter is something the Dead or Alive series has in common with the Soul Calibur series, and this has in a way meant that the hardcore fighting community haven't fully embraced them. Completely without reason, as Dead or Alive has been just as entertaining and complex as the other major fighting franchises, and it has always been among my favourite games in the genre.
But somewhere along the way Team Ninja seems to have lost this, and with Dead or Alive 5 they have created a game that feels less fluid than its predecessors. It's difficult to achieve the same flow in the fighting, and it just feels a bit jerky. During many long animations you can't grab your enemies, and it feels a lot like 3D fighting did ten years ago.
One thing in particular that has regressed is you ability to circle your opponent. It is as if Team Ninja were so proud of their new levels, that the ledges are almost magnetic so you fall off to continue the fight down below. Because of these changes it takes me a while to get into the game and feel fully comfortable with a new system that even features dedicated attacks that send your opponents flying to the next stage of the level.
Team Ninja has been talking about how they wanted to make the environments a bigger part of the fights, but sadly it takes away from the actual fighting. I would rather have seen more effort put into the core mechanics, rather than extras added on top.
In my disappointment I may be overly negative. The Dead or Alive series has always been a favourite, and this adds to my disappointment as I feel the series regresses with this, the most recent entry. And given how Ninja Gaiden 3 turned out, I'm just not sure the Team Ninja of today compares to the Team Ninja I once held so dear. That said, the fundamentals are still there, and I love the selection of fighters on offer.
It's still just as much fun to fire off brutal Izuna Drops with Hayabusa, and Ayane, Kasumi and the rest of the gang have never looked this good. The new Team Ninja has done an awesome job with the fighters, and they are probably better looking than any competing fighters, thanks to lifelike faces and incredibly detailed clothing. Clothing that even gets dirty and damp as the fight progresses. Newcomer Mila who practices mixed martial arts is a welcome addition to the cast and adds a contemporary flavour to the mix.
As an old Sega fan I can't help but applaude the guest appearances of Sarah Bryant and Akira Yuki from Virtua Fighter. The creator of Dead or Alive, Tomonobu Itagaki, has often mentioned how Virtua Fighter inspired the game, so it feels like a natural combination. Both characters fit neatly into the game and are well executed, even if the controls are very different from Virtua Fighter 5.
The incredibly detailed characters have meant that Team Ninja has had to cut some corners elsewhere. There are jaggies here that almost reminds us of when Virtua Fighter 4 was released on Playstation 2. The backdrops are also a bit barren and simple from a technical standpoint. And sadly the gorgeous lighting can't hide that fact.
At the end of the day Dead or Alive 5 doesn't come across as a complete experience. It is noticeable that Team Ninja is largely made up of people who don't have experience making this calibre of fighting game. Focus has been on improving the surface and adding cool extras that don't add to the core experience, and sometimes they even detract from it. I can't help but feel disappointed, even if this is a good fighting game.
After having spent the previous month with Tekken Tag Tournament 2 it becomes obvious how dated Dead or Alive 5 feels, and that's coming from a longtime fan of the series. It's still a good game, but there are hardly no improvements compared to Dead or Alive 4 (2006), expect for improved visuals and breast physics. And eye candy alone doesn't make this a worthwhile purchase.