|System: Xbox 360, PS3|
|Dev: Team Ninja|
|Pub: Tecmo Koei|
|Release: Q3 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Shelby Reiches
When Team Ninja was formed back in the late nineties, it had precisely one purpose: craft a fighting game to cash in on the Virtua Fighter craze. Their answer, which actually used the Virtua Fighter engine under license, was the original Dead or Alive. It brought with it precisely two innovations to the standard one-on-one brawler formula: a universal counter system and over-the-top "jiggle" physics for the female competitors' chests.
Both are still present in Team Ninja's upcoming Dead or Alive 5, but the rest is pretty unrecognizable. Yes, it still uses the basic punch, kick, and block/counter button layout (with a throw button to cut down on finger gymnastics), but the engine shows most of the innovations that have made their way in over the past decade, carrying a greater sense of fluidity and speed than any of its contemporaries. This is not an intricate, plodding game, but one dependent on immediate reaction, on reading one's opponent on a split-second basis and responding appropriately.
That's not new, though; that's simply the way the series has played since its second entry, exemplified in its rerelease on the original Xbox: Dead or Alive 2 Ultimate, a fighting game balanced to the point where, even today, it's a shining beacon that champions the series' potential. It built on Xbox launch title Dead or Alive 3, introducing added complexity in the counter system by splitting mid-punch and mid-kick counters from one another, a convention that held in Dead or Alive 4, which further expanded fighters' move-sets—perhaps a bit too far in the direction of flash.
If Dead or Alive 4 had a little extra flash, Dead or Alive 5 is shaping up like a Mardi Gras party. The demo contains only one stage and up to four fighters, all drawn from alpha code—and there's a long way to go before the game hits shelves—so issues such as slowdown during the fighter intros is understandable, but it does little to alleviate concerns raised by certain design decisions.
On the positive end, the game's "Scramble" stage is incredibly dynamic. Dead or Alive games are in part defined by their multi-tiered stages, replacing the ring-outs of Virtua Fighter with transitions to distinct parts of the game's sprawling, asymmetrical venues, but the newest seems to be in constant motion. Beams swing by overhead, safety cones are sent flying as fighters hurtle into them, and the stage's transition to street level is an over-the-top dive that cracks the pavement below. This transition further allows the player to select between a strike or a throw after the opponent has been sent careening off the platform, after which each of the four fighters in the demo connects with one of two visually distinct attacks, introducing some aesthetic variety into the mix. Further, this follow-up attack can be negated if the opponent chooses the correct defense between blocking or evading. The graphics are gorgeous as well, with smooth and powerful movements and clothing that now picks up the dust and dirt of the environment as fighters are knocked around.
Thing is, while the action is largely similar to the previous entry, the fighters in the demo possessed of recognizable flow and move-sets, there's an entirely new mechanic that allows one to, at any time, charge up a special strike with a press of the shoulder button (RB on the Xbox 360). Though this is blockable and has a wait before it can be set loose, landing the ensuing attack results in an immediate cut to a cinematic beat-down of your opponent. It looks cool the first few times, but takes control completely away from both players, immediately before allowing the attacking party to select what environmental object the poor recipient should impact. There doesn't seem to be a limit on how often this can be done, as with most super attacks/desperation moves in traditional fighters, and the amount of undefended damage it does is obscene. Sometimes it begets a special situation, such as a stage transition (boosting the damage further) or requires a QTE button-press, matching whatever face-button is on an oncoming car's grill to blast the opponent into it full-force. Like I said, it certainly looks cool a few times, but seems to take far too much control away from the fighters and breaks up the flow of combat.
On the other end of the spectrum, diversified counters have been taken away. Remember that, in DOA2: Ultimate, mid-kick counters were separated from mid-punch counters, requiring a player to actually read what type of strike one's opponent was using, in addition to its height? No longer. They are both tied to a single direction once again, simplifying the countering to the point of near-absurdity. The majority of strikes thrown in Dead or Alive are going to be at mid-level—the game's core combat does not seem to have been altered to such a degree that this is suddenly untrue—which now means that simply countering reflexively with back and the "Free" button will give one an even better chance of successfully punishing one's opponent.
That said, the demo is both alpha content and limited to fights against a less-than-competent A.I. The cinematic beat-downs are very punishable, if attempted too often, and it's possible that countering was altered in preparation for a move-list overhaul that simply wasn't implemented in the demo. My concern is that, in attempting to do something different, the post-Itagaki Team Ninja has, as with Ninja Gaiden 3, aimed for instituting flash over substance.
Date: March 30, 2012