Dead or Alive 5 Review (Xbox360)

I don’t envy Team Ninja its mountainous task in creating another addition to the long-lived Dead or Alive franchise, particularly without the keen supervision of series creator Tomonobu Itagaki. This is the first instalment to be released without his input, leading me to wonder about the reason for his departure.

Is it because he felt the series is more dead than alive, now, or has he simply moved on to greener arenas? When you’re getting up to the fifth edition of a fighting franchise, it’s clearly very difficult to know what to do with it.

Wait a minute, wrong game!?

The difficult thing is this: How do you bring something new to the tournament? How will you retain all aspects that built the franchise, while also offering something new for long-time fans, and introducing complete newcomers? This question is a damn tough one. As playable and entertaining as Dead or Alive 5 is, it would seem Team Ninja doesn’t know the answer any more than I do.

But looking at it from a positive light (to begin with) it has to be said that this is Dead or Alive through and through. If you’re a diehard of the series, or even if you’re just passionate about the genre in general, that might well be enough to sell you this fifth instalment. And you won’t be disappointed, though you might not enjoy the same level of thumb ache as you would have hoped.

The 18-strong roster of characters that DoA has been building for some 15 years are all present and correct, and while their faces seem somewhat painted on, they’re otherwise beautifully presented and sport outstanding animation.

We’re also introduced to two new characters; the Tae Kwon Do master with a mysterious background called Rig, and MMA champion Mila. Both are worthy additions, and you’re also given the mighty gift of Virtua Fighter cameos Pai Chan, Sarah Bryant and Akira Yuki, all of which are fully playable and retain their signature styles from the beloved SEGA series.

Critically stun your opponent to perform cruel moves on them.

These styles do not compromise the nature of Dead or Alive’s combat, I’m glad to say, which is perhaps one of the most successful in repressing that most abhorrent of fighting game practices: button mashing. Its triumvirate of strikes, holds and throws provide you with a superb game of ultra-violent rock, paper, scissors, and all characters – native and guest – put it to great effect.

Go in hard with punch after kick, and your opponent will easily put you in an energy sapping hold. Jump in with a badly-timed throw and it’s easily thwarted by a strike that lands doubly hard, while ill-conceived holds result in you being thrown to the ground or worse.

The environments are often tiered, so there’s plenty to fall off, be thrown into and to land against, which makes the throws and near-edge strikes particularly satisfying. These environments now include danger zone scenery that can do even more damage should you come into harsh contact with it. The introduction of the power blow system works rather neatly with danger zones, which offers a charged strike once your energy is drained beyond the halfway point. This does seem a little backwards, given that you acquire extra power when your own power drops, but it’s a nice.

Perhaps more important is the critical burst feature, which is more about your opponent than you. If a fighter takes a constant stream of combo attacks, their head begins to spin. It’s a very interesting analogue that adds some sense to the bouts, as the more blows you sustain without recuperation, the less able you are to break away or retaliate.

This can be very useful for keeping an opponent occupied during the newly reinstated tag team mode, which switches you between two selected characters for a more dynamic match. Although there’s also a training mode, the story mode actually makes learning the moves more interesting.

Watching an opponent fall to their death is supremely satisfying.

Each fighter has their own back story, which you work through by alternating between tournaments and cut scenes. The plots are dreadful, naturally, but almost enjoyable in a thrice-kitsch 1970s Kung Fu film way, yet they serve a worthwhile purpose in building the difficulty of fights gradually and walking you through techniques.

Online components include hosting your own tournaments for up to 16 players, or you can just jump in the ring with other players (filtered, for a better match, if desired). Ghost fighting is also available, which provides an asynchronous match against the statistical shadow of another real-life player.

It’s good. Dead or Alive 5 really is good. There’s no better way to summarise it than that, but as you know, good is not great. It’s just a little too similar to previous iterations that it’s hard to recommend fans rush out to buy it. Another play through Dead or Alive 3 and 4 would probably provide the same level of entertainment, but if you do happen to have a few spare tenners kicking around the place, they could certainly be put to much worse purpose than Dead or Alive 5.

Top Gaming Moment: Knocking the opponent off the edge of a high-rise level with a power blow.

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