Dead or Alive 4
Okay, I just started a review with the word “boobs” – life goal number 1784 checked off.
Where was I? Oh yes: boobs; actually, not just boobs, but enormous, inexplicably perky breasts that challenge everything you ever learned in physics class. That’s what the Dead or Alive series has been known for ever since the original was released way back in 1996. And for good reason; Team Ninja director Tomonobu Itagaki has repeatedly made it clear that he loves him some big jugs. He’s also made it clear that he will always, and I mean always, find a way to insert huge, gravity-defying knockers into his games – soccer moms be damned.
That’s why I never used to be a fan of Dead or Alive – the series always seemed to focus more on massive mammaries than on a deep fighting system. You could spend hours and hours honing your skills, only to be schooled by your button-mashing buddy who just started playing five minutes ago. When it came to drunken parties with your casual gamer friends, Dead or Alive games were great, but they just didn’t offer the depth to be much more than that. Until now.
You see, Dead or Alive 4 is a sobering step forward for the series. No longer can you button-mash your way to an easy and ill-deserved victory. No longer can you counter virtually every move in the game with a push of a button. No longer do the female pugilists have gargantuan hooters that make a mockery of Newton’s famous law (okay, that last one’s a lie – the teats are still out of control in this game). If you put in the time to master a particular fighter, you will be rewarded by being able to make your novice buddies look ridiculously bad (which makes sense, because they are ridiculously bad). Itagaki and his underlings at Team Ninja have finally given their crowned jewel a winning personality to match that beautiful, busty body.
So how did Tecmo’s development crew pull this off? First of all, they fixed the broken reversal system featured in Dead or Alive 3. In DOA3, counters are pulled off by simultaneously tapping the d-pad away from your opponent (either straight back, or diagonally up or down) and the free button. This is too simple. In Dead or Alive 4, high attacks, low attacks, midrange punches, and midrange kicks all have different reversals, so you really have to know your opponent’s move set and tendencies before you can start countering with any kind of consistency. Also, for advanced players, dazes and juggles are now much easier to set-up and execute. In previous DOA games, bouts usually consist of quick three to five hit combos and a lot of reversals. In DOA4, longer combos are much more common, especially by skilled players who know which moves can be used to incapacitate their opponent and setup another devastating chain of attacks. That said, the cheesy infinite combos that marred DOA3 have been thankfully removed.
The core gameplay isn’t the only improved aspect of Dead or Alive 4 – the three new fighters all feature varied move sets and dazzling animations, the CG endings are all Square/Enix quality (though some border dangerously close to being soft-core porn), and the online mode now offers purchasable lobbies, avatars, and other goodies. Oh, and if you’re a Halo nut like me, you’ll go gaga over the inclusion of Nicole – a fully armored and absolutely gorgeously rendered Spartan, and the only female character without gigantic, bouncing melons (though, knowing Team Ninja, I’d bet money that she’s packing double D’s underneath that Mjolnir armor).
“Itagaki and his underlings at Team Ninja have finally given their crowned jewel a winning personality to match that beautiful, busty body.”Naturally, if you don’t have friends readily available to beat up on, you can keep yourself busy unlocking costumes and achievements via the game’s Time Attack, Survival, and Story modes, but there’s a catch: DOA4 features arguably the cheapest, most unoriginal fighting game boss ever. Her name is Alpha-152 and she will rock your world. Nothing more than a blue metallic palette-swap of Kasumi with enormous, shiny ballistics (that was fine a decade ago with Virtua Fighter, but come on…), she is virtually unstunable, can teleport anywhere, and can kill you in two hits. Yes, two. Her presence really hurts the Time Attack mode, because, if you plan on uploading your times with Xbox Live or unlocking costumes, you must win two out of three matches against her.
Case-in-point: the other day I was playing the Time Attack mode with Christie in order to unlock a secret character. I beat the first seven fighters in six minutes, which is respectable considering I’m a complete Christie newbie. The eighth and final match was against Alpha-152. It took me twenty-seven minutes to down her. If you thought Tekken 5’s Jinpachi was cheap, you’ll be weeping like a six-year-old girl after five minutes with Alpha-152.
But enough about the bad; let’s get back to the good – as you would expect from developer Team Ninja, DOA4’s visuals are absolutely amazing. Characters are all fluidly animated and meticulously detailed; though that’s not to say they look photorealistic. This is no Gears of War; each character model has a certain plastic-ness in its appearance that makes the game look more like a CG video come to life than an actual emulation of reality. Does that matter? Not at all. The fluid animation, smart character design, and realistic physics (save for the ladies’ massive, yet impossibly sprightly jumblies) all combine to create one fantastic – if a bit sterile – looking game.
Team Ninja also deserves special praise for creating some of the best environments in a fighting game to date. You get to duke it out in such locales as Kyoto during cherry blossom season, an African savannah, The Strip in Las Vegas, and even a dinosaur-filled tropical shoreline. The interactivity in each of these stages is unprecedented – the Vegas stage is especially noteworthy as it has you fighting in the street as cars speed by, occasionally crashing into you or your opponent (or both of you at the same time) for significant damage. Fans of Team Ninja’s Ninja Gaiden should be tickled to see that game’s ninja fortress (from the first level) included, complete with a revolving door which sends you out to the stunning torch lit exterior.
DOA4’s music is a uniformly above-average mix of heavy guitar riffs and trance, with a few standout tracks such as “Sorrow,” “Blazed up Melpomene,” and “Russian Roulette.” Halo 2’s “Halo Theme MJOLNIR Mix” has been included as the stage music for Nicole, and as any Halo connoisseur should know, the song is a classic. Of course, if you’ve come to expect your DOA games to feature Steven Tyler’s trademark lyrical stylin’ on the microphone, you won’t be disappointed, as Aerosmith’s “Amazing” graces the game’s credit roll, and the more old-school “Eat the Rich” plays during the kick-ass opening montage. Also, Tecmo decided to get rid of English dubbing this time around, and honestly, is anyone really going to miss quotes like, “Don’t be a smart ass” or “Wrestling is the BADDEST!” Consider the Japanese-only voice work to be a blessing.
Dead or Alive games used to be all about huge, bouncing breasts and overly simplistic, easy to pick up gameplay. No longer. DOA shall henceforth be known for huge, bouncing breasts and a refined and deep fighting system. If you were a DOA fan before, nothing should stop you from enjoying Team Ninja’s latest installment; just be prepared to put in significantly more time mastering the more complex gameplay elements. Though, your efforts will be greatly rewarded this time around.
Oh, and for the sake of consistency, I’m going to end this review with the word “boobs;” it’ll make this article a “boob sandwich,” if you will (I can just see Itagaki reclining back in his office chair, soft porn manga in hand, nodding his approval). This one’s for you Itagaki: