Dead or Alive
There are two things that really stand out in the fighting game Dead or Alive for the PlayStation One. First of all you cannot help but be impressed by the sumptuous graphics, that come a close second to Tekken 3 for title of tastiest looking psx fighter. Secondly, you’ll notice that unlike many other fighting games, this one builds its fighting engine around grabs, reversals and counters.
Oh yes, and all the female characters have enormous breasts.
To be honest, mentioning the chest ornaments of the female fighters in reviews of Dead or Alive is something of a cliché. But what’s a reviewer to do? It’s not like you can ignore them. They are so in your face. Well they are certainly in the fighters’ faces; they bounce up and down so much there must be some severe nipple chafing going on. A good sports bra maybe expensive girls, but you’ll regret not forking out for one in a few years time when your nipples are round your ankles.
Anyway, if we can look past the immense quantity of boobage in this game (and you should really), you’ll discover that this is a slick, fast and surprisingly deep beat ‘em up that is fun for beginners, but also rewards long term play. It also has some flaws that render it not quite the classic it could have been.
There are nine characters to start with and another two to unlock. Each have quite distinct fighting styles. For example Jan Lee uses Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kun Do style, and big brawny Bass and busty brunette Tina are both wrestlers. Ancient Gen Fu uses a kung fu style. Camp Zack is a kick boxer. Mysterious Ryu is a ninja as is the delectable young Kasumi. Top heavy Lei-Fang uses offensive Tai-Chi and Bayman is a pure brawler. The buttons are simple two punch buttons, a kick button and a hold button.
It is the hold button that raises this above the level of a run of the mill fighter. By timing your holds and chaining punches and kicks after a successful grab, you can snatch an opponent’s attack and reverse it back onto them with a powerful counter. The holds can be offensive or defensive. A defensive hold simply grabs and deflects the opponent leaving them off balance and ripe for a follow up attack. An offensive hold actually uses the opponent’s attack momentum against them and you can retaliate with an equally powerful attack in one seamless motion.
This use of counters and reversals does help somewhat in combating button basher syndrome. The simple layout of three attack buttons will mean that a person can whack them quickly and at random and produce a steady string of powerful attacks. But the person in the know, who has taken time to explore the hold system, can immediately reverse these attacks back onto the masher, who will be unable to reverse them back.
It looks great as well. The fighters are very nicely animated and colourful. The various costumes you can unlock for them as you complete arcade mode with them are all very distinctive. The various shouts and yells are good as are the satisfying crunching and thwacking noises you make while fighting. Even the music is quite rockin’ in places! The arenas are fairly bland but they do incorporate an interesting feature. Each fighting area is surrounded by a “Danger Zone”. If you are knocked down in the zone you’ll suffer much more damage, so it can be quite tense when you find yourself being forced back into it.
There isn’t much in the way of extras. There are costumes to unlock and two extra characters. Apart from the usual vs. and arcade modes, there is a training and Kumite mode (like survival mode). There are also some flaws in the game play that prevent it from being a true classic.
First of all, when you play through arcade mode in single player you will always face the same fighters in the same order. So you’ll never get a good fight against Zack (the first one) and you’ll always have a tough fight against Kasumi (penultimate fighter). As some fighters are always better or weaker against others if means completing Arcade can be frustrating with certain characters. Not least because the AI can be very unfair. In the last few fights it will anticipate most of your moves and if you miss any it will throw you. This is where the other main flaw shows itself. The strength of throws is ludicrous! You can have two thirds of your power bar taken off with just one throw. It’s hard to deflect and escape from them as well, so with the computer taking every opportunity to heave you across the screen you can begin to feel very annoyed.
In two-player mode this is less of a problem. But the lack of moves for each character and the slightly generic feel they have renders long term play a little dull after a while. Although there is depth in counter based strategies you can deploy, the basic punches and kicks are workman-like rather than spectacular and the sheer fun of Tekken or Street Fighter’s more eccentric characters and moves is sorely missed. Overall, though, it is still a good fighting game and if you have enjoyed the sequels on the DC/PS2 and Xbox it’s worth checking out to see where it all started.
Most people when they hear the name Dead or Alive mentioned will immediately think of breasts, not game play. Whatever your opinion of the exploitation of mammary glands to sell video games, it’s safe to say Tecmo (the developers) have managed to do it very well. However, it’s also arguable that by emphasizing the ladies love pillows to the extent they have in this and the two sequels they have undermined their claim that the Dead or Alive series can offer a rewarding fighting experience and not just plenty of virtual bosoms to ogle.
Eight out of ten