Team Ninja sure is making up for lost time. After a seven-year hiatus, the developer re-entered the fighting-game arena with the 3D brawler "Dead or Alive 5" in 2012. One year later, the sequel is here: "Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate." This version for Xbox 360 and PS3 takes the original game and adds fan-favorite characters from "Virtua Fighter," "Ninja Gaiden" and the "DoA" games, as well as new environments and features, such as enhanced online gameplay. There's no shortage of ways to pummel your friends in this frenetic fighter, but is it worth $40 to get back in the ring?
Playing fighting games for the story is oftentimes as rewarding as looking for fresh fruit on a dead tree, but Team Ninja has always woven a decent narrative around its stable of fighters. The story mode in "Ultimate" is lifted directly from the original "Dead or Alive 5," which has players take control of different fighters based on the mission at hand.
To sum up a somewhat confusing plot, the game is centered around the DOATEC corporation, which was formerly run by series villain Donovan. Now under the leadership of "DoA" heroine Helena, DOATEC hosts yet another "Dead or Alive" tournament that attracts the attention of all of the series' main fighters, each of whom has his or her own personal motivation for entering the fight. Meanwhile, Donovan is still at large doing bad-guy things, and core protagonist Kasumi is on the hunt for her evil clone.
The cutscenes in Ultimate's story mode are fully voiced, though you shouldn't expect any Oscar-worthy performances. An early scene has characters Bass and Rig engaging in fisticuffs because Rig simply insulted Bass' motorcycle. Many fights start this way in the "Dead or Alive 5" story, and the situations are so campy that you'd be hard-pressed not to crack a smile.
Despite the goofy and sometimes convoluted nature of the story mode, "Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate" is one of the only fighters to offer a full-on single-player campaign, which will please those who'd like to do more than throw punches at their friends.
Gameplay and Modes
The "Dead or Alive" series has always rested on the accessible end of a genre known for being hardcore and competitive. At its core, the game only requires the use of four buttons: Punch, Kick, Guard and Throw. Counter moves have long been a staple of the "DoA" formula, and are performed by pressing the Guard button and a specific directional input as soon as the opponent attacks. The Power Blow has returned from the original "Dead or Alive 5," allowing gamers to charge up devastating attacks and hurl their opponent toward specific parts of the stage, while the all-new Power Launcher sends the opposing character high into the air for long juggle combos.
Team Ninja supplemented Story mode with a variety of other ways to play the game. Arcade mode sends gamers through a classic ladder of CPU opponents, while Survival mode has you taking on as many foes as possible with a single life bar. Both modes can be played with one character or with a tag team of two.
Returning to the franchise from "Dead or Alive 4" is Team Battle mode, which allows for seamless 7-on-7 throwdowns in which a new warrior jumps into the battle as soon as his or her teammate is defeated, until there's one team left standing. For those who want to truly master "DoA," the game has a robust Training mode that allows you to practice combos and view detailed information on each character's moves — a feature carried over from "Dead or Alive 5 Plus" for the PlayStation Vita. Once you've honed your skills, you can take the fight online in both solo and tag matches.
If you're the competitive type who'd rather not spend time unlocking characters, rest assured that the entire cast of "Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate" is playable out of the box. This includes the original game's 24-character roster with series staples such as Kasumi, Ayane and Hayabusa, as well as "Virtua Fighter" guest characters Akira, Pai and Sarah.
Team Ninja has added five new warriors to "Ultimate" who are sure to satisfy a few niches. Nimble ninja Momiji and dominatrix warrior Rachel from the "Ninja Gaiden" franchise both have entered the fray, while Jeet Kune Do fighter Jacky Bryant joins his "Virtua Fighter" co-stars. As a treat for old-school fans, Team Ninja included classic characters Ein and Leon, who haven't traded blows with the "DoA" cast since 2005's "Dead or Alive 4."
The "DoA" franchise has been turning heads with its visuals since 1999's "Dead or Alive 2," and this latest installment holds up the series' graphical legacy. "Ultimate" boasts some of the richest facial details in fighting games, as we noticed individual beads of sweat rolling down the dirt-covered faces of our fighters after a match. Combos flow more fluidly than ever, even when we switched between combatants on the fly during tag battles. "Dead or Alive" is ainfamous for its bouncy, chesty female warriors, and if that floats your boat, you'll be pleased with the eye candy.
The fully interactive environments in "Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate" are as silky and attractive as the warriors who fight within them. One shining example is the Flow stage, which pits fighters on an enclosed wooden platform that's traveling down a massive jungle river before reaching a waterfall. There's always something happening in the background in "Dead or Alive," and fighters have frequent opportunities to knock their opponents through walls and off ledges.
Koei Tecmo included five new stages for "Ultimate," each with its own unique theme and play style. Among the new backdrops are the lush, autumn-themed Forest; Sky City Tokyo, which has a moving Buddha statue enter the arena midfight; and the sunny Lost World, which allows players to knock each other off a never-ending series of grass-and-stone platforms while waterfalls pour out in the background. Beating people up has never been so serene.
Interface and Features
"Ultimate" has virtually the same interface as its "Dead or Alive 5" predecessor. Menus are sleek and easy to navigate, and the game has a variety of options for customizing the experience. Players can set their own music for every stage and menu screen, including a variety of tunes from previous "DoA" titles. There's an option for a dynamic Casual camera mode that zooms in during big combos, while the Pro mode will stay steady, which comes in handy for those who want to focus on their performance.
In a console age dominated by in-game purchases, "Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate" manages to offer a ton of built-in content for free. Whether or not you like the fact that all of the characters are unlocked from the start (we personally enjoyed being able to jump right in), there is still a bevy of items to unlock through hours of gameplay. Each returning fighter has received new costumes for "Ultimate," and many of the DLC packs from "DoA5" have been included for free, including the China Pack and Fighter Pack.
There are 231 costumes in total, most of which are unlocked by beating arcade mode with individual characters at varying difficulties. Players returning from "Dead or Alive 5" will be able to enjoy all of the outfits they've already purchased or unlocked.
"Ultimate" beefs up the online offerings of "Dead or Alive 5" with several new features. Two friends can now team up online and take on the world in tag battles. Tag matches can also be played as ranked battles, meaning online brawlers can put their points and reputation on the line.
The online component of "Ultimate" was designed with competitive players in mind, as new grades and a new point system have been added to the mix. While online rankings in "Dead or Alive 5" range from F to S+, "Ultimate" takes it up a notch with a "U" grade for those who seek the top of the online leaderboards. Team Ninja has also added a Character Points system that allows gamers to earn points on an individual-character basis and show off how skilled they are with their fighter of choice.
Rounding out the online updates is the new Prize Fighter system, which allows gamers to enjoy large point bonuses after going on long winning streaks. As with unlocked content, all of your "Dead or Alive 5" online data will carry over to "Ultimate."
When we tested the netcode on Xbox Live during the game's prerelease period, online matches were smooth, with almost no noticeable connection lag. However, this is all subject to change when more players start connecting to battle friends and rivals online.
With the franchise's largest roster yet and a multitude of ways to play both online and offline, "Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate" is a satisfying update to the "DoA" experience, for just $40. The game provides an affordable jumping-on point for those looking to get into the series, and hardcore tournament players will likely spend hours digging into the new characters and stages via the improved Training mode. However, casual fans content with last year's copy of "Dead or Alive 5" might not want to buy another game so soon. "Ultimate" won't be playable on the upcoming Xbox One and PlayStation 4, but it sure helps the current generation of consoles go out with a bang.
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Developer: Team Ninja
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3