Game review: Dead or Alive 5

First, some context for this review of the fifth iteration of Team Ninja and Tecmo’s popular fighting game featuring breasts with humans attached.

I consider myself to be a casual dabbler of the genre. Not a fan, but open minded enough to partake in pummelling ridiculously dressed characters with convoluted martial arts. My first ever experience with the genre was as a young boy making an hour-long trek by foot to the nearest fish and chip shop to watch older teens play Street Fighter at the arcade machine.

Soon enough I was playing its sequel on the SNES, among other games like Double Dragon, Golden Axe, Mortal Kombat, etc. Back then I had moderate skills, but as I got older I found myself more interested in games with narrative, and now at my age I find memorising moves a hassle.

My favourite fighting game is the last one I played, last year:  Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2. Being a fan of the manga and anime helps, but I think it’s a great game for both casuals and hardcore fans of the genre. It has relatively few buttons and triggers to fiddle around with, yet has depth with the chakra system and kawarimi ninja technique to inspire technically-minded players.

Technically minded being the operative word. Dead or Alive 5 seems right up their alley, and not mine. I prefer an alley with simple controls and an interesting world. Whereas this metaphorical alley is complicated and requires you to navigate around it with copious amounts of button mashing worthy of Olympic-level coordination.

You’ve got punch, kick, throw and hold, in a patented triangle system. Punch and kick = strike. Strikes are beaten by holds, which are beaten by throws, which are beaten by strikes. It’s a nice concept, but gameplay can become so frenzied, it can go all out the window in a flash.

doa5_dlc_milaThe story is useless fluff with occasionally amusing moments, half the time unintentional. It’s basically one long montage of random scenes in random locations around the world with characters uttering a few lines and then fighting each other. Zero character development. There’s more depth in their silly outfits than their personalities. I know, you’re thinking “why bother critique characters and story in a beat ’em up?”

Because Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2, that’s why.

DOA5 is based around a tournament, yet the fights are fragmented, and the last few rounds, including the finale itself, are so rushed, so lacklustre, and feels so anticlimactic, I almost wondered if I’d imagined the previous hours to get there. Even the winner of DOA5 can’t be bothered to celebrate, the whole thing is a non-event overshadowed by a ninja clan’s grudge with a boring unseen villain.

What the game has going for it is smooth gameplay and body movement. I especially liked the way characters introduce themselves and how they react to losing, huffing and puffing dejectedly. It’s one of those rare games where the English voice acting is better than the Japanese, as it’s just the right level of cheesy, whereas Japanese actors tend to treat the material more seriously. Absolutely great in most cases, but with Dead or Alive, the whole thing is a joke and should be treated as such. I’m also wondering if Japanese games are ever going to represent African-Americans as anything other than caricatures? It’s painful to watch. (Sazh from Final Fantasy XIII was ok I guess)

doa_5_christieThe game has the typical modes you’d expect: story (hah!), versus, training, arcade, score attack, survival, tag team, and online. Online players can interrupt you in arcade, versus and training modes to invite you for a fight, but as of writing this review the system is still buggy. In fact, at the time of writing I’ve barely been able to fight a handful of people in ranked matches, its either empty out there or the matchmaking sucks. Haven’t had such a lame multiplayer experience since Activision’s underrated Blur.

What differentiated DOA from its competition was not only the female characters with animated breasts, but the environment they fought in, being thrown from one part of a level to another. However in DOA5 all of the levels are criminally mediocre, and there’s barely any interactivity, other than being thrown into an object and it breaking away. There’s a few instances where you can power blow someone into a helicopter, but that’s about it. Boring landscapes devoid of vitality and excitement, it’s just disappointing.

I was really hoping for more in this area. The ability to not just fight someone one on one, but having to survive an imploding structure at the same time would have made for exciting times, but as it stands the interactivity is just an illusion.

DOA5 is a competent fighting game that’s more concerned with pandering to leering male teens, obsessed with purchasing multiple costume DLC for the big-buxomed female characters. There can be some enjoyment had in the fighting, successfully countering an attack using the triangle system, or carrying out a tag team throw is neat, but it can only sustain your interest for so long.

My first impression of the game was a humorous take on the breast-physics, but now having played the game, it seems less humorous and actually disconcerting. It really does seem Team Ninja were more concerned with satisfying the leering fanboys than improving their fighting franchise.

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