Publisher Tecmo and developer Team Ninja?s Dead or Alive 4 is a masterpiece. That?s all you really need to know. You can stop reading now if you want, my first sentence pretty much says all that needs to be said. For those of you that still want to read on, allow me to go into detail as to why I believe this is the best fighter since the original Soul Calibur for the Sega Dreamcast. DoA has everything you would want in a sequel, more characters, smoother gameplay, better graphics, a plot, and so much more. The best thing that Dead or Alive has going for it is that it?s just a blast to play. It?s easy to pick up, difficult to master, and impossible to put down.
Gameplay in DoA4 is very fast and extremely furious. If you?re up against a higher skilled opponent or underestimate the CPU, your fighter will be on his or her butt before you even have a chance to realize the fight has started. So be warned, this game, much like Team Ninja?s Ninja Gaiden for the Xbox is difficult. While DoA certainly doesn?t match NG?s level of frustration, don?t come into this brawler expecting the ease or simplicity of something like Namco?s Tekken. Dead or Alive lacks an easy setting so newcomers or fans that haven?t played a game in the series for a while will probably get schooled during the first hour or so. The characters are well balanced so everyone should be able to find at least one or two fighters to practice and learn with. That?s probably the best strategy if you want to battle other skilled gamers on or offline. Don?t go into a fight thinking you know all the personalities fairly well just from story mode, because you don?t. Pick one or two people and learn all of their moves until they become second nature. You?ll thank me for that advice the first time you go up against a person online who has a rank of A or better. No matter what some may say, this is a game not meant for button mashers, skilled players will win against a button masher 85- 95% of the time.
The button layout feels natural at its default setting thanks to the fantastic 360 controller, but if they are not to your personal liking everything is completely customizable anyway. The controls are very responsive offline with only a small bit of lag online. When you?re online, about once every 6 or 7 fights things may get a little sluggish. Players can also take their choice of moving their characters with either the d-pad or analog stick. This is a welcome edition to the movement restrictions of Dead or Alive 3 which is playable on the 360. There have been some fighting engine upgrades and refinements, and some moves for almost the entire returning cast have changed to keep things fresh. Tecmo hasn?t changed things up so much that you won?t recognize a character?s abilities, but they do realize that you can?t let gameplay get too familiar or static.
The environments are the best ever in a fighting game. The backgrounds feel truly alive with people and animals moving around going about their own business. It?s great to see the crowd reactions on the Las Vegas Strip. Some really small gripes I had about the levels were that it would?ve been nice to have about three to five more arenas. And while the effects like water, dirt, and wild animals looks amazing, it would?ve also been nice if the developers went a step further with the level interactivity. They did such a good job that it made me want more, like something along the lines of what Tao Feng tried to shoot for. I don?t think videogames are at the level where that kind of interactivity would look and play as smooth and realistically as it would need to. Still, it would?ve been nice to have seen if Team Ninja could prove me wrong.
There is an incredibly varied cast of characters in this next installment of Dead or Alive. Favorites such as Ryu, Ayane, Zach, Hitomi, Jan Lee, and Christie return for another tournament only to be joined by new comers such as La Mariposa, Eliot and Nicole. Tecmo really cut down on the copy characters, which is something I?ve almost always hated in fighting games. It would?ve been terrific if some individuals from the Ninja Gaiden game had made an appearance though. How cool would it have been to fight as Rachel, Alma, Murai, or Doku. Again, though, this is just wishful thinking and doesn?t in any way diminish the awesome cast DoA4 already has. Each character has their own unique set of strengths and weaknesses so you always feel like with more practice you can master the game. Nothing ever feels impossible.
Unlockables play an even bigger part in the game than in previous versions. Almost every mode has some kind of unlockable hidden in it which adds greatly to the already monstrous replay value. Extra characters and alternate outfits and colors are still the main draw though. The theater mode, while the easiest hidden feature to unlock, will remain a strong favorite among fans with the phenomenal ending movies Team Ninja has put together. Some are humorous, but most are of a serious nature, and like the in-game graphics, the end cut scenes are perfectly rendered. If these cinemas don?t make you wish Team Ninja would work on a CG Ninja Gaiden or Dead or Alive full length movie, nothing will. One of the factors that works for a DoA movie is that this series has almost always been strong on story plots. They haven?t always come together like people may have hoped, but this version seems to take a large step toward making a fighting game with a real story and purpose. Many of the stories and endings connect so you don?t feel like you?re fighting for no reason, like you may have at times in Mortal Kombat, Tekken, Soul Calibur, and even Virtua Fighter. It would?ve been nice to have seen an opening cinema of the story laid out in the instruction manual, but it still doesn?t detract at all from the game.
One thing that shocked me in the game was how much I liked the camera mode. I never thought I would enjoy taking pictures in a game, but trying to capture just the right moment of action is surprisingly fun. I honestly wanted to take the perfect picture with just the right mix of action and blur effect to show everyone just how gorgeous Dead or Alive 4 is. The blur effect is one thing Tecmo has been hyping a lot. While the blurring doesn?t happen as much in a real time fight as they would lead you to believe, I found that it does happen about once every other fight. But after a while you really won?t be worried about that because there is just so much more fine detail and clarity to this ?part 4?, that you?ll be glad it?s not blurred more often.
The fighting animations are as fluid as they come. Grabs, throws, punches, kicks, and counters (which are still a large part of the game, for better or worse depending on your fighting style) sound and look horribly painful, yet they are done with such smooth and graceful animations you may not mind getting beat to a bloody pulp. This is most evident in characters with over-the-top grabs like Leon, Bass, and La Mariposa. Clothing and hair animate on a whole other level when compared to all other fighters. The shading and lighting especially in environments like Las Vegas, the jungles arenas, and the underground lab are exceptional to say the least.
The backgrounds not only have great animations, but they also have excellent ambience to boot. Car horns, explosions, crumbling walls, crashes, and all types of animal noises help keep the player immersed in the hectic world of Dead or Alive. The shining spot for the audio, though, is and always has been the voice over work from the Japanese actors. The actors voice their characters with such conviction. You just don?t get this kind of angry, hostile voice-overs from American actors, for the most part. The audio quality can?t get any better than this.
Dead or Alive 4 is an amazing feat for a fighting game. Many may say the graphics aren?t as good as they should be, but this is the style of DoA. It?s supposed to have a slight anime vibe to it, and it works to perfection for this title. The action, visuals, story, and sound blend together to make the most complete fighting game in years, and any real fighting fan knows Dead or Alive is no longer the game with all style and no substance. Fans know DoA now has the best of both worlds in regards to fighting games. Other than some wishful thinking and the smallest of nit picks, I seriously can?t think how the amazing developers in Team Ninja could have made a better arcade fighting game. All hail the new king of fighters!