Xbox owners should rejoice, because the holidays came a little early this year. Imagine getting essentially two quality titles for the price of one. Then imagine if those titles are remakes of classic fighting games that have extremely loyal followings. Finally, wrap all of that up with one of the best online modes ever created. Thanks to Tomonobu Itagaki and the graphical wizards of Team Ninja, fighting fans will be able to experience the Dead of Alive world in a completely new way. Grab a controller and get ready to call next, because we’re throwing down in Dead or Alive Ultimate.
As I alluded to, DOAU is a title comprised of two remakes: the original Dead or Alive title from the Saturn and its sequel, Dead or Alive II from the PS2. Obviously, repackaging these titles into a collection and putting it on the shelf would be enough for some companies. Itagaki and Team Ninja decided that wasn’t enough, literally returning to the drawing board and adding new secrets, costumes and other features to both games. The result is that both games feel fresher, albeit DOA II has definitely received the lion’s share of upgrades.
The original DOA, while graphically smoother and a little less blocky than its Saturn counterpart, hasn’t really been completely upgraded as much as it could’ve been. To that end, you’re pretty much getting the original title as is, with only a few secrets thrown in here or there, along with an online component to extend its shelf life (which I’ll mention later). Hardcore DOA-ers or players interested in nostalgia will probably check out the disc that holds the original title, but for the most part, this comes across more like a mild distraction or minor inclusion than a fully fleshed out remake.
This becomes apparent when you note the changes and graphical upgrades made to DOA II. First of all, every single arena in the game has been visually augmented in some way to match the newer levels that’ve been included. What’s more, each level has essentially become classified as one of two kinds of fighting grounds. There are walled in, enclosed spaces that are somewhat confining, but allow plenty of rebound attacks from characters being flung into walls. These are contrasted with the two and three level stages, where fighters can be thrown from incredible heights through objects, walls or ledges to the ground below. What’s more, you’re no longer restricted to specific sections to hurl opponents from (in certain stages). It’s now possible to launch people from two or more areas, making a player’s tactics during a fight even more important to avoid these damaging attacks.
Granted, you could simply block incoming blows from opponents. But the DOA series has always prided itself on the inclusion of reversals as part of its fighting system. DOAU is no different, allowing potential reversals of just about every single attack. If you time it just right, you’ll counter the incoming blow and dish out a ton of damage to your opponent. If you screw up the timing, however, you leave yourself wide open to a brutal counterattack that can be launched against you. Choosing to use these defensive maneuvers and when to attack is part of the beauty of the fighting system of the game. Outside of the reversals and throws through objects and off stage levels, the game is basically broken down into a basic punch/kick scheme, with directional commands and strung together button presses acting as combos. Deceptively, this may seem to be incredibly simple, and that actually serves to attract newcomers to the game. In fact, button mashers love the fact that you can pick up the game and be relatively successful at the game by randomly pulling off a number of moves. They’ll even be able to beat decent players every now and then. In reality, skilled players who spend time becoming accustomed to the fighting scheme are truly dangerous gamers, who’ll be able to pull off any one of the seventy or so moves for each character. It’s entirely possible to see masterful DOA players spot other gamers a sizable amount of damage inflicted on their characters, only to come back and masterfully crush their opposition.
This actually brings me to the impressive online feature of the game, which is a great way to test your skills against anyone on Xbox Live. Previously I wrote about just how stable and incredible Mortal Kombat: Deception’s fighting mechanics were, even claiming it to be one of the best online titles out there. Hell, DOAU’s online scheme actually puts Deception’s features to shame. First of all, there is absolutely no lag whatsoever. NONE. I’ve played a ton of games online, and never once experienced a hiccup, stutter in connection speed or any other problem with any of the included game modes. Secondly, players are able to join lobbies that can hold up to eight players and take them on in one of six game modes: Survival (where “champs” take on everyone else in the room until they fall), Tournament (either single or tag team matches), Team Battle (where players join teams and take on opponents to see who’s the best around), Winner Stays (like old school arcade rules), Loser Stays (which is really more for beginners to learn the game) and Kumite (where a champion stays and constantly takes on all challengers regardless of they win or lose).
Players will be able to determine any number of features for a round, with the other gamers in the lobby able to observe the fight and remain in constant voice chat throughout. What’s more, you’ll get ranked on your progress, starting at C and working your way up. You’d better believe that those gamers with the higher grades have definitely battled their way to those positions by logging a lot of time fighting. I managed to make it to B, only to go up against five As and find my progress quickly get battered down to C level. Online play also extends to the original DOA, so nostalgic gamers or players that want to get their classic arcade game on can really go old school.
Aside from online play, the offline game has included a number of modes including Time Attack, Survival, Tag Battle, Team Battle, Versus, Sparring and Watch. Most of these features will keep you occupied for some amount of time, although the Story Mode will probably attract the most attention from gamers. Story Mode, although short, unlocks the most secrets within the game, including characters and additional costumes. There are an absurd number of costumes that can be found within the game for each character…We’re talking about Santa Kasumi, Cat Girl Helena and Bikini Ayane, amongst other outlandish, impractical or extreme clothes to wear in a fight. Considering how “bouncy” the ladies can be, some of these outfits will attract more attention than you might ever expect.
As I said before, DOAU does feature some visually striking images since Team Ninja smoothed out some of the rougher edges in both games. Yeah, DOA does look a bit cleaner than it ever did before, but it’s not a radical change to the game. Take a look at DOA II, however, and you’ll be truly impressed at the graphical change. Character models look much larger than they ever did before, with cleaner animations and much better environmental detail. The destruction that can be wreaked on each arena is incredible. From the amount of particles that shatter and disperse from broken objects to background animation (freaking hippos and elephants on the African Savannah!), DOAU is a very attractive title. When you throw in the progressive scan support, you’ve got a title that will easily appeal to plenty of gamers.
Sound is perhaps one of the weakest parts of the game, primarily because it really hasn’t progressed since that of the original titles. While the inclusion of Aerosmith’s “Dream On” is a nice introduction for DOA II, the cutscene that accompanies it is way too long and the track really seems out of place. Point being, you really don’t see why it’s included considering that there’s no other licensed music in the game itself. The other tracks found are the same ones from DOA and DOA II, and there’s no option to change voiceover to English instead of Japanese. Overall, it’s pretty disappointing given the amount of attention paid to the graphics.
This is similar to what I said earlier about some of the game’s shortcomings, such as the inclusion of the original title that feels somewhat lackluster. Aside from this issue and the limited duration of the story mode, one of the largest issues that you may find with the title is the unbalanced strength of reversals and throws off ledges. Both of these features can strip away a third of an opponent’s energy or more, easily making some battles unfairly skewed. For instance, it’s possible to completely destroy a fighter if you launch them down the Great Wall stairs after flinging them through a wall. You’d simply have to breathe on them to make them lose a round.
If you’re looking for a solid fighting game however, Dead or Alive Ultimate is a fine choice for brawling enthusiasts. You get the original DOA title, but the level of detail and the amount of attention paid to DOA II is more than worth the price you’ll spend for the game. Plus, it has the best online play of any fighting title on the market. If you dig fighting, you’ll really like Dead or Alive Ultimate.