Thursday, March 21, 2013

Review: Dead or Alive 5 Plus (Vita)

Kasumi from Dead or Alive
Every so often I have to admit that I get a review wrong. When I reviewed Dead or Alive 5 on the PlayStation 3, I’d plugged about 30 hours into it, and while I enjoyed it, it didn’t quite hook into me like I wanted it to.

But this was one of the few fighting games that my various friends and family enjoyed, and so I found myself continuing to play it well after the review was finished (in fact I still play it to this days). The game properly “clicked” with me about the 50 hour mark, and now 200 hours in I can safely say that it is my most played - and favourite - fighting game ever.

So lucky I have the Playstation Vita enhanced version to remedy that previous review then, isn’t it?

But first. I am still, all these months later, not entirely sold on the aesthetic changes Tecmo Koei made to its iconic characters for this game. Contrary to protests from certain circles of ‘fans’ I’m not talking about the more natural breast physics that found their way into the game (though it amused me to see an option in the Vita game to pander to these ‘fans’ by allowing the series’ traditionally exaggerated cleavage animation). No, I’m talking about the more human appearance of the characters.

Previous to Dead or Alive 5 the characters looked more like porcelain dolls than real people, and this was in my opinion a wise move as dehumanising them made the way over-the-top sexuality that the series is known for comical and closer to social satire than anything titillating. The more realistic-looking people in this game no longer gel with the humourous animations and environments, and now the game’s various bikini and playboy bunny costumes feel more voyeuristic than amusing. It’s all a little too serious and earnest for its own good.

The big new game mode that found its way into the Vita game - a first-person ‘tap and swipe to attack’ mobile-phone style minigame - does little more than reinforce my opinion on this. The game itself works well, but it’s only amusing for the first couple of plays and seems to serve no real purpose in the game than allowing players to get a close-up look at the Dead or Alive girl’s skirts flying around. While it seems unlikely that there will ever be another Dead or Alive Beach Volleyball game... I’m not sure it’s even needed any longer. Again, it would have been amusing if the characters looked like the plastic figurines sold at Anime shops in Japan. But gunning for the uncanny valley effect makes this mode, and the game in general, seem to be pushing a little too hard a little too often for raunchy, and falling flat in the process.

That aside, for people who are interested in the actual fighting mechanics, the Vita game plays wonderfully, and is a perfect replication of the PS3 game. The same focus on executing counters and carefully timing attacks is there in this game and while it takes a few dozen hours to master any single character in the game, there’s a comprehensive tutorial mode that allows players to really break down what they’re doing. Of all the fighting games I’ve played this one’s training mode must be the most granular and so therefore the effective of them all. Tecmo Koei has been slowly but surely building this series into one that serious fighting game fans can get into, and with Dead or Alive 5 they’ve hit the nail on the head. It’s not as instantly accessible as previous games in the series, but it is far more rewarding over the long term.


As someone who has plugged a lot of time into the game it’s great being able to drop into online fights (which work wonderfully well, for the record. I’ve been able to play with overseas people with minimal lag) and comprehensively beat people who button-mash. I’m by no means an expert in fighting games, and I don’t really know (or care about) the technical specifics in making a good fighting game. What I do know is that I find the combo trees of Dead or Alive 5 rewarding, and I do beat less experienced players. That tells me that it’s a balanced experience and a skill-based fighting game, and that is enough for me.

It’s not just the combat and online experience that Tecmo Koei have brought over to Dead or Alive 5 flawlessly. The game looks exactly the same as it does on my big HD TV. That’s cheating a little because the Vita’s screen is smaller and so the game gets away with having more rough edges than its console big brother, but I literally held my Vita up next to my TV and I noticed virtually no change in quality. Backgrounds look gorgeous, the character models are fluid, and overall this is one of the finest looking games on the Vita, and proof that it is indeed able to handle PS3-quality games.

Virtually none of the features have been dropped out of the game either. The story mode is lengthy and visually spectacular even if it’s not a masterwork in storytelling. There’s plenty of offline single-player modes and there’s Facebook and online leaderboards to complement the online fighting. Tag-team mode has been dropped and that’s somewhat disappointing because tag-team did introduce additional strategies and movesets on the PlayStation 3 version of the game, but I’m sure Tecmo Koei had its reasons. This is anything but a lazy port.

I was also very impressed with the lengths that Tecmo Koei has gone to to give its fans a reason to want to buy this game again. While the aforementioned additional first-person fighting mode falls a little flat on its face, the game fully supports cross-play and any DLC that a player had bought for the PlayStation 3 version is redownloadable for free. Given that Dead or Alive 5’s DLC cost more than the actual game, it’s good to see Tecmo Koei not try to gouge the most dedicated fans.

This is the perfect handheld fighting game. It’s a near-precise copy of the PlayStation 3 game with a couple of extra bells and whistles thrown in for good measure. As a result this is a game that is as worthwhile for console players as series newcomers. Having Hitomi in the pocket just can’t be beat.



- Matt S
Find me on Twitter: @DigitallyDownld
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