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Dead or Alive 5 Plus Review

by on March 21, 2013

Game: Dead or Alive 5 Plus

Developer: Team Ninja

Publisher: Tecmo Koei

Available on: PlayStation Vita only

After a slow, bumpy start, the PlayStation Vita has steadily been gathering pace over the last few months as more and more developers get behind Sony’s handheld. Games like Uncharted: Golden Abyss and LittleBigPlanet show what the West can do, while titles like Ragnarok Odyssey and EDF 2017 Portable fly the flag for the East. Like its big brother the PlayStation 3, the Vita is beginning to develop a sizeable and varied games catalogue that is really making it a console worth owning.

Interestingly, while it has its share of decent exclusives, some of the best games available for the Vita are enhanced ports of existing titles. Ninja Gaiden Sigma, Mortal Kombat and Need for Speed have all been carried over successfully, and the cross-play system is a great way to utilise the Vita’s flexibility. The latest home console hit to receive the Vita treatment is Team Ninja’s Dead or Alive 5 – but does it work as well on the handheld wonder-toy as it does on the big screen?

STORY: Taking place several years after the events of the last game, Dead or Alive 5 Plus has a divergent storyline that follows two separate paths. The first focuses on ninja Kasumi and the pursuit of her powerful clone, Alpha-152. Aided by DOATEC’s new CEO Helena Douglas and fellow Ninja Hayate (but pursued by his sister Ayane), Kasumi’s story takes her all over the world and into an awful lot of fights with an awful lot of people, several of whom are protagonists of the secondary storyline.

In the other narrative, DJ Zack – now employed by Helena to help reinvigorate and positively publicise a reformed DOATEC – travels the globe recruiting fighters for the 5th Dead or Alive Tournament, which mostly involves fighting them or watching them fight. The storylines converge at certain points, but remain mostly separate all the way through to the climax when it all goes a bit bombastic. There are even a handful of eleventh hour twists to keep you guessing.

Although in a similar vein to the multi-viewpoint narrative employed in NetherRealm Studio’s Mortal Kombat, the DoA5 plot feels a little disjointed at times, and the writing, while serviceable, is as hammy as the voice acting. Thankfully, then, it’s one of the least important elements in the overall package.

GRAPHICS: DoA5+ looks slick and beautiful on the Vita’s HD screen, losing none of the PlayStation 3 version’s graphical fidelity. The fighters move fluidly and gracefully, each having fully grown into their individual styles over the course of the franchise so far. Character models are as polished as ever, and if you can get past the “controversial” boob physics, you’ll see that the character design is uniformally excellent. Cutscenes run on the game’s engine so, while they never look as flashy as they could, they retain a constant aesthetic.

Some of the environments are absolutely stunning and, as many span several levels or areas, they’re hugely varied. The use of lighting outdoors – particularly in the South American jungle – is great, and the pretty arenas far outweigh the odd eye-sore (the DoA Tournament arena, for example, is a fairly ugly stage).

SOUND: The soundtrack to Dead or Alive 5 Plus is nothing if not comprehensive. A huge array of tracks are available from pretty much every entry in the series, and each one can be played over any fight. How much this matters depends on your tolerance for J-Rock and relentless guitars, but you certainly can’t fault the variety on offer.

Character-specific sound effects are par for the course, presenting the usual assortment of grunts, groans, roars, shouts and whimpers as you beat each other senseless. The voice-acting borders on horrendous throughout, though, and really does cross the line into “so bad it’s good” territory from the get-go. This being DoA, a particular character’s country of origin has no bearing at all on their voice, hence “British” fighter Eliot sounding like Justin Bieber, for example. Of course, as with the over-arcing plot, such things don’t really matter, in a way. No one is buying Dead or Alive games for the deep and meaningful narrative, and so the story and acting are perfectly fine as they are, serving as more than adequate framework around lots and lots of fighting.

GAMEPLAY: The gameplay has seen no significant overhauls from the PS3 incarnation, aside an improved training mode and the addition of Touchscreen Fighting. This gimmicky, mini-game-style mode allows you to hold the Vita vertically and swipe the screen to punch and kick, or pinch the screen to throw. Being totally honest, it’s not very good, and feels like something you’d find cheap in the App Store. It’s not particularly responsive and its very nature goes against the series’ trademark finesse.

Thankfully, the actual brawling is as finely-tuned as ever, delivering arguably the best pure fighting experience on the Vita. The rock-paper-scissors triangular interruption system (where a strike beats a hold, a hold beats a throw, and a throw beats a strike) aligned with the counter-attacks and the huge variety of combos and special moves create an incredibly deep brawler that’s simple enough to pick up and play at Rookie level, but a real challenge to truly master.

Although the story has you taking over individual characters in a pre-determined order to advance the narrative, DoA5+ is not a game built for generalising. It’s a game designed for the player who picks two or three favourite fighters and learns every single move in their roster until side-stepping, countering and linking devastating combos has become second nature. For me it will always be assassin Christie, Ninja Gaiden’s Ryu Hyabusa, and drunken master Brad Wong, but there’s a soft spot in my heart now for new girl Mila, a mixed martial artist who feels like a balance between Zack the kickboxing DJ and wrestler Tina Armstrong.

Off-line game modes include versus mode, Time Attack, Survival and a massive practice mode including full Command Training that will take you through every character’s entire roster, and a comprehensive tutorial that allows you to practice specific moves such as counters and holds until you’re getting them right every time.

Multiplayer modes are of a similar bent, and even if you’re not up for going online (either via the internet or using the Vita’s ad-hoc connectivity) you can upload every fight result to the online leaderboards and compete that way. In the case of most fighting games I’d suggest that you’d have to go online to get the most out of the experience but, while that’s certainly the element that will give DoA5+ its legs in the long run, the solo campaign is deep enough to keep you playing for hours and hours without every facing off against a real person.

Guest characters from Virtua Fighter such as Sarah and Akira integrate perfectly with the standard roster, although certain characters have been removed (notably Leon and Ein, whose similarities in style to Bayman and Hayate render them largely redundant). It’s worth noting that Plus also ships with unlockable characters Gen-Fu and Alpha-152 immediately playable. There might be nothing new here in terms of the actual gameplay, but it’s a such a huge package that the Vita version in particular is incredible value for money. It’s worth mentioning that you’ve also got the option to save progress on either the PS3 or Vita version and continue playing on the other machine, meaning there’s reason to own this edition even if you already have the PlayStation 3 version.

LONGEVITY: Completionists will have a field day unlocking the ridiculous amount of costumes (with many more available as DLC – which can be used on the Vita even if you’ve only previously downloaded it on the PS3) for each character, and there are 568 “Titles” to unlock that are awarded for anything from completing arcade mode with a specific character to performing a certain move a number of times. Along with the plethora of game modes both online and off, the unlockable costumes and Titles add heaps of play time, making DoA5+ a huge and arresting package.

VERDICT: Dead or Alive 5 is a brilliant game on the PlayStation 3, but it’s even better on the Vita. Ignore the hokey story and cringe-worthy voice-acting and focus instead on the fighting itself, and the wealth of modes and content will keep you hooked for weeks. It’s a shame that the new Touch Fight system feels like a pointless gimmick, as the rest of the game is hugely enjoyable.

It may not be the most technically-proficient fighter and it may be showing its age in more ways than one, but Dead or Alive 5+ is one of the most impressive fighters on the Vita in terms of instant playability and sheer value for money. This is the best available version of a great game, and worthy of your money and attention.

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