Did you know that it’s not even been a year since Dead or Alive 5 was released? That’s a speedy turn around by any stretch of the imagination (Capcom must be giving Team Ninja jealous eyes), so it’s perhaps unsurprising that Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate feels less like a new game, and more like patch, character, stage and cosmetic DLC all rolled out on a retail disc.
Just load it up and feel the wave of familiarity. Dip into story mode and enjoy the same narrative. Load up arcade mode, select Christie, and feel the same weighty interpretation of the Dead or Alive combat system and lovely stage variety that defined last year’s release.
This is still the same offence-driven, counter-heavy fighter it was last year. Still the same punch, kick, and hold three button system. Still the same over-sized female proportions. Those expecting Ultimate to fix any major issues they had with Dead or Alive 5 may as well look for another brawler as Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate still champions its predecessor’s style, just with a number of tweaks and extras.
In terms of big, in your face additions the five extra characters will strike first. Ein and Leon return from DoAs of old, Momiji and Rachel finally make their transfer from Ninja Gaiden, and Virtua Fighter’s Jacky Bryant joins Akira, Sarah and Pai to represent SEGA’s comparable fighter. Alongside these faces there is a similar number of new stages, all of which are visually impressive and come with some nice quirks. If that’s not enough, Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate does do more than just that, thankfully.
For starters, Ultimate adds a lengthy tutorial mode (which expands on the feature introduced with Dead or Alive 5 Plus). This tutorial is comprehensive, but requires some significant grit-your-teeth effort to get through. There’s no real pizazz or flavour to it, just a long series of tests. Good if you want to learn about the game, and have the inclination to do so, but not the most welcoming of experiences.
Second to this, move sets are slightly expanded, with the most important addition being the new, universal “Power Launcher”. Dead or Alive 5 introduced an attack to DoA vocabulary called the “Power Blow”, a beastly flurry that could be activated when below 50% health and threw a character far away in the process. Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate adds a Power Launcher to everyone’s tool kit, opening up offensive potential and variety ever so slightly and likely helping appeal to the more juggle-happy Tekken crowd.
The other wave of changes are all present when you take Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate online. You can play in tag battles, for one, and these team bouts have been improved with a laundry list of technical alterations to the mechanics of combat – but the most notable addition is a Marvel-inspired Snap-Back attack that lets you force a character switch from your opponent. Lovely.
The whole online infrastructure is also now bolstered by typical Character and Ranking points, letting you show-off overall and character-specific proficiency. This tweak is more considered catching up with industry standard, but it’s nice to have it added regardless. The overall netcode has also been improved, reportedly, but we’ll have to see how true that is post-launch.
All these extras and changes are nice, and for Dead or Alive die-hards, or those that passed on the opportunity to give the original Dead or Alive 5 a whirl, Ultimate is undoubtedly the preferred package. With that said, Ultimate does nothing to appease the cries of our critic from last year who criticised Dead or Alive 5 simply for “not doing anything new”. Well, Ultimate doesn’t fix this concern at all, and the mode spread is still largely vanilla, but then Team Ninja didn’t seem interested in answering these kinds of issues in the first place.
Where my key criticism lies is actually in the new characters. Dead or Alive has always been a franchise that has suffered when it comes to making its fighters feel truly unique, particularly with the vast majority of the fisticuffs hinging on the all-powerful counter mechanic. Dead or Alive frequently reminds us that it exists in the same universe as Ninja Gaiden, and yet its brawls lack any of that series’ bravado or imagination, with every character subscribing to similar hand and feet combat styles.
So what do the extra Ultimate characters bring? Ein and Leon are returning faces, so I knew they would be the same heavy hitters they always were. Rachel is a slow brawler in the Gaiden series, so it was unsurprising to find her combat somewhat plodding and brutal here in Ultimate, similar in feel to Ein, in fact. Momiji feels derivative of her Ninja cousins, Hayabusa and Ayane, though with a slight tendency to go airborne more often. And Jacky feels a little like Jan Lee with a twist.
When selecting a new character in a fighting game you want to be consumed by a sense of unknown excitement. You want to explore their tools and find a new style of play, and a new style to play against. You want something unfathomable and alien. A character count is no more than a number if it’s not varied, and it’s unfortunate that all of Dead or Alive 5’s new faces feel largely derivative of what’s already there. Sure, their moves look different, but the feel is the same. I don’t know how Dead or Alive could evolve its cast without compromising its core, but this is a series aching for a jolt of fantasy.
The stages are somewhat more successful, with the new desert arena coming off the best. This level has varying heights, sometimes to an extreme degree, and this can frequently, and wonderfully, work against your knowledge of a character. The desert throws up new geographical alterations compared to what you know, and adds a fresh ingredient to the fights. Indeed the stage variety has always been a strong point of the franchise, and Dead or Alive 5’s range, from tiny shack to large open arenas, was one of its best assets. Ultimate certainly improves in this regard.
VERDICT: Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate is the ultimate version of Dead or Alive 5 (to date), but its additions serve more to please existing Team Ninja fanatics than to make the game more appealing to a general audience. The tutorial goes a little way to opening the door, but it’s dry approach has nothing on the more welcoming narratives and challenges of a NetherRealm or Arc System Works fighter, and the story is still told with all the grace of a drunk, roller-skating Zebra.
Combat is where DOA 5 excels, and Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate does buff up its brutal, aggressive brawling through new moves and impressive extra stages. The combat is still largely focused on counters, and Ultimate retains the heavy oomph of the original Dead or Alive 5, so those that weren’t impressed by last year’s entry need not jump in. For those that are yet to experience the cinematic punch-ups of Dead or Alive, however – or for those that thought Dead or Alive 5 just needed slightly better online presentation and more dresses – Ultimate does the job amicably.
VERY GOOD. An 8/10 is only awarded to a game we consider truly worthy of your hard-earned cash. This game is only held back by a smattering of minor or middling issues and comes highly recommended.