Review: Dead or Alive Ultimate (XB)



The Kliq Comics: 11/17/04
Starring: Alex Williams & Bebito Jackson (w/ The Rumor Monkey!)




Game: Dead or Alive Ultimate
System: Microsoft XBox
Genre: 3D Fighting
Developer: Team Ninja
Publisher: Tecmo
Release: 10/26/04

Okay, I know what you are all thinking right now: “Whoever reviewed THIS particular game was influenced by the fact that half the roster is made up of beautifully-rendered women with gigantic racks.” I will go on RECORD to state that this was not the reason why I chose to purchase, and subsequently review this game. I remember playing Dead or Alive 2 years ago on both the DC and the PS2, and I had some incredible fun with the fighting engine. So upon hearing that the game was going to be reworked (for the 47th time) and released with an arcade-perfect version of the original Dead or Alive, my interest was piqued.

Now, I’ll admit that saying “I bought DOA for the fighting engine!” sounds remarkably like “I bought Playboy to read the articles!” But the fact is that I don’t buy games solely because of digitized or polygon-rendered boobies. If I did, I would own DOA Xtreme Beach Volleyball and every Tomb Raider game ever made, only coming out of my house to buy food and tissues. And I don’t. Simple.

Anyway, back to the collection at hand. Dead or Alive Ultimate contains the first two games in the series with new additions: DOA1 Ultimate, and DOA2 Ultimate. The first game looks to be a direct port of the Sega Saturn version of the game, perhaps with a few graphical touch-ups and absence of long loading times. The second game has been practically rebuilt from a graphical standpoint, and contains more new additions than you can shake Kasumi’s life-sized pillow at. (It exists. Seriously. Buy a Japanese DOA XBox bundle and find out.) But how do these remakes stand up today? Read on and find out!

Oh, and keep your hands out of your pants. I’d rather not clean up any messes at the end of the review. Thanks.


STORY/MODES

Here we have two games, each with a multitude of features. So, lets break them down for ya:

DOA1 Ultimate

First of all, there’s Arcade Mode and Time Attack Mode. There’s really not much difference between them, although Arcade will unlock new costumes, and Time Attack is for record purposes only. Versus is a separate option, and if you don’t know what that is, you’ve obviously not in the right place.

Then there’s Survival, which also isn’t that much different from the previous two modes, except for the fact you keep going until you lose. To top it all off, there’s Kumite Mode. And honestly, I’m having TONS of trouble figuring out why in the hell this thing is in the game in the first place. It’s a mode where you can face up to 30, 50, or 100 opponents, and you fight ALL BATTLES, win or lose. The game keeps score for you and tallies them up. Outside of bragging rights, there’s really not that much use for this mode.

DOA2 Ultimate

First up is Story Mode. There’s only one round per combatant, and you’ll be privy to several cut scenes per character. If you haven’t played the PS2 version of DOA2 yet, some of these may be new to you. Otherwise, they’re pretty much the same, just altered graphically. Although I can’t help but wonder if a couple of the cut scenes ARE new. I have no recollection of Bass pulling a giant truck via a chain… Then there’s Time Attack, which is exactly like DOA1, except there’s eight battles instead of nine.

Moving on down, we come to Survival Mode. And like the previous incarnations of the game, it remains one of the finest Survival modes I’ve ever seen. You fight opponents one after the other until you lose. The advantages? You fight in one area, there are NO loading times, and you collect items from each opponent you defeat. Your score is mainly point-based, and that is what is used in the online rankings. This is easily one of my favorite modes in the game.

Then we come to Tag Team Mode, which is exactly as it says. You choose two fighters, and you tag in and out between them. This is another well-done mode, as you can tag out with NO difficulties, and perform a slew of “team moves” to boot. Plus, pitting certain people together will get you some special animations. After that, there’s Team Battle Mode, where you can build a team of five or so fighters and pit them against another team of five or so fighters. Not the best mode, but interesting nonetheless.

Versus Mode is your 2-player mode; basic as they come. Sparring Mode is your dedicated training mode, and you can also activate “exercises” that allow you to practice moves. It will be worth your will to complete them, as they DO unlock stuff.

Then we come to the XBox Live component of both games. After creating a profile, you can do a ton of things with it. You can upload your best Time Attacks from DOA1 to a worldwide scoreboard, as well as being able to upload scores of DOA2 records in the same vein, such as Time Attack and Survival. You can also participate in online battling in both games, with an INCREDIBLE amount of ways to do it. You can create rooms with up to eight people taking turns fighting each other, as well as choosing from a variety of categories of fights. Hell, even modes like Tag Team, Team Battle, Kumite, and Survival have all been modified to fit the online battling model.

Rankings are interesting, as you fight with “grades” more than “points”. When you first log in, you’ll be given 10,000 points and a C grade. Winning battles will give you 100 points and increase your grade, while losing will deduct 100 points and decrease your grade. Other items are factored into the points that are earned/lost, such as “Handicap” (fighting against people with higher grades than you), and “Streak” (how many matches you’ve won in a row). Grades range from F to SS, which I think is a pretty interesting way to handle them.

So long story short, there’s a hell of a lot to do in both games, with most of it being executed very well. You won’t be bored for a while after picking this up.

Story/Modes: 9/10


GRAPHICS

Oh, this category is so UNFAIR. Both games are so completely different in this area that the final score can’t reflect on them both fairly. But I can’t score them separately, so I’ll have to make do.

DOA1U is a 100% port of the Sega Saturn home release, which was a pretty great port of the original arcade game. (Seeing “Saturn Character Modeling” during the end credits cracked me up.) As a result, the graphics aren’t much better than what you can see on the 32-bit generation systems. The character models are smaller in comparison to other fighters of that era, and are far less detailed. In fact, they’re VERY blocky. It’s hard to believe that DOA started out looking this…plain.

Backgrounds and fighting arenas are simple at best. The arenas are all the same, only swapping out the floor textures and overall background picture. I will say that the colors are vibrant, but nothing here is lifelike. Then again, this is what you have to deal with when playing a game released around eight years ago.

DOA2U, on the other hand, is the most beautiful looking game on the XBox. Period.

This is evident when you first fire up the game and watch the brand new intro movie. It is, quite possibly, the finest example of video game computer animation I’ve ever seen. It goes into the back-story of Kasumi and Ayane, and takes you through some very interesting events that happened before DOA1. I will go on record to say that this introduction movie will make Square-Enix fanboys shit their pants. It is THAT GOOD.

Moving on to the in-game graphics, they’ve been given a MASSIVE overhaul. The game is definitely on par with DOA3, if not surpassing it completely.

The character models are beautifully rendered, and much more cleaned up than in previous incarnations. Hair and costumes also realistically move as the characters do, as well as through wind effects. Add to that the detail included with muscle definition and facial features, and we have some incredibly realistic fighters to play with.

And speaking of the fighters, I guess I have to mention the costumes here as well, right? Well, DOA2U has TONS of costumes for you to pick, although to begin with, there are only two per character. You unlock the rest by going through Story and Time Attack. The males have as many as 6-8 a piece, while the females have as many as 15-20. Overkill much? Not for the fanboys, apparently.

In any case, the variety of costumes is HUGE, and it really is worth unlocking each one. Items range from the kick-ass (Hayabusa’s Ninja Gaiden suit), to the beautiful (Helena’s long-flowing gowns), to the fan service (Bikinis, bikinis, bikinis!), to the just plain ridiculous (Zack’s shiny Teletubby outfits, Bayman’s scuba gear). It’s obvious that Team Ninja took a LOT of time and effort to come up with all of these new costumes (Hey, it happens when you’re single), and it certainly shows here.

What I’m most impressed with are the revamped stages. Going the DOA3 route, stages now sport uneven terrain, and even more levels you can knock your opponents down in. Another new feature that I believe is being used for the first time is “Staircase Damage”. Say you knock your opponent off the current stage level. If there are stairs there, they will roll DOWN THE STAIRS while taking increasing damage. (It’s fun to do, AND it looks painful! ) And the stages themselves are BEAUTIFUL! The lush forests. The snowy mountains. The flaming opera house. It all looks incredible.

So all and all, the graphics in DOA2U make the graphics in DOA1U look like caveman paintings. And it kinda hurts the overall score in this respect. But rest assured, had DOA1U not been included, this category would surely be a 10…

(Hears whines from the crowd)

…Oh, COME ON! All you care about is how the BOOBS JIGGLE?!?!?

(The crowd cheers wildly.)

Okay, FINE. In DOA1U, the boobs always flap wildly every time one of the female characters moves an inch. Its like they move independently from the girls they’re attached to. As for DOA2U, the physics are much more realistic, yet they seem to bounce a bit more than they should. And as stupid as it sounds, you can change the frequency they…um…bounce by adjusting your age in the Options menu. (PERVERTS!)

Graphics: 8.5/10


SOUND

Now I will admit that the music and sound for both games did not change very much since their initial releases. In fact, I’m surprised if it changed at ALL.

Sound in DOA1U, like the graphics, is simple. The music is bland, the attack noises are generic, and the voices are minimal. In fact, I’m surprised there was so little voice work done in this game. I barely heard any grunts or groans coming from either fighter in the main game modes.

DOA2U is better in all counts, but again, there is nearly no change. The character voices are almost exactly like the PS2 version, and the music was nearly taken verbatim from that release as well. In fact, the only new things I remember sound-wise are the new announcer voices. Completing the Sparring exercises will unlock new announcer voices, such as Kasumi, Ayane, and even Tengu. But while nice additions…they’re only three percent of the overall sound. And as such…it’s all old stuff I’ve already heard before.

Sound: 6/10


GAMEPLAY/CONTROLS

The DOA fighting games never really had a deep fighting system. While the engine is fast paced and easy to get into, the controls seem a bit…shallow. Not in the sense of your average Tekken game, mind you, but the reality is that a game like this would never satisfy those of the Virtua Fighter persuasion. And you know what? I think that’s how Team Ninja wants it. They want to keep the controls simple to strike the fine balance between gameplay and watching buxom beauties shake their moneymakers. (Oh come on, like you didn’t see that one coming.)

Controls in DOA1U are stiff, given their age. I found it very hard to pull off moves, and throws are nearly impossible, as there is no dedicated throw button by default. So, I spend my time throwing basic punches and kicks, with only simple combos to chain them together. The “danger zones” on the arena floor help supplement that causing more damage when you land on them.

Meanwhile, as expected, DOA2U controls are easier to pull off, while still keeping the original Punch/Kick/Block buttons from the original game. There are many more combos to try, and throws have a button assigned to them by default.

Also more prevalent is the fact that a “counter” system is introduced. By holding pressing the right combination of directional taps and the Block button, you can catch your opponent mid-attack and strike back with a counter. And these counters usually take a LARGE chunk of health away from the opponent. I should know, being the recipient of about 1,000 of them by now…

But again, there is nothing really complex here to try out. All the special moves are made through button taps, and only a few require skill and precision to pull off correctly. Go to Virtual Fighter if you want something deep to satisfy you.

Controls/Gameplay: 7/10


REPLAY VALUE

Believe it or not, there are plenty of reasons to go back to BOTH games…most of which having to do with costumes.

In DOA1U, going through Arcade Mode on Normal will unlock new outfits for each character. And apparently, there are six new costumes per character you can find. Also, you can unlock the final boss Raidou by beating the Arcade Mode once with everyone.

As mentioned above, DOA2U has a gigantic amount of costumes for you to unlock, and you’ll need to obtain them by going through Arcade and Time Attack modes. Now, you can get all the guy costumes by staying on the Normal difficulty, but to get all of the girl costumes, you’ll need to shift the difficulty to Hard mode after a while.

You can also unlock three additional characters: Bayman, Tengu, and a new addition to the DOA2U line-up. We’ll cover her later in this review.

Long story short, lots of fun to be had, and lots of shit to unlock. You’ll be playing this one for a while.

Replay Value: 9/10


BALANCE

For the most part, the balance in the two games is pretty good when spanning the difficulties. Easy fights are easy, and they get progressively tougher as you move on up. It’s the balance between the start fight and the end fight that’s not necessarily the best.

You’ll notice (in both games) that your first couple of opponents are freakishly easy. You’ll probably clean their clocks without taking a single hit. Then you get to the battles near the end, and the computer AI will make no hesitation to pull out all the high-hitting combos it can on you, as well as countering your every move. (And I STILL hate the fact that Hayabusa’s super-throw move is pulled off flawlessly by the AI every single time.) This aspect of the difficulty is REALLY steep, and can really get on a few players nerves.

Balance: 6/10


ORIGINALITY

As fun as this collection (okay, DOA2U mostly) is, it IS a compilation. And compilation games tend to skimp on original concepts and hope that nostalgic value alone will be enough to make the sales.

Now DOA2U tries its damndest to break this mold. While it does remain mostly the same game it was back in the 20th century, it adds quite a few things; new gameplay elements, new costumes, a new character, and several tweaks and alterations with existing modes. The addition of online support is also a welcome addition, and helps keep the game fresh enough for this re-release.

DOA1U, however, is exactly the same. No changes can be seen outside of fighting others online. And considering the current online state of DOA1U, you might as well not even factor that change in. (More on that later.)

Originality: 5/10


ADDICTIVENESS

You know, it’s the strangest thing. At first, I thought these two games wouldn’t suck a whole lot of time out of my life. After all, the games held fond memories for me, but never really “sucked me in” as they say. I’d play it for a bit, and then move on to the next game.

Well, I started playing both DOA games for the purposes of this review. I got used to the controls. I went through the various modes.

And then I kept playing…

…and kept playing…

…and kept playing…

…Holy crap, I got class in five minutes! And I’m not allowed to leave this online fight room without forfeiting and losing more grade points!! LIVE IS SO CRUEL!!!

I’ll tell you what; the addition of XBox Live support takes these games and makes them that more engaging to play. Even when you’re not fighting others on XBox Live, the idea of uploading your scores and comparing yourself to the rest of the world is an exciting prospect. I had even more fun increasing my records than costume hunting. And I haven’t had such an inclination to do this since DDR Ultramix first came out. I’m having much more fun than I thought I would be.

Addictiveness: 9/10


APPEAL FACTOR

Okay, does this category REALLY need explaining? There are two 3D fighting games for $50. Both are playable over XBox Live. One of the titles is has some of the most beautiful graphics ever to appear on the system. And above all, all the female characters have enormous racks, which bounce like crazy.

Hmmm…you think the 18-34 male demographic will eat this up over the last sentence alone? Nahhhh….

Appeal Factor: 10/10


MISCELLANEOUS

Allow me to talk just for a moment about the Live scene in DOAU right now.

Now when I review a game, I try to experience all aspects of it (or as many as I can) so I can know what I am talking about. The online options to this game are no exception to this. So I regret to inform you I can’t talk about the DOA1U online experience, mainly because…

THERE WAS NO ONE ONLINE TO PLAY AGAINST!

Now granted that DOA1U is a vastly inferior game to DOA2U. But after three straight nights of waiting, there was NO ONE around the servers. Everyone was off in DOA2U land drooling over all the bikinis and such. So I apologize to you, the reader, for this glaring omission.

This is evident in the online rankings for DOA1U as well. They’re just so…barren. Something is seriously wrong when you do only average in Time Attack Mode, upload your score, and end up NINTH IN THE WORLD, like I did. I mean, WOW. Only 52 people even attempted the DOA1U Time Attack when this happened. Seriously, if you want to set some easy records, now is the time.

Also, I’d like to talk about the third hidden character. Yes, Hitomi from DOA3 is in the game. Yes, she can only be played outside of Story Mode. Yes, she has 20 costumes like Kasumi and Ayane.

No, you can’t unlock her unless you have a DOA3 or DOA: XBV save file on your XBox first.

Now this is just mind-boggling. Why on Earth must I plunk down an extra $20 if I want access to all the characters in this game? What would prompt Team Ninja to make this decision? Wouldn’t including a character from another game be incentive enough to get fans to buy them? Now instead they REQUIRE it? This is quite an idiotic move, if I do say so myself.

And considering you need ALL the characters and costumes to unlock everything in the game, you can’t FINISH the damn thing unless you have one of those particular save files. This is disappointing. VERY disappointing.

Miscellaneous: 4/10