Review: Dead or Alive 5 Plus (Sony Playstation Vita)

Dead or Alive 5 Plus
Genre: Fighting
Developer: Team Ninja
Publisher: Tecmo Koei
Release Date: 03/19/13

After a six year hiatus following the release of Dead or Alive 4, the series has returned in a big way in the past couple years. Dead or Alive Dimensions dropped to the 3DS in 2011, bringing the franchise back into the public eye with a surprisingly solid handheld fighting game that also recapped the (incredibly messy) plotline of the first four games to bring new players up to speed. Last year saw the release of Dead or Alive 5, an all-new entry in franchise, featuring updated visuals, new and retuned characters, new gameplay mechanics and an expanded story mode similar to that of Dimensions. Well, Tecmo Koei has opted to bring the game to the Playstation Vita, dubbed Dead or Alive 5 Plus, and as one might expect, it includes some additional modes and retuned features when compared to its console counterparts. The end result is a game that’s worth picking up if you’re a fan of DOA or somehow don’t have one of the other console releases, as it’s a perfectly solid port of the console game that works well enough relative to its console of release.

The plot, such as it is, revolves around the after effects of the last tournament (in DOA 4) and the initiation of a new one by current DOATech head, Helena Douglas, as well as the hunt for Alpha-152 by the various and sundry ninjas in the game universe. As fighting game plots go, the core concepts are fine, but the story mode itself ends up telling a long, fairly disjointed story, not unlike how the modern Mortal Kombat, only while that game had some kind of plot to showcase, DOA 5 is mostly a lot of “HEY LET’S FIGHT” moments that aren’t connected to much. It does give you exposure to the majority of the characters, however, so new players may find that to their benefit if they’re looking for practice. Mode-wise, the game fares much better, as aside from the Story Mode, you also have the Fight menu which allows for various versus and sequence fights (like Arcade and Time Attack), Training Plus where you can practice or take on specific command challenges, Touch Fight where you can tap the screen to fight the AI, Online for taking the fight to other PS3 or PS Vita players, and an Extras menu that allows you to watch fights and view unlocked cinematics. Basically, you’re given a fairly solid amount to do with the game, and there are more options available to players between the Touch Fight option and the various added Training sections, so you’ll find there’s more here if you’ve played the console version of the game.

DOA 5 looks quite good on the small screen, and in some respects is an improvement over its console counterparts. The character models generally look more reasonable, as the console version featured characters that, while very well detailed, approached Uncanny Valley level creepiness at times. With the need to tone down the textures a bit here, the characters actually look solid and less disconcerting than they do on the console, while retaining the smooth animation quality of their console counterparts. The stages and such look quite impressive as well, and while there can be some mild obvious downscaling (most notably in character appendages, which feature square fingers at times), for the most part you’ll find that the visuals more than work on the Vita, all in all. Aurally, the game is basically excellent, as both the English and Japanese voice work from the console version is ported over intact, and the background tunes are as solid as ever. You won’t find any particular standout performances or tracks but what’s here works well for the game and the overall audio presentation is strong. The sound effects are also rather good, featuring powerful impact effects during combat that make the fighting come alive, and while some effects are over the top, so too is the game, so it all works out well together.

For those who’ve never played a game in the DOA series before, the controls are actually rather simple to start with. The left stick and D-Pad can be used to move your character around, and as in most 3D fighting games, you can move forward and backward relative to your position, jump, duck, and move into the background and foreground with the right directional presses. The face buttons are mapped to a punch button (Triangle), kick button (Circle), guard button (Square) and throw button (X), and the triggers can be mapped to various combinations of those as needed for alternate attack types. While the button layout is rather basic, however, the actual gameplay is anything but. The game is based around what has been dubbed the “Triangle System”, which acts as something of a priority-based Rock-Paper-Scissors. In essence, assuming appropriate timing, strikes are superior to throws, throws are superior to counters, and counters are superior to strikes. When performing throws and normal attacks, pressing the button with or without directions generally modifies the attack or throw depending on the direction and character you’re playing as. When using counters, however, this is changed somewhat. Pressing the “Hold” button, as the game calls it, on its own simply blocks incoming attacks at a medium to high range, though you can also block low with the appropriate direction presses. Counters, on the other hand, are performed by pressing the Hold button in conjunction with a direction; up-back counters high attacks, down-back counters low attacks, back counters mid-level punches, and forward counters mid-level kicks. While inexperienced players can generally have a certain amount of fun with the game without getting into the timing aspects of counters and such, skilled players will find that understanding counter timing is a big part of the game, which is where a lot of the game’s complexity comes in.

This is somewhat of a bit of old hat for experienced players, as the above mechanics have been in the franchise throughout most of its existence (the “forward and Hold to counter kicks” mechanic being added in Ultimate), but there are some mild advanced concepts here and there to keep players engaged. Most (if not all) characters can perform “Expert Holds” by tapping back-forward Hold or forward-back Hold for mid-range kicks and punches, respectively; the timing is more sensitive, but the damage is also worth the risk. Some characters also have more advanced hold and parry options for greater damage or simple deflection to leave an opponent open, and could well cater to players looking for more complex combat options. New to the franchise altogether is the Power Blow system; basically, when your health is below fifty percent, you can bang out a directional input to begin charging the move and, if it connects, deal heavy damage to your opponent to make a comeback. You’re left open while charging, which, again, plays into the risk/reward system the franchise is big on, as the damage you deal with the move can often be more than worth it if you’re in a bad spot.

Aside from the mechanical changes, the Vita version of DOA 5 makes a few changes to its systems versus the console versions. In the console versions, the Story Mode acted as something of an involved tutorial, asking the player to perform various actions during each battle, and also allowed players to unlock new characters for playing through it. Here, Story Mode is simply a story mode, as the challenges have been removed and the unlockable characters are now unlocked by default when you start the game. The Training Plus now holds the challenges asked of the player in Story Mode originally, as it has been expanded to include a full Tutorial and Combo Challenge mode to give the player a functional understanding of the ins and outs of the game. The Vita release also supports Cross Play between the PS3 and Vita games, and the Online Pass has been excised entirely for this game, allowing more play options for those looking for an online challenge. You also get the Touch Fight mode, where you can tap the screen to perform various attacks, which is novel, as well as the ability to save screenshots to your Vita as you wish. On the other hand, Lobby Matches and Throwdowns have been excised from online play, and you can’t play Tag Matches except for when they appear in Story Mode, sadly, with the Tag Match loss being quite disappointing given how awesome those tend to be.

You can essentially plow through the Story Mode in around five hours, depending on how many times you have to continue against the AI, but as this is a fighting game with lots of options and online play, how much time you actually spend with the game will depend on how interested you are in the options. You have plenty of options for local play, between the extensive options in Fight mode and the newly added Training Plus options to help develop your skills. For those looking to take it online, you can still jump into matches against strangers, either through Simple or Ranked matches, as well as against friends in normal or practice sessions, and you even have Leaderboards to compare yourself to. There are also still costumes available to be unlocked for those who want to expand their clothing options for their favorite characters, and the game is also compatible with all of the PS3 DLC so if you own that game, the DLC transfers between both. Even if you don’t, you can always pick up the DLC that’s available, as there are plenty of costumes to buy for those who are interested in this thing. Even without DLC, though, there’s plenty of content packed into the core game, between the fairly sizable character roster and variety of play modes, so fans will have fun with the game whether they’re looking for a portable version of the game or simply don’t have a console on which to play it.

On the downside, aside from the mixed up training options, it’s essentially the same game as its console counterparts, only without an online pass and tag matches, so those who own the console version already are essentially paying for a version of the game on the go. For casual fighting fans, that’s probably not a big selling point if the console version is in their hands (especially if it’s not the PS3 version), but for diehard, competitive fans, unless you play with a pad already, you’re not likely going to get a lot from practicing on the handheld version. The new options are fine insofar as the training systems are concerned, but Touch Fight is, as you’d expect, a total novelty that you’ll play with exactly once and never touch again, and otherwise, the game is basically identical to the console games, only missing tag matches and with reduced visual quality. DOA 5 is, in a general sense, a fine game, even if it doesn’t make any dramatic strides toward advancing the franchise, but it’s hard to know who this specific version of the game is being aimed at. If you are a casual fan, you’ll likely not see the need to own multiple versions of the same game, and if you’re a diehard fan, you probably play with an arcade stick anyway and thus won’t take anything worthwhile from playing with a controller. About the only market for the game is “people who don’t own a PS3 or 360 but like DOA enough to pay money for it but not enough to buy a console to play it, or diehard fans who play with a controller,” and that seems like somewhat of a small market.

At the end of the day, Dead or Alive 5 Plus is an absolutely fine handheld port of the console games that works well and is certainly playable, but offers too little to make it notably different from its console counterparts, leaving the final product as a fine experience with limited appeal. The modes from the console port are mostly intact, and the plot is entirely so (silliness and all), the game looks generally solid on the Vita and sounds as good as it ever has, and the game is mechanically on par with that of its console brethren. The game itself holds true to the standards of the series while offering some mild tweaks, and this specific version is about as good a version as any, including a new touch screen fighting mode and some new training options for those who would be interested while also allowing for PS3 interoperability for those who have that version of the console game. However, while the new training modes are fine, Touch Fight is silly and not likely to generate much interest, the Vita version is missing tag battles, and the release itself has a narrow market of interest, as casual fans likely already have the console release and diehard fans won’t get much from this if they play with an arcade stick. If you missed out on the console game, play with a pad or just want some DOA action on the go, DOA 5 is absolutely an outstanding port of the game on the PS Vita, pound for pound, but for those who play competitively or found the console version to be sufficient, the Vita release doesn’t make a compelling argument to join your library as well.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Dead or Alive 5 Plus, on its own merits, is a strong port of the game that is functionally, technically and mechanically sound, but doesn’t make a strong argument to add it to your library if you have the console game unless you’re heavily into having it on the go. DOA 5 Plus brings the console experience to the Vita mostly intact, as the play modes are mostly identical, the plot is identical, the visuals hold up very well, the audio is spot on, and the gameplay holds up very well in handheld form. The game retains the majority of what made its predecessors interesting while adding some minor mechanical changes, and the Vita version is generally on par with its console counterparts, though it also adds in some new training options and a touch screen combat mode while also interoperating with the PS3 for those who have it, giving it some definite value. That said, Touch Fight is a mode that’s amusing once but completely lacking in long term value, tag battles and some online options have been excised from the game entirely, and there’s limited appeal here if you own the console version, as it’s largely identical otherwise. If you missed picking the game up on the console or really want to have a version of the game you can take with you, Dead or Alive 5 Plus is absolutely a great version of the game to have, but for those who already have the console version and would expect the handheld port to have something different, you won’t find that here.


One response to “Review: Dead or Alive 5 Plus (Sony Playstation Vita)”

  1. Ashe Avatar

    Ended up picking up this version of it. I’m no where near hardcore and I didn’t have a fighting game for the Vita anyway, and I actually prefer DoA to Mortal Kombat, so into my collection it went.

    I’m not necessarily sad about tag battles as I’m pretty terrible at them, tagging out when I’m trying to land a nasty hit instead. You’re right about the story mode. Some of the reasons for the fights were on Pokemon level of “hey, nice pants! Let’s fight!” and gave me even more reason t dislike Zack. He was almost tolerable in DoA2 but has turned into the Jar Jar of the DoA world.

    And you’re right, I’ve played the touch fight once, for one fight, and I won’t go into it again. It was kind of pointless.

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