To put it very mildly indeed, Dead or Alive has always been a little bit tongue-in-cheek. Dead or Alive 5 on the other hand, is a full-blown comedy. Here is a brief list of reasons for punch-ups breaking out during its riotous story mode: a vase is broken, there’s a disagreement over the ownership of some sushi and one character, so aroused by the appearance of a famous television personality on the idiot box, instigates a ruck with his best friend solely to assist in clearing his smitten head. It constantly prides itself on being an off-kilter lark, but it never resorts to things like ludicrous character outfits to score cheap laughs; it’s intensely stupid, but don’t mistake its humour for flippancy.
As a fighting game, it also represents a very welcome change of pace. Dead or Alive has always been one of the least intimidating beat ’em ups if you simply wanted to just pick it up and play it… and so it remains here. Fighting game pillar systems like chip damage are nowhere to be found and at heart, it’s still about nothing more complicated than straightforward kicks, throws and punches. If you want to take it seriously you’ll be briskly drawn into mastering the game’s trademark “Hold” manoeuvres – which function as both throws and parries – but you’re never forced to do so, and (brilliantly) you actually can prevail without ever adopting them at all.
Dead of Alive 5’s lengthy story mode suffers from one of the same problems as its stablemate Ninja Gaiden 3, in that its entire second half has the fever-pitch tempo of a finale, which can be exhausting if you tackle it without a break. Despite the game’s accessibility, the campaign is also basically a tutorial designed expressly for the hardcore; during every single bout you’re given a secondary challenge to complete, and many of these involve perfect timing and mucho trial and error. Again, you’re never forced to partake in these lessons if you aren’t interested in them, but if you plan on spending any serious amount of time playing online with it, paying attention is well worth your while.
Speaking of online, Dead or Alive 5 doesn’t even bear comparison with its immediate predecessor. DoA 4 – which launched not long after the Xbox 360 made its worldwide debut – was a project that completely overshot itself, offering up an online suite that it couldn’t sustain, and sketchy net code that rendered it totally unplayable at times. This time out Team Ninja’s ambitions are far more modest; this iteration features a stripped-down duplicate of Super Street Fighter IV’s much-imitated online space that, after spending a prolonged period of time with, seems to function more-or-less faultlessly if you’re playing with folk in your region.
If you’re a hardened series vet, there are two significant new additions to the core gameplay: Critical Bursts and Power Blows. Critical Bursts are strikes that stun your opponent and make them vulnerable to further attacks and combos, and Power Blows are the (now mandatory) approximation of SFIV’s none-more-influential Super and Ultra combos. Whilst Critical Bursts become essential form almost immediately, Power Blows aren’t anywhere near as satisfying to execute as their inspirations are; easy to perpetrate but back-breakingly difficult to land, connecting with them ends up being more of a happy accident than anything else.
Dead or Alive 5 is a very unusual game, but then Dead or Alive is a very unusual series: yet again it somehow manages to work for just about every breed of beat ’em up fan imaginable. Inflexible gameplay depth is there in spades if you want it, but if you’re savvy enough with elementary things like side-steps and combos, you’ll be able to give the pros a real run for their money… which has always been a big part of the DoA appeal. Dead or Alive 5 isn’t trying to reinvent the fighting game or even reinvent itself; its primary wares are mere humour and polish but, even after all these years, this is still a brawler like no other. Highly recommended.
Dead or Alive 5 is out now on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.
Watch the official launch trailer for Dead of Alive 5 below: