Team NINJA’s latest effort to re-establish their reputation as a leading action videogame studio comes in the form of Dead or Alive 5, the first home console edition of the franchise since 2006’s Xbox 360 exclusive Dead or Alive 4. While Ninja Gaiden 3 may have been unfairly criticised by many it did fail to live-up to the standard set by earlier titles in the series. Dead or Alive 5 however, presents a new step forward not just for it’s franchise, but for it’s hosts genre also.
The Story is filled with the typical kind of eccentricity and hero nonsense that players of Japanese videogames have come to expect, but given that most beat-‘em-ups are developed with a western audience in mind these days it can be somewhat jarring. There are many moments of cutesypie and pseudo-humour that render Dead or Alive 5 a far less gritty affair than Mortal Kombat’s tale of beasts and brutality, and as such far less memorable. The Arcade mode has also been refined, offering a tier system with each subsequent challenge increasing in duration as well as difficulty.
The Time Attack and Survival mode gameplay follow their tier design also, offering players more control over the level of challenge they face in artificial intelligence (AI) enemies than ever before. Of course, if this is all too much for you Dead or Alive 5 does also feature a Training mode which allows you to kick seven shades out of any opponent you like, and also offers a command list progression that teaches you every single move of every single fighter.
Simple matches allow players to jump straight into fights, while the lobby system from Dead or Alive 4 returns with a significant makeover. Players can tailor the settings of the lobby to suit their tastes, with rules such as number of rounds, amount of health and who fights next all preset before creating a lobby or available to view before joining one. Additionally there are also the Ranked matches for those wishing to make their mark on the Dead or Alive 5 community, or to simply face some highly competitive opponents.
The Power Blow has changed considerably since Electronic Theatre’s first meeting with Dead or Alive 5 – and not just in name – proving that Team Ninja has been listening to feedback during the videogame’s development. Instead of simply charging the manoeuvre and waiting to release it at the correct time, the Power Blow only becomes available once the player’s energy bar is flashing red (below 50% capacity). Holding down-back and pressing both punch and kick will then initiate the much shorter charging phase before the first blow is automatically dealt. Two or three automatic strikes and we arrive at the point in which the player can dictate the direction their enemy will travel, inviting knowledge of the environments and willingness to experiment into play.
The re-visualisation of characters from scenes of earlier editions of Dead or Alive as younger people is a remarkably subtle gesture, clearly the work of a team deeply committed to honouring their source material. The character may have matured, but so has the design ethic that’s gone in to making them so. The animation is striking in its smoothness and the environmental damage that occurs as battles progress makes every single fight unique.
Dead or Alive 5 delivers on the promises made, proving that Team NINJA still has what it takes to compete on the top tier of action videogame design. This is a genre iteration delivered in top form, with effortless playability and fantastic innovation. After nearly a decade of humbling for 3D beat-‘em-up videogames it’s become the responsibility of one of the least likely contenders to deliver an update, and Team NINJA has taken that precedent and run with it. That which Dead or Alive 5 offers to the genre deserves to become standard in future titles, just as combo rewards and cancels have been inherited from the titles of yesteryear.
Don’t forget: You can win a copy of Dead or Alive 5 right here at Electronic Theatre. Simply visit the Win Dead or Alive 5 & DLC! competition page for more details.