Coupling Tecmo Koei Europe’s strong reputation for delivering high-quality console experiences on PlayStation Vita with the critically acclaimed Dead or Alive 5 is a no-brainer you might think, and this is exactly what the publisher has done. However, it’s not a simple cut-and-dry port of last year’s most inventive and progressive beat-‘em-up title, Dead or Alive 5 Plus innovates not in its fighting system but with the use of the hardware it’s available upon.
Nintendo and Microsoft may have both beaten Sony Computer Entertainment to the punch when it comes to cross-platform compatibility, but the PlayStation brand is arguably leading the pack with the combination of PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita, and Dead or Alive 5 Plus is a fine example of why that is. This isn’t a cross-buy title, Dead or Alive 5 and Dead or Alive 5 Plus are two separate experiences, but they do share many assets (such as downloadable content) and feature cross-platform rivalry. A PlayStation Vita player can freely enter a fight against a PlayStation 3 gamer, and vice versa.
The online gameplay remains a highlight in Dead or Alive 5 Plus just as it was in Dead or Alive 5; far superior to the lag riddled experience provided by Dead or Alive 4 several years prior. Provided you’re playing on a stable connection – 3G matches are not recommended – the online gameplay is typically as smooth as playing offline, which is a rather impressive achievement as the added frames of animation in Dead or Alive 5 Plus make for a silky smooth visual quality.
The Story Mode included in Dead or Alive 5 Plus is a direct port of that which appeared in Dead or Alive 5, and thus brings with it the ludicrous fantasy plot and ham-fisted delivery. It’s a nice attempt to flesh out the action but pales in comparison to Mortal Kombat’s engrossing plot delivery. However, one area where Dead or Alive 5 Plus is notably superior to Mortal Kombat is in the transition from cutscene to in-game graphics: Mortal Kombat suffered from lowered polygon counts and some incredibly ugly textures, Dead or Alive 5 Plus is near-identical in both sequences. Without a doubt, Temco Koei Europe has delivered one of the finest looking titles on PlayStation Vita.
Dead or Alive doll-like girls and brutish men have never looked better than they do in Dead or Alive 5 Plus. The character models are just as well presented here as they are on PlayStation 3 with the aforementioned added frames meaning they look as good in motion as they do in still frames. The backgrounds suffer from a slight drop on detail, but it’s such an insignificant issue that you’ll only notice it when comparing the handheld and home console versions side-by-side. Of course, any serious beat-‘em-up aficionado would opt for the added frames over background detail everyday of the week; it is all about the fighting system, after all.
Despite the diminutive button arrangement on the PlayStation Vita the inventive Dead or Alive 5 gameplay makes the jump well. The videogame remains reliant on cross-up attacks and counter manoeuvres more than it does positioning or timing, and in that it remains unique. It’s not about remember structured inputs for powerful or stun blows; it’s about precise strikes that allow you to open up your opponent, breaking attack chains when a window for your own retaliation becomes available. Matches between two experienced players quickly become tense series of back-and-forths with stray attacks resulting in potentially devastating punishment.
Dead or Alive 5 Plus offers a refined training mode to allow newcomers the opportunity to familiarise themselves with this deep system before being brutalised online, but in addition it also features the brand new Touch Fight mode. Devised specifically for the PlayStation Vita’s touchscreen, Touch Fight is a questionable inclusion – one has to wonder just what went on in the design meetings for such a mode to even get onto paper, let alone into the final retail product – and one which will surely only push Dead or Alive’s reputation for being mere titillation further into the minds of those unwilling to recognise it as one of the leading beat-‘em-up franchises.
In play the Touch Fight is a disposable addition to Dead or Alive 5, clearly a testing ground for potential future inclusion but lacking any real depth. Special strikes appear to be entirely absent and it’s difficult to determine distances, and thus the timing of your strikes. The change in perspective – played from a first-person point of view – also mean that you need to re-learn many if the character animations in order to recognise the appropriate window for your returning blows.
The PlayStation Vita may be struggling with its software catalogue in many respects, but one area in which it’s not suffering is that of quality beat-‘em-up titles. Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter X Tekken already provide some hugely entertaining experiences, but Dead or Alive 5 Plus comes in and takes over. This is the pinnacle of handheld fighting systems, and a product packed with additional gameplay modes to boot. The PlayStation Vita was brought to market with the suggestion that you could have home console experiences in the palm of your hand anywhere you may go, and in Dead or Alive 5 Plus that marketing tagline is proven to be true.