There are a lot of things you can say about Team Ninja and its head honcho Tomonobu Itagaki, sure he is arrogant, alright to be fair he is downright cocky, but if you check the track record the boys at Team Ninja have always delivered. Being one of the first and only Japanese supporters of the first Xbox console Itagaki and company delivered some of the best titles currently available for the system. Whether you prefer the visceral action of Ninja Gaiden or the titular rompings in DOA you simple cannot deny that the man has a serious knack for game design and is the best at delivering fan service. Dead or Alive 4 is the latest of Team Ninja’s creations and it arrived just in time to ring in the new year, but is it up to the same level as previous TN games?
At first glance you may be wondering if this game is truly utilizing the next-gen hardware. In fact I will be the first to admit that most screenshots of this game simply do not do it justice. This all changed once we finally got the game and had a chance to truly appreciate all the subtle nuances that the team has thrown in. From the blistering frame rate to the expansive environments this game really shows what next-gen hardware is capable of. Simple things such as debris from a broken fruit stand and droplets of water are all stunningly rendered to amazing levels of detail that are simply not possible with the original Xbox.
How much ass could you whoop in heels like that?
Speaking of the environments Team Ninja has really outdone themselves with DOA4. The level selection this time around is simply jaw-dropping, some of my favorites include a rain-soaked street with passing cars, the jungle that time forgot, complete with dinosaurs, and of course the level ripped directly from Halo 2. You can still knock your opponents to other levels of the battlefield and some of the animations are simply amazing when you manage to pull them off. There are also new interactive elements in the background, for instance in the jungle level a cheetah will perch on a rock in the distance, get too close and he pounces towards the battle knocking anything in his path over. It’s the little details like this that really make this game stand out amongst the recent crop of stagnate fighting games.
The character models have also received an upgrade in the visuals department; from the super fluid animations to the flowing cloth and hair the masters at Team Ninja have really outdone themselves this time. While some gamers still have problems with the art style that DOA delivers what can you honestly expect, Itagaki has a reputation for giving his fans what they want, and most DOA fans enjoy the seemingly top-heavy women and bulky anime clichés. While most of the characters will look strikingly similar to their past incarnations it’s once again the little details such as flowing hair and rippling muscle textures that really round out the next-gen detail.
Of course everyone knows that visuals can only carry a game so far, thankfully Team Ninja has a reputation of creating some of most finely tuned games ever created. The DOA series has always had a reputation of being aimed more towards the casual gamer, lacking the depth of say Virtua Fighter. Personally I have always enjoyed the fighting style in the DOA games because they reward you for getting better, learning when and how to counter moves in the previous games was addictive and actually gave me the sense that I was getting better at the game. For the fourth game in the series Team Ninja has stepped up to the plate and refined the engine to a near perfection. For starters the game speed has been increased substantially. You will notice it almost immediately if you have played any of the previous games. Veterans of the series will also notice that the window for performing counters has been shortened; no longer will tapping the counter button and back guarantee you a swift retort to your attacker’s offense. The damage for counter moves has also been reduced; in previous games pulling three or four counters could instantly end the match, now you have to follow up counters with offense of your own. This really levels the playing field and keeps the game from seeming like just another button masher. Below is a list of the basic controls for Dead or Alive 4:
- Left Bumper – Tag Change (Tag Battle Only)
- Right Bumper – Appeal
- Directional Pad – Character Movement
- X Button – Hold and Guard
- Y Button – Punch
- B Button – Kick
- A Button – Throw
The modes in DOA4 are pretty standard for a fighting game, you have the basic story mode, time attack, survival, and of course practice mode. One of the biggest additions to this incarnation is the re-vamping of the already robust online mode. Ultimate introduced the winner stays system where the victor of each match continued until his/her winning streak was ended by the opponent. There are of course basic one on one matches and even tag battles online, but probably the biggest addition is the lobby system. When you first create a match online you gain access to one lobby of your choice to host games in. Once inside the lobby you are given an avatar that you can customize with points earned in online battles, you can also use the TV in each lobby to view the current fight and of course chat with other gamers awaiting their turn at the match.
This adds a great sense of community to the franchise as well as making the game more accessible to players online, you have the option of chatting either via the headset or USB keyboard and the customability options are extremely robust. The ranking system mirrors that found in Ultimate awarding players points for matches won and even based on who you fight against. The grading system remains the same and you can even earn Achievements by losing, of course they aren’t worth points, but it’s a nice humorous touch the boys at Team Ninja threw in.
Speaking of extras DOA is chock full of goodies for you to find, in addition to the normal hidden characters and costumes there are a total of 45 achievements to gain by playing the game. Some of these are as simple as completing story mode once and range to the incredibly difficult obtaining SS rank online. Like I also mentioned earlier there are achievements in the game that will give you no points for winning including losing streaks of five matches and more. Of course there are always the hidden characters, all of which are obtained by completing the story mode sans Tengu, for him you will have to complete Time Attack with every character including the unlocked ones. Probably the most talked about hidden fighter though is Spartan-458, a female version of Bungie’s own Master Chief of Halo fame. It seems fitting that Team Ninja would include a female version seeing as how the DOA series has always been know for its ladies.
Could this be a scene from Halo 3?
The rest of the hidden cast includes Gen Fu, Leon, Ein, and Helena respectively. Playing through the story mode will also earn you new costumes that the series has been famous for. Some characters even have up to eight different outfits ranging from scuba gear to some truly revealing attire for the ladies. The little touches such as pressing Y to select your fighter and getting them sporting a pony tail are also thrown in for the hardcore fans; I told you Itagaki was the king of fan service. Personally I was disappointed with some of the outfits and felt there should be a few more included from Ultimate, but hey that is what Downloadable Content is for, if Itagaki shows us some more love that is.
To unlock everything in the game you will have to battle your way through the story mode several times, which honestly isn’t a chore because the end movies are more than worth the price of admission. Some of them obscure, some of them risqué, and some of them downright peculiar, but all of them are rendered beautifully and really show the dedication of the guys at Team Ninja. The only downside to the story mode is the extremely cheap final boss Alpha 152, yeah I know that the franchise is notorious for having cheap end bosses but this one takes the cake. I have literally spent 20-30 minutes fighting her simply because she seems to know every move I am going to make before I do, well and the fact that her attacks take damn near all my health in one hit. This is the only real complaint I have with the single player as the rest of the AI seems extremely well balanced.
For fans of the series DOA4 is everything you could possibly want from a next-gen iteration of the game; a revamped fighting system, faster game play, and enough T&A to satisfy even the most jaded otaku. Newcomers may still wonder what all the fuss is about and more than likely not change their opinion of the game either way. Regardless DOA 4 is a great addition to the Xbox 360 lineup and it is filling the gap nicely in this time of slow releases. If you are a fan then you owe it to yourself to pick up this title; you will not be disappointed. Easily the best fighting game of 2005, even if it did make it by just one day.