Dead or Alive 5 Adds Dynamic Environments With Familiar Gameplay «

Back in TGS 2011, Team Ninja confirmed the existence of Dead or Alive 5 through a one-minute teaser trailer, and it marked the first real sequel since the departure of former Team Ninja general manager Tobunobu Itagaki back in 2008. In said teaser, series brawlers Hayate and Ryu Hayabusa fight on the roof of a construction site in downtown Tokyo — trading the kind of lightning-quick combos the series is best known for. While everything in the trailer at this point looks painfully familiar, it all changes the second Hayate kicks Hayabusa into a reactor. The resulting explosion hurls the black-clad ninja through the air, and knocks loose a crane that then sets a group of construction beams spinning wildly around the environment — knocking over columns and other set pieces encircling the two combatants. The trailer closes on a dramatic cliffhanger, as Hayabusa desperately grabs the edge of the stage after almost being knocked off the rooftop.

While this manufactured drama felt a little ridiculous — especially for a series like Dead or Alive where people shrug off being bounced into explosive surfaces like a pinball regularly — I remained eager to see more. Yesterday I spent an hour playing a pre-alpha build of this Itagaki-less Dead or Alive game and I can tell you two definite things: First, that DOA5 feels as fast, fluid, and combo-driven as any other title in the series, and manages to add new simple mechanics that aren’t immediately overpowering. And second, that the dynamic environment of the construction site makes arenas in the new DOA feel both chaotic and alive at the same time. Both the combat and environments lend themselves well to what developer Team Ninja calls “fighting entertainment,” a concept that apparently emphasizes transforming fighting games into more of a spectacle while keeping player-driven actions simple.

Click the image above to check out all Dead or Alive 5 screens.

 

The new Power Blow — that can be performed by every character on the roster without prerequisite — serves as a prime example of this philosophy. Using the R1 button on a PS3 controller (RB on 360), the player can charge a special attack that works similarly to charging a heavy attack in Ninja Gaiden; releasing the button causes your character to charge forward and unleash a powerful multi-hit combo. But before the last devastating hit is delivered, everything on-screen slows down — allowing you to pick a final destination to send your opponent flying towards. This slowdown works as a cool way to show off the little details you may miss in the middle of DOA’s swift combo-driven ballet — mainly the accumulation of dirt and sweat on the fighters’ clothing and skin.

While simplified mechanics mean that anyone can pick up a controller and find success in DOA5, the developers manage to implement a few tricks that help keep the fighting from feeling unbalanced. Power blows might appear overpowered at first, but players on the receiving end have a number of ways to counter the attack or get around it entirely. Sidestepping represents the most difficult option — requiring exact timing based on the second the attacker flings themselves forward; players can also use the signature counter move — performed by tapping block and a direction — to quickly reverse an incoming power blow. As always, the best approach to any offense is to hit first and then combo, and thus a small window to launch a preemptive strike will halt any power move abuse firmly in its tracks.

Arguably, Dead or Alive has always been a simple-yet-over-the-top fighting game that’s comfortably lived in the shadow of games like Virtua Fighter and Soulcalibur due to its simple mechanics and scantily clad women. In the wake of Itagaki’s departure, the developers appear to be taking the series in a more serious direction by toning down some of the superfluous and offense-centric combat. While the same wall-busting attacks that send opponents reeling off of rooftops into other battlegrounds remain in DOA5, they’ve also been re-examined to give players on the receiving end a chance to stay in the fight and even defend themselves. Typically, getting dropped off a cliff resulted in an often crippling loss of health (understandably, right), but it also meant that the attacking player always had a distinct advantage — making it hard to recover.

Click the image above to check out all Dead or Alive 5 screens.

 

DOA5 implements a new approach that addresses that problem: allowing players to grab hold of the ledge before falling off and enter a minigame as the attacking opponent rushes forward. The attacker can choose to strike or go for a grapple, while the player that’s dangling can either block or evade. These options appear simple on the surface, but they finally give me an opportunity to save myself from damaging situations. Successfully blocking an attack or evading a throw leads to both players falling into the next arena, but minus the heavy damage or disadvantage.

I’m surprised by Team Ninja’s effort to firmly ground Dead or Alive, but I also find the approach a refreshing change of pace that helps take people’s eyes off of the excessive boobage and onto the game proper. But while some of the attempts feel fresh, posters around the venue of the event featuring DOA5 characters with the tagline, “I’m a fighter” remind me that even a serious tone can only go so far. It’s still too early to tell the effectiveness of this approach since I’ve only seen four characters in Hayate, Hayabusa, Hitomi, and Ayane up until this point. So I’m left wondering if characters like Kasumi and Tina Armstrong have cleaned up their intentionally titillating acts. The demo build at the event only shows off the construction site stage from the trailer, so I’m also curious to see how other stages handle the same concept. While a lot of questions remain regarding DOA5’s future, the build I see inspires hope that the series lies in capable hands — delivering the same fast-action a player of any skill level can appreciate.

 

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