Dead or Alive 3 launched with the original Xbox and quickly turned into an institution. We were soon treated to a sidestory in Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball, a remake in Dead or Alive Ultimate, and even a new version of Ninja Gaiden that tied into the Dead or Alive storyline. We've finally got a true sequel to the series in Dead or Alive 4 on the Xbox 360. How'd it turn out?
Very, very nicely.
Dead or Alive 4 is one of the prettiest games to hit the streets. Screenshots really don't do it justice. The character models are extraordinarily detailed. All the characters have accessories that flap in the wind or as they move, not to mention the flowing dresses that a few of the girls sport. The texture on the costumes are sharp enough that fur looks like fur, chain mail looks like chain mail, and Bayman's scuba gear looks like spandex. There's even more animation, to boot. Characters no longer just lie flat when they hit the ground. They'll grab at their faces, lean up a little bit, and generally squirm around.
The backgrounds are just as impressive. Even the smallest of them are crammed with stuff. Debris kicks up when you're slammed into the ground, glass explodes off walls and windows when you're tossed into them, and the night club stage is positively rave-tastic. The stages, in short, come with plenty of bells and whistles. Everything meshes well, from the on-lookers in most of the stages to the destructible objects littered around the stages. The sheer amount of interaction is best visible in the Seaside Market stage, where every impact results in broken boxes of fruit, rocked carts, or even shuffled sand. In the other stages, you get falling cherry blossom petals, realistic water splashes and reflections, and a horde of monkeys who're disturbed by your fight. My personal favorite are the dozens of balloons that rise into the sky in the Seaside Stage when you drop down to the lower level.
Oh yeah, the multi-tiered stages are back, too. Be on the look-out for multiple sections in addition to these tiers. The Seaside Market in particular is a crowded outdoor marketplace with two or three separate sections and a lower level beachfront segment on top of all that. There's a wonderful attention to detail at work, and it all adds up into a beautiful package. Is DoA4 the best-looking game in the 360 launch list? Quite possibly, yes. The game renders an insane amount of detail and dynamic transparencies with nary a framerate hitch. It's honestly a wonder to see in motion, and the new water effects are better than before. My only real complaint with the graphics is that the longer hair still moves excellently, but suffers from the same clipping problems that were around in DoAU. It's weird that those would be left in.
The gameplay has been overhauled, too. The game is noticeably faster than the previous games in the series. This results in a number of things. First, the counter-happy gameplay from DoA3 is gone. The counters are still in there, and are an even more integral part of gameplay, but you can no longer just stick a counter out and wait for someone to talk into it. It takes skill and a little bit of luck to time a counter properly. Do it wrong and you're left either grabbing at air or eating a fist. Combos are much more effective, too, as I'm sure the last boss will be happy to show you. Combos are a quick route to easy damage, but tend to blow up in your face when you screw up and get countered after messing up. The new animations have made an impact on gameplay, too. Characters stagger now, and they stagger often. Think of it as a prettier hitstun, but it makes it no less annoying when you get burned because you were hit with a staggering attack near a danger zone wall.
DoA still has the unlockable costumes and survival mode items that you've come to expect from it, but the real meat of the game is the online mode. There's the standard one-on-one and tag mode, but it's bolstered by a variety of modes. Winner stays, loser stays, tournament, and survival mode are among your options, and really serve to extend the gameplay. It's all well and good, of course, until you go on a 15 game streak in loser stays. Fighting the AI is all well and good, but human competition and interaction is where it's at. The actual fighting is 99% lag-free, even with many people in one match. That, of course, depends on your connection, but it seems nicely stable.
Team Ninja wanted to recreate an old-school arcade feel with their online play in DoA4, and they've succeeded. You may not necessarily have to put your quarter up to play, but the voice chat and lobby system brings it all together into a fun mesh. It's fun to invite a few friends and a few strangers and just sit and shoot the breeze while you fight. It's fun, and DoA is a game that brings you enough "Oh holy crap did you see that?!" moments to keep you entertained. Just for kicks, pull off Ayane's Hana-Oroshi (Fwd X+Y) near a danger zone wall for the win. You'll get an "Oh, snap!" every time.
The lobby (and your online avatar) are fully customizable. You can pick everything from a boy to a girl to a ninja to an alligator to a tree to represent you and each of them come complete with their own emoticons and actions. The lobbies come with TVs (also upgradeable) that spectators can simply sit and watch the matches on. The default television is fairly small, but then, that's just incentive for you to fight online and earn Zack Dollars to upgrade your set.
Dead or Alive 4 is a total package. Not a perfect one, not yet, but it's definitely packed with enough stuff to keep you busy for a good while. Unlockable costumes, characters, and achievements only serve to keep you going. It may not be as technical as a Virtua Fighter, or as tournament-friendly as a Street Fighter, but it is a ton of fun. Try it out.