Of all the fighting franchises out there Dead or Alive has always been my favorite and not for the reasons most of you are thinking, although sexy ladies who kick really high certainly help. Perhaps the biggest draw for me has been the story, usually told through these character-specific cutscenes that would often have intertwining elements to them. You would pick your character then partake in a dozen fights to get your cinematic reward and then repeat the process with the entire roster until the big picture was finally revealed.
Dead or Alive 5+ is the handheld version of the console game previously released on console with plenty of Vita specific goodies tossed into the mix that may have console gamers tempted into double-dipping. DOA5 was the ultimate evolution of the franchise on consoles thanks to incredible graphics, great fighting styles and controls (that now include touch), and a fully evolved story mode that is propelled to the forefront of the experience, and all of that has been perfectly ported to the Vita…and then some. Rather than piecing together parts of an overarching story, you are now presented with a quest-like experience that has you dabbling in various fight styles, learning new concepts along the way, completing various bonus fight challenges, and getting to play as most of the popular characters. Instead of the characters dictating the story, the story now determines which characters you play, who they will fight and where.
The story mode is massive, with a plot tree that snakes its way across your screen linking each fight encounter, allowing you to return later if you wish to complete a missed objective or just desire a rematch. Between the fights are lengthy and gorgeous cutscenes that keep the story moving with parallel events that are taking place around the globe as our fighters are slowly united for the Dead or Alive tournament being hosted by DOATECH, the company whose headquarters we blew up in DOA4 and that Helena has now taking control of and runs from her luxurious yacht. At first, the ratio of movies versus gameplay can be annoying for those looking to get in and fight, but the cinematics get shorter as the story progresses – just enough time to rest your weary fingers.
The story also serves as a tutorial of sorts as each fight attempts to teach you a specific move or combo. You can totally ignore these instructions and blast your way through each fight using your own favorite moves or make an honest effort to learn the button presses and repeat the sequence as many times as required to get the ultimate reward – a green check in your bonus box. And once you have mastered all the new fight moves and techniques you can jump into live matches with local multiplayer modes or head online for arcade and tournament matches.
The fighting engine has been greatly enhanced with all new moves, grabs, throws, tech rolls, and various blocks and counters. You have new attacks like Power Blow and Critical Burst and cool finishing moves, many of which can involve the interactive and multi-tiered environments that you will be fighting in. These stunning new 3D arenas take on a whole new dimension as you can now move in and out of 3D space to dodge and counter incoming attacks.
And all of your favorite characters have returned along with a few new faces as well as several characters from other games like Ninja Gaiden and Virtua Fighter. Ryu Hayabusa, Hayate, Ayane, Kasumi, Hitomi, Bayman, Christie, Lei Fang, Zack, Kokoro, Bass, Tina, along with Akira and Sarah Bryant just scratch the surface of the largest roster in DOA history, and all of these characters look amazing with fluid animations and superior texture detail, especially the hair and clothing. There are even three settings for “breast jiggle animation”. And for fashion conscious fighters, there are plenty of additional costumes to be found on the Vita version.
The levels look equally impressive with arenas that range from an oil rig to a rooftop and climates like Antarctica or a steamy South American jungle. And when the DOA tournament starts you can expect all the lasers, lights, and pyrotechnics of a major WWE event in a massive high-tech arena. Many levels have Danger Zones that can be used to help you defeat your opponent, or, if you feel these are too cheap you can disable them. Many levels also have multiple levels, so what may look like a ring-out may result in a tumble down some steps or a damaging fall from a rooftop.
The thing I enjoyed most about Dead or Alive 5+ is the way the story actually taught me the more advanced moves that I usually don’t take the time to learn in other fighting games. For a game that is basically all punches and kicks, there is a surprising amount of variety in what you can actually do, and the control schemes are remarkably intuitive. The new touch/swipe controls are pretty cool and work great in tandem with the vertical play option that lets you assume full-screen, first-person control over your fighter to approach the game from a whole new perspective. For those worried about blocking their view of the action, you can use the rear touch pad to input your moves for an unobstructed view of the action. Still, this new vertical approach to fighting is more of a gimmick to show off the Vita, and you won’t want to play the game seriously in this mode.
Dead or Alive 5+ also supports the Vita’s ad hoc and infrastructure network features for incredible multiplayer fighting action as well as sharing data between your Vita and your PS3 version of the game. There are also plenty of DLC costume packs, most of which are way too overpriced for what you get. My only real concern is the same I share with any fighting game on the Vita – fighting games are notoriously hard on controllers and when your controller is your “game system” I just can’t mash on those buttons with the same unbridled enthusiasm as I can when I’m using a tournament fight stick or a $50 controller.
Sexy ladies in skimpy costumes make for great marketing – just look at DOA Volleyball – but lurking beneath the flowing fabric and ultra-realistic character models is a solid fighting engine that will expand to meet the demands of both casual fighter and tournament veteran. You don’t want to miss Dead or Alive 5+…my vote for the best handheld fighter of 2013.