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Having recently released the newest Ninja Gaiden game on the X-Box, and with two scheduled Spring releases in the Dead or Alive series alone, I thought I

Dead or Alive Ultimate

 

Dead or Alive Ultimate

ESRB: Mature - M
Platform: Xbox
Category: n/a
 
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Having recently released the newest Ninja Gaiden game on the X-Box, and with two scheduled Spring releases in the Dead or Alive series alone, I thought I’d have been severely mistaken to have expected anything but the best from Team Ninja. Of course, on closer inspection, I was wrong. Graphically, I was let down by the remastered Dead or Alive 1. In fact, Dead or Alive 1 left me more than a little wanting. It’s not enough anymore to have breathtaking graphics and breast physics in a game. Sadly, those seem to be the vehicle on which the first Dead or Alive game attempted to pull away from its competitors, very nearly being a straight clone of Sega’s Virtua Fighter. And so it was that I made Dead or Alive 2 more heavily my focus, as it seems to have directly followed the first game and added a huge amount of individuality. Fortunately, the new edition of Dead or Alive 2 proved slightly more intriguing. Finally I can understand why Dead or Alive fans rave about the lack of destructible terrain features in complex games. Dead or Alive 2 revolutionised how we thought of smashing people through ceilings in Mortal Kombat and lent us the ability to ram opponents through walls, over cliffs, down hills and into other arenas, the whole time clubbing one another with dangerous looking attacks. From the outset Dead or Alive 2 set the bar high and it would have taken a lot to measure up to our opening play. Picture the scene; two ninjas face off against one another just outside a rain lashed and wind swept feudal Japanese dojo. As they fight back and forth, lightening flashes and illuminates the background with a hard, high contrast light that blurs away all features, until they are only black silhouettes chasing back and forth across the flagstones with an array of agile kicks and punches to shame professional acrobats. Sadly, it quickly becomes apparent that Ultimate hasn’t much more to give than that. Of course, it’s fantastic to tumble from the top of a tower and force one another from rooftop to rooftop until someone hits the ground and spoils the atmosphere with an ugly (though fantastically modelled) corpse. The problem goes beyond that; the feeling seems to be that someone wasn’t paying attention to the outside world while the game was being made. Games moved on… Dead or Alive simply didn’t. Character movements are slow and sluggish; reaction players will be sorely disappointed. The quickest part of the game seems to be deciding which three or four attacks to (ab)use most. For years I’ve considered nothing as much fun as sheer riotous beat ‘em ups, but Ultimate just isn’t part of this prestigious group. Gameplay itself is predictable and almost unplayably tedious beyond the first few bouts. Attacks revolve around an attack and defend system that remains almost painful to use, let alone to watch. If someone tries to use a clever combo on you, sit back and block it all, then come back with your own combo. The delay times after combination moves are long enough that defending yourself is a veritable impossibility. Any regular beat ‘em up player will have little difficulty in learning which attacks guarantee an opponent will be knocked through scenery, over a cliff etc. The root of the entire playability problem took me almost a week to notice, but as soon as I did it exerted itself more and more forcefully, until I could no longer play the game at all. Dead or Alive is not a beat ‘em up; it’s a wrestling game. With only two face buttons on a four button controller devoted to actual attacks, one to punch, one to kick and one each for block and throw, the pad is ridiculously underused. When I took into consideration the fact that holding back also performs the same block, it became readily apparent that there was simply nothing left to do with the other buttons than slap in a block. In comparison to the other legendary beat ‘em ups it doesn’t pan out too well. In fact, even Street Fighter, with one less dimension, has six separate attack buttons. The only noteworthy beat ‘em up with a remotely comparable arrangement is Soul Calibur, but then, even Soul Calibur had three attack buttons and due the deadly nature of the weapons used, Soul Calibur was designed to revolve around blocking. By some kind of bizarre coincidence, the WWF Smackdown series uses almost exactly the same control system as Dead or Alive. This control limitation means that the command list is exceptionally short, leaving players with little choice other than learn a few quick combos and lash their opponents into submission (as soon as their combo has finished). Couple the lack of moves with the patheticy of the game’s attack and defence system and it quickly becomes apparent that this isn’t the legendary game so many of us remember it to be. There are other games out there with the same attack and defence problems as Dead or Alive. Tekken is infamous for the fact that there is so much advantage in just “turtling” or blocking for rounds at a time until an opponent suddenly stalls on the way out of an attack and you may seize the opportunity to cripple them. By contrast, games like SNK’s The King Of Fighters have relatively few moves for each character and rely on an intricate system of prioritised attacking and blocking. The problem is that Dead or Alive just doesn’t have either. Through both single and multiplayer there was an all-pervading sense that the designers had wanted matches to last until someone got bored of the constant blocking and just decided a loss was better than a constant stalemate. Ultimate gives the feeling of a training game for something more complex to come, sadly, it just never does. I approached Dead or Alive with an open mind, fully aware that the designers had made a beach volleyball game using all of the female characters. In truth, it hadn’t bothered me; after all, I had thought, everyone’s entitled to their cash in. The problem is that Dead or Alive: Ultimate seems to be just that; an abysmal cash in designed to snare those of us who loved its predecessors. Scintillatingly packaged and overflowing with remastered extras it really does look like a good buy, and for those among us raised on Dead or Alive I’m assured it’s an excellent deal. There’s even a fantastic full motion video intro for Dead or Alive 2 that lasts a good ten minutes. It’s extras like that that attract fans to remastered games. I just wish there were more substance to it than the extras. In closing, Dead or Alive: Ultimate brings back all the fun of both Dead or Alive 1 and Dead or Alive 2, complete with graphics to put the originals to absolute shame. The problem is that “all of the fun” of those two games lasted about half an hour before boredom set in and around an hour before despair wormed its way into my mind. I realised that where other fighting games developed Dead or Alive seems to have stalled. While there is a market for that basic fun, it wasn’t long before even the relative novices with whom I played felt a sense of graduation and decided they were ready for something a little more complex. If you really want a game that packs all the punch of Dead or Alive but with reflexes, special moves, intricate play and even better arenas, there is hope. X-men: Next Dimension remains the best game out there for sprawling maps, destructible and interactive terrain, and above all, a hail of character to beat the band. A true beat ‘em up original to beat the band.






 
 

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