Everybody was Kung-Fu fighting...
Most of us have absolutely no idea how to fight. I mean sure, we get drunk and mad and try to kick and punch each other, but it always ends up looking like a bad Three Stooges skit. Arms flailing and fingers flying, a street brawl between two untrained fighters is one of the most ridiculous and entertaining spectacles you can hope to see, coming in just behind blind midget breakdancing and monkeys doing, well, anything.
Fighting games serve to satiate our total lack of combat prowess by letting us pretend that we know all sorts of kick-ass martial arts. We can perform flying round kicks, tiger punches, foot sweeps and dragon chops from the relative safety of the couch. Really the only trouble we can get in is pulling a muscle while attempting one of those Ultra Super Mega Street Fighter moves or staining the carpets by stepping on a loose Cheeto.
So it comes as no surprise that two of the high profile games for the PS2 are brawlers. The first, Tekken Tag, offered little new to fighting fans, opting instead to refine and perfect an already proven system. The second is DOA 2: Hardcore, which, for all intents and purposes, does pretty much the same thing, albeit with much bigger boobs.
Hardcore is essentially an enhanced version of Dead or Alive 2, which came out for the Dreamcast in the US and the PS2 in Japan. For the most part it's the same game, though Hardcore sports a few very nifty new features.
But first, the basics. The fighting system in DOA is geared towards button mashing, as there aren't a billion moves for each character. To combat this, the game has a one-button reversal system that can counter just about any blow. The result is a game of timing and tension rather than learning a bunch of combos.
Visually, this ends up looking great. Hardcore is a very pretty game, showing off the power of the PS2 nicely...though not any better than the Dreamcast version. Still, the snow level looks amazing, as do the stages with sunsets.
The characters look terrific. Seamless polygons and incredibly lifelike movements coupled with the reversal system and multi-tiered levels lead to one of the most cinematic action games in town. You'll grab a kick in mid-air and counter with a three-punch reversal, which sends your opponent sailing over the edge of a castle wall for a 50-foot freefall drop. Then you pounce down after him and continue the fight. This is good stuff.
Story mode allows you to take any of the 8 characters through a series of battles to uncover their past. Or at least that was the concept, though the end product is a thoroughly disjointed and ill-conceived excuse for a plot. I've played through with every character, read the manual from cover to cover, and still have NO IDEA WHAT'S GOING ON. Next time, someone hire a guy (or baby, or a chimp) to write a decent story.
The other modes include Time Attack, Sparring and Tag Team, which pits 2 on 2. This allows for some brutal double team throws. A few new levels have been added in Tag mode, which is a nice touch. One brand new mode altogether allows you to actually record an entire fight for playback, so you can slow-mo the massacre. It's really cool, though I wish they integrated it into the other modes rather than make it an entire mode unto itself. Any garage band would tell you that sometimes the coolest stuff happens when you least expect it, not when you happen to hit the "record" button.
Survival mode has been altered a bit as well. Rather than just going for as many kills as possible, you're going for points. The longer you last and the more ass you kick leads to a higher score. You can also collect items, which can give added health and eventually open up new costumes and stuff.
Speaking of which, there are a ton of new costumes to unlock, though doing so is a royal pain. You have to beat each mode a million times with each guy. Ah, nothing like a reward for repetition. Practice may make perfect, but I'd gladly take "fun" instead.
Sadly, there are only two new characters, one of which (Bayman) is just a tweaked version of a standard character (Leon.) That means that after unlocking everything, there are only 10 playable characters. Considering what other fighting games offer (Soul Calibur, anyone?), this is a measly helping and was clearly just an afterthought. It's too bad, really, since the gameplay is so fun.
What would DOA be without boob jubbling (which, by the way, is Tecmo's technical term for the excessive breast bounciness)? The girls of DOA let it all hang out, but I'm disappointed that they didn't integrate the jubbling into the fighting. I keep waiting for a move called the "Slammary!"
The sound effects are fine, though the music is just awful. Can we stop with the 1988 heavy metal guitar riffs? I didn't know Motley Crue had a patent on the genre!
The big question is obvious: how does this stack up against Tekken Tag? Well, that's sort of like asking how Frosted Flakes compare with Fruit Loops. They're both sugar-coated and they're both bad for you, but they taste different. Tekken fans will probably dislike the somewhat limited depth of DOA Hardcore, though the cool reversal system and tremendous graphics make it worth the price of admission for most.