Chests of fury.
I haven’t been in a fight since I was in college, which is kind of surprising as I like to get drunk and make fun of people. However, if the incredibly painful looking blows and throws of Dead or Alive 4 are any indication, my lack of brawling is definitely a good thing. As opposed to Brad Wong, my own drunken boxing involves a lot more falling down and a lot less getting up. Round 3 is when I get stitches.
So drunk or not, I think I’ll try to confine my fighting to the gorgeous, virtual (and bloodless) arenas of Dead or Alive 4. This should be easy for me, or any other DOA fan out there, as this first Xbox 360 fighter is a worthy contender. Not so much an advancement as a refinement of the series, it still does what DOA has always done well – convince you that hot, huge-breasted women are also really good fighters.
[image1]The modes from all the previous DOA games are here. Most people will start with the single-player Story Mode and fight their way to the boss with one of the 16 characters. Like all the DOA games, the Story makes about as much sense as a Mad Libs filled in by a coked-up Robin Williams. Even less if you factor in bad translation.
As you battle through the usual series of fighters, you will occasionally stop and chat. Sometimes you’ll vaguely gab about the DOA Corporation and a genetically modified warrior; other times two girls will simply argue about cabbage before beating each other senseless. Get to the end and you’ll unlock a similarly crazy movie for each character, including a mermaid dream and a salad dance. These clips might not tell a story, but hey, at least they’re always surprising.
Other single-player modes include the standard Survival and Time Attacks. The 360 itself gets a little credit for the playability of these modes, as there is no loading at all between fights – the next challenger immediately jumps into the ring. You’ll also find the Sparring mode necessary to really learn the intricacies of the fighting system, especially since the manual doesn’t consistently label the controller buttons with the right letters.
And you’ll need to learn all those fancy moves for Dead or Alive 4‘s VS. modes if you want to do more than button-mash. That is, you will if you aren’t already familiar with the Dead or Alive series. Really the only big gameplay change is the deepened counter system. There are now four types instead of two, making the system really difficult to get a grip on without lots of practice.
Of course, the real place to test your skills is online, or as I like to call it, the Electronic Hell of Virtual Humiliation. I remember wasting my quarters getting schooled at Street Fighter 2 over at Lamp Post Pizza by some Chinese kid who was only playing with one hand while he ate a slice with the other. Get involved with the wrong group online and it works the same, but at least you don’t lose your quarters.
[image2]In fact, it works almost identically to the old coin-op days. The row of quarters kids would line up on arcade machines are recreated virtually in Dead or Alive 4. The games are arranged in lobbies, with up to sixteen people waiting their turn. You watch all the matches as they occur while you move through the queue, giving you a breather in between fights and a chance to analyze other people’s techniques.
The key is finding the right room, and it’s not too hard because everyone has a rating based on their online record. Find a good group of six or so (sixteen is really too many) at your skill level and let the pummeling begin. With a solid Internet connection, the online battles are as smooth and problem free as the local ones.
Once you’re in line for a game, you’re simply a spectator, but every game also has a lobby set up by the host. Here you can run around with a customizable avatar and chat with others in the lobby, although this takes you out of line. You can purchase your own lobby and customize your avatar with stuff paid for by points from your victories. It’s an interesting idea, although the lobbies ultimately feel useless.
No matter where you play, it looks great. The colors are bright, the action is smooth and the framerate never skips a beat. The multi-level arenas are as creative as ever, from the traditional rooftop and wrestling rings to over-the top locations full of dinosaurs or African wildlife. Throwing your opponent tumbling down the stairs of a monkey temple is especially satisfying, and with more interactive environments than before, you can also smash their head into a giant gong or toss them in front of an angry leopard for a little tag-team action, National Geographic-style.
[image3]The fighters themselves look almost as good as the backdrops. They’re the same ninja-heavy cast of characters with a few new recruits. Your favorite DOA girls like Kasumi and Tina are back, jubbling boobs and all. Introducing her new giant tracts o’ land is La Mariposa, a luchadora with wildly flamboyant outfits. If you ever happen to look at the female fighters’ faces (a big if), you’ll notice they all still look like anime Barbie dolls.
The most hyped new character is also a woman, although you can only tell by her voice: the unlockable Spartan from Halo 2. She looks just like Master Chief fighting without his guns. Oddly, her armor doesn’t give her any advantage.
The sound is top notch, with subtitled characters speaking their original Japanese, which I prefer immensely to the usually mangled dub jobs. Some of the music is by Aerosmith, and like them or not, getting real music from a real band lends a professional quality you can’t get from the cheesy guitar riffs in older DOA games The full surround sound makes the environments feel even more real, and sound effects are nearly perfect with every smackdown. Slam your opponent into a metal railing, and that resounding clang sounds a lot like it must feel.
Dead or Alive 4 is voluptuous in every sense of the word. With the best graphics money can buy and a robust online ring, it’s a great choice for your new 360. That said, it still doesn’t really bring any new tricks to the fight.