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Dead or Alive 4 (Xbox 360) artwork

Dead or Alive 4 (Xbox 360) review

"Things haven’t changed a lot, so much as been refined, the fourth time ‘round. The usual suspects are on offer: Ninja Gaiden’s Ryu Hayabusa, the super ninja; Kasumi, the sexy ninja pacifist (I kid you not); Hitomi, the hot German kareteka; Hayate, the unbelievably powerful pretty boy ninja. In case you’re new to the DoA experience – yes, there are a lot of ninjas."

In my mind, Dead or Alive has always been about counters. Boobs, and counters. With that in mind, consider this fourth iteration in the series as a game featuring boobs and counters in a slicker package.

This is a franchise which rarely ever elicited temperate emotions – you either liked Tecmo’s sex-tinged fighter with its emphasis on reversing predictable, button-mashing newbies (so hardcore!), or you didn’t. There never seemed to be much middle ground.

Things haven’t changed a lot, so much as been refined, the fourth time ‘round. The usual suspects are on offer: Ninja Gaiden’s Ryu Hayabusa, the super ninja; Kasumi, the sexy ninja pacifist (I kid you not); Hitomi, the hot German kareteka; Hayate, the unbelievably powerful pretty boy ninja. In case you’re new to the DoA experience – yes, there are a lot of ninjas.

But there are some interesting non-ninjas in the cast as well, like Christie, who wears a pleather jacket which is not only too small for her, but is unzipped and lacking a shirt underneath. She’s got her snake-style kung fu mastered along with her absolutely relentless trash talk. Bayman reminds of Rolento of Final Fight fame, only he doesn’t toss grenades your way – he opts instead to break your bones in some rather nasty looking submissions.

The crew offers a little something for everyone, and so it’s easy to see why the series has so many diehard fans based on the characters alone. That being said, I was particularly dismayed at the remarkably stereotypical Jann character (the Bruce Lee of the game – he even practices Jeet Kune Do) and The Black Guy, Zack, who is a DJ (of course) and is so thoroughly into his music that he fights with headphones around his neck (probably pumping the latest offering from Lil Wayne).

A couple of lame duck fighters aside, and DoA delivers a memorable and varied ensemble. In the very rare event that this game piqued your interest because you thought the chicks were hot, rest assured, after beating the game with any one of them, you’ll unlock a solid wardrobe of scandalous outfits to choose from on your next go.

And the clothes look real. Drunken layabout Brad Wong’s silver locks – they look real too. In fact, DoA4 is entirely stunning, from the character models and their accessories, to the interactive environs. One stage, out on the streets, allows for interaction with the median, and for cars to actually strike oblivious fighters. Another area, on a rickety rope bridge finds its guests plummeting off the bridge, at least a hundred feet down into shallow stream (ninjas handle falls like this all the time).

The sounds of battle are fierce, the camera angles dramatic, the trash talk ever-flowing. It’s everything you might want in a fighting game – provided you like your fighting games hard, and technical, with an emphasis on defence. In two-player play, button mashers will usually get creamed by an experienced DoA player. In single-player mode (which is admittedly underwhelming – only Story, Time Attack and Survival modes are available), the computer will allow beginners to wail away with impunity for the first few contests.

Soon after though, unintelligent play will be rewarded with a sudden collision with an unyielding glass ceiling. All at once, you’ll be thrashed continually, until you adjust and realize you’re required to grasp at least some semblance of competence with the reversal system. I found that the game rewards stringing together an offensive burst far less than it does stringing together a damaging counter. Which makes sense in theory, because counters are far more difficult to time and pull off in the midst of a bludgeoning than is pulling off that same bludgeoning. It’s just that the DoA game mechanics take some time getting used to if you’re not already on board as an aficionado – it simply may not be your thing.

However, its flashy looks assures that DoA4 makes for as good a party game as any fighter; most partygoers/casual gamers wouldn't be looking to test the one-player mode anyway. If you can handle its idiosyncratic intricacies and defensive slant, you just might find that Dead or Alive 4's mix of bouncing boobs and slick visuals add up to the ideal fighting game experience. Or you might be like me, a fighting game fan who wants all-out offense and more meat on his single-player campaign trail. Even so, you’d be remiss to ignore the prowess of a title that may not be right up your alley, but accomplishes an appreciable level of excellence in any case.

Rating: 8/10

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Staff review by Marc Golding (October 12, 2008)

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