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Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore (PlayStation 2) artwork

Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore (PlayStation 2) review

"You! You killed my mother! "

I'm going to write a word related to experiences with Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore (hitherto called DOA2):


Where did you mind go? Was it set on the steady thrum of your heart, beating in rhythm with polygonal fists as they make contact with faces? Was it toward the obvious carnal end, watching as bouncing flesh stirs animalistic thoughts and impulses? Yeah, such vibes have been attributed to DOA2 by nearly everyone. However, when I think of “pounding” in this title, my mind goes straight to the brutal, sickening thud a skull makes as it hits the pavement or a wall, having been thrust into the surface by an educated foot or fist.

I think of Bass suplexing one of his victims spine-first to the concrete. I think of Kasumi roundhouse kicking Tina through a stained-glass window, her body's plummet cut short by the ground below. I think of Ryu Hayabusa, who went from getting his ass beat by birds in the 8-bit era to practically flying through the air and delivering sick kicks to the noggins of his opponents. Hell, my favorite moment involved watching a guy counter a punch by looping his arm around the puncher's bicep, smoothly shifting to the puncher's backside to lock him into a full nelson, then shoving him head-first into a nearby wall.

...and in one occasion, the wall happened to be rigged with explosives.

Yes, DOA2 is a fighting game that dishes out brutality without and an abundance of blood or gore. As a 3D title, you take control of one of several muscular dudes or busty ladies, then commence beating the snot out of the rest of the roster. Here, everyone comes with their own pet martial art, packed with move sets full of swift strikes, knees, punches, elbows, kicks, and headbutts that send your foes flying, shooting downward, or crashing into obstructions. On top of that, you get useful counter attacks, devastating grapple maneuvers, double-team strikes when playing in “Tag Battle” mode, and interactive environments that allow you to plow the opposition through fragile set pieces and into other locales. For instance, one stage allows a fighter to send the other falling down a waterfall and into a separate part of a Japanese village.

Here's the thing, though: none of these moves comes with a terrible amount of complexity. The game offers intuitive control schemes and wonderful response that make picking up and playing easy for anyone. I went into this one completely fresh ages ago, not knowing what to expect. Before long, I was sending fools sailing through the air and hitting them with bone-crunching slams as I had been at least an intermediate player.

Of course, on the flip side, such simplicity also means button mashing occasionally constitutes a strong strategy. Seriously, no one likes getting wrecked by a newbie who only sits there and hits buttons, blissfully unaware of the carnage they've unleashed.

I know, this all sounds basic for a fighting game, right? By today's standards, this one comes across as rustic or quaint, having only a dozen playable characters, a short campaign, no online play, no downloadable extras, and no licensed crossovers like Jason Voorhees, Darth Vader, or Randy Orton. This one came from simpler times, when solid fighting experiences consisted of little more than great mechanics, a decent ensemble, a clear identity, and addictive mayhem. DOA2 had all of that.

The only real bummer here, though, lies in its campaign. Way back, this genre didn't provide much for storylines. Earlier pieces gave you prelude and epilogue cutscenes, and that was about it. Here, you get a random string of interactions that try to form the highlights of a coherent narrative, but fail miserably. Bass' story, for instance, seems to focus on him attempting to teach his arrogant daughter Tina a lesson in respect. He engages in arbitrary interactions that set almost nothing up between the two, all culminating in a flashback with him and a young Tina. That segues into a battle where the cocky woman proclaims that no one can stop her now. Win that fight and suddenly Bass squares off against a Tengu in an unknown forest. What does this have to do with Tina's attitude? I don't know, but after winning Tina suddenly seems to respect her dad again, as evidenced by her suddenly running towards him enthusiastically.

I'll do you one worse, too: one woman searches for her mother's assassin. You receive little to no narrative developing anything from motives to the event itself. Then, finally, the woman looks at another who seems to be oblivious of what's going on around her and says, “You! You killed my mother!” I... What? Where's the evidence? Where's the setup? How did she come to this conclusion? Did she select a random victim and proclaim them the killer so she could beat their ass?

I'm doing that from now on. If I ever feel like randomly beating someone up, I'm just going to say, “You! You killed my mother!” Oh, who am I kidding? I can barely fight a cold.

I guess I'm spoiled. Games like Injustice and some of the more recent Mortal Kombat offerings showed us that fighting titles can do decent, coherent plots. They're not absolutely necessary, but they add generously to a title's experience. DOA2's attempt at storytelling comes across as lazy, but also could be seen as a low-key parody of game storytelling. The only problem there is that parody requires something to let the audience know the piece in question is self-aware and not just ineptly written.

But you know what? Who cares? It wasn't the tales that kept me coming back years after I added this one to my library. It was the smooth, exciting, vicious mechanics and play that made this one memorable. I know, everyone's all about the bouncing boobs and thick legs, but to me those things are secondary in comparison to DOA2's unabashed celebration of non-bloody violence.

JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (June 18, 2024)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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