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Dead or Alive 4 Review

Developer: Team Ninja Publisher: Tecmo
Release Date: December 30, 2005 Also On: None

It’s very, very rare that I play a fighting game. The last one that I enjoyed was an Xbox launch title, and it featured a beautiful white-haired assassin on its cover. That game was Dead or Alive 3. Naturally, Team Ninja’s fourthcoming fighting game got my attention, and after being pushed back a few weeks, Dead or Alive 4 for the Xbox 360 finally released. Did it meet my expectations? After hours of learning combos and pounding opponents, I can finally say that yes, it’s an amazing game.

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I always enjoyed the gameplay in Dead or Alive. It mixes playability with technicality unlike any other game out there. Button-mashers can have a good time because the fast-paced fighting allows mindless attacks. Those who memorize combos and time reversals can also enjoy the series, because it allows for that as well. The fighting in DOA4 is as fluid and fast as ever. Punches and kicks are incorporated beautifully into complex combos. Watching your fighter use his or her abilities is almost like watching an orchestrated dance, especially with some of the female characters. Team Ninja put an emphasis on the reversals and throws this time around, so those moves have been made a little easier with improved controls and timing. Once I learned reversals and a couple combos, I was set to go. I went from the button-masher camp to the finesse camp, and an in-game Sparring Mode can turn any newbie into an expert with just a little time.

The Sparring Mode also offers a perfect opportunity to master the three new characters. Kokoro, the geisha-in-training, isn’t a very exciting character by any means but she’s new regardless. Eliot, one of my least favorite characters in recent memory, has a generic fighting style and an appearance that suggests Team Ninja forgot what gender he was intended to be. La Mariposa is a great addition, and her luchadora skills are perfect in DOA4. I enjoyed using her more than the other two new characters, but some of the fourteen returning characters are fantastic as well. My personal favorites were Kasumi, Ryu Hayabusa (of Ninja Gaiden fame), and Christie, the white-haired assassin and DOA3 cover character I mentioned earlier. Christie was my favorite character overall, but any player can find a character to enjoy. The slower fighters, like Bass and SPARTAN (yeah, the Halo character), aren’t as easy to use but they’re powerful and can take a few hits. Fast characters like Christie and Jann Lee are the ones I’d prefer to use, but some of them are pretty cheap. Like I said, there’s a character for anyone here.

There are a few different game modes, but the list is probably the most generic and traditional part about Dead or Alive 4. Story Mode allows you to unlock ending movies after completing eight stages of fighting with a particular character. Time Attack Mode forces you to complete stages as quickly as possible. Survival Mode, which was my favorite, thrusts you into a fighting ring where a constant, never-ending stream of enemies fight you to the death. By winning battles, your health regenerates, so the goal is to defeat as many opponents while earning as many points as possible and staying alive. I’d say that playing the Sparring Mode and Survival Mode made me a much better player than I ever was before.

Online is where half of the fun lies. Team Ninja did an absolutely fantastic job making a unique online experience. Between each fast-paced battle is a lobby system that allows every player to have his or her own unique avatar. In the lobby, players interact with their avatar’s animations as well as typed messages. It’s endlessly entertaining to watch a cute little dog trash talk another player. If you aren’t fighting, you can observe battles in a full-screen Watch Mode or on the lobby’s television set. I simply loved this lobby system. The actual gameplay online is a little laggy, but it’s fun and difficult to stop playing nonetheless. To avoid unfair matches, there is a grading system that makes sure that inexperienced players won’t be teamed up against experts. This grading system is determined by wins, losses, disconnects, and the like. Overall, I think the online aspect of DOA4 is perfectly done.

Another nearly-perfect aspect of DOA4 is the visuals. I still think that DOA3 is one of the prettiest games out there, but DOA4 blows it away completely. Whether you’re playing in high-definition or not doesn’t matter, because the beautiful levels and perfectly modeled characters look great on any television set or computer monitor. Each level is bursting with color and life and I really wanted to move around a bit more than the game let me. Most of the locations are layered as well, so fighting can be carried around the playing field pretty easily. The character animation is spot-on, and I think Team Ninja especially shows this with the long and slow throwing moves. From Christie’s snake-like attacks to Bass’s beefy wrestling grapples, every attack looks natural and, for the lack of a better word, perfect. I mentioned the levels being colorful, but the characters are also adorned with some of the most extravagant clothing items I’ve ever seen in a video game. Whether it’s Ryu Hayabusa’s fancy ninja suit from Ninja Gaiden or Zack’s Teletubby-influenced costume, I was impressed throughout the entire costume selection.

There isn’t much to complain about here. Besides some annoying deaths (like when I’m pushed up against a wall), occasional online lag, and cheap characters (Zack and Jann Lee, I’m talking about you), Dead or Alive 4 is one of the best games I’ve played on the Xbox 360. Whatever Team Ninja did during those weekly delays, I’m happy about, because the final product is exceptional.

Graphics: 10
Sound: 9
Gameplay: 9
Creativity: 9
Replay Value/Game Length: 10
Final: 9.3
Written by Cliff Review Guide