It’s been less than a year since we last went toe-to-toe with Team Ninja’s curious cleavage meets combat comeback Dead or Alive 5, and now – following a temporary detour on the PlayStation Vita – we’re strapping up our appendages and digging out our most inappropriate fighting gear again. As its name so effortlessly illustrates, Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate is less of a sequel and more of an enhanced re-release – but does it have the strength to usurp its more established rivals in its third (and possibly final) foray into the ring?
Content is most definitely king in this upgraded revisit, with the paltry pickings from the original console release bolstered by the robust array of modes and options added in Dead or Alive 5 Plus. There’s now a full tutorial component, which schools you on the finer details of the title’s fighting system, from counters and combos to Critical Bursts. It’s somewhat dry in execution, but it gets the job done, and is intelligently arranged into chapters and lessons, allowing you to jump straight into a specific topic if you’re hungry for more information on a particular mechanic.
Elsewhere, you can now work your way through the Command List of each of the title’s underdressed competitors, and test your mettle against Combo Challenges. These succinct examinations of dexterity detail the finer points of each fighter’s combat methods, and should aid you in your quest to master the entirety of Milla’s mixed martial arts-inspired moveset. For a franchise that’s defined by its flamboyance, it’s unfortunate that this entire component subscribes to a more functional philosophy, but willing completionists will find hundreds of hours’ worth of content hidden under the Training hub.
Those of you that are already dans of the Dead or Alive 5 experience, though, will find adequate exuberance elsewhere. Five fresh characters have been added to the fray, including Momiji and Rachel from Ninja Gaiden. The former’s wealth of airborne acrobatics ensure that she’s a fine fit for the franchise’s pacey action, and a much more enjoyable addition than her stodgy bondage-based accomplice. Meanwhile, series favourites Ein and Leon put in their first console appearance for seven years, complete with spruced up movesets that see the latter excelling in lengthy grab chains, while his counterpart settles for a more considered style that hinges on heavy blows rather than nippy jabs. Finally, the perfectly groomed Jacky makes the jump from Virtua Fighter, with his distinctive ‘Burning’ bomber jacket and gravity defying locks in tow.
The reasonable roster expansion is accompanied by several new stages, including a series of colourful islands set amid the clouds that beg for you to boot your adversaries off. Other options span Sky High Tokyo, a rooftop arena set against the backdrop of a giant stone Buddha, and the wonky Desert Wasteland. There are also a bunch of new cosmetic extras, including additional costumes, hairstyles, and a voyeuristic Movie mode which allows you to apply sweat and muck to your chosen protagonist and take cheeky snaps of them while they roll around on the floor. As always, your mileage may vary.
Much like the core release itself, though, the gameplay remains very much the same. We mentioned in our previous review that Team Ninja’s done little to evolve the series’ main mechanics since its Xbox 360 exclusive outing in 2005, and that remains the case here. Power Blows – special attacks which allow you to trigger devastating set-pieces when you’re low on health – return, accompanied this time by Power Launchers. These enable you to suspend your opponents in mid-air, augmenting the opportunity for some tasty combos. The addition is hardly game changing, but it gives you an alternative outlet when you’re brawling on open stages without damage enhancing Danger Zones. It still remains a relatively accessible fighter, however, with button mashing a very viable strategy if you’re new to the genre. There’s an underlying depth to discover in the counter and stun mechanics, but it’s not necessarily essential unless you intend to play with pros.
As a consequence, this is a somewhat simple brawler compared to more complex titles like Street Fighter IV, and it’s letdown by the fact that it hasn’t evolved. Fortunately, it’s still enjoyable in bursts, and with the improvements made to the game’s Survival mode – which now includes health and points pickups – and the addition of Team Battles – seamless seven-on-seven skirmishes – this is undoubtedly the best that the game’s ever been. Even the online component has been overhauled, with improved net code not only minimising lag, but allowing you to engage in four-player tag-team battles with friends. We didn’t experience any hiccups during our playtime, but naturally the quality of your own connection will skew your results here. If you’re forced to play offline, then the farcical single player campaign is present and correct – but it’s deemphasised in this re-release due to the lack of new content.
Unquestionably the definitive version of Team Ninja’s flamboyant fighter, Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate repurposes the panache of its predecessor – and pops a glazed cherry on top. The gameplay mechanics are still a smidgen shallow, and there may not be enough new meaningful content to woo those that have already had their fill of the original release – but franchise fans and curious newcomers will find a competent option here.