There was a time when we considered Dead or Alive to be one of our absolute favourites when it came to three-dimensional fighting. We fell in love with Dead or Alive on PlayStation, worshipped Dead or Alive 2 on Dreamcast, had a deep crush on Dead or Alive 3 on Xbox, and we were impressed by the innovative online support in Dead or Alive Ultimate on the same console. After that, the quality, unfortunately, began to decline.
Dead or Alive 4 felt like the third game in HD and Dead or Alive 5 was simply outdated the moment it was released. Despite this, the latter was a great success, not least because it was released in several different iterations (including a free-to-play version) on a total of seven different platforms. Fortunately, when Dead or Alive 6 was announced, Team Ninja showed that they had heard the opinions of a community that felt like the series had stagnated and therefore they loaded up the sixth core game with several new features.
Now that we have tested the game thoroughly, it strikes us that very few of these new features are actually new. They are definitely new to the Dead or Alive series, but despite the fact that Team Ninja has added visible damage to the fighters during ongoing matches as well as the semi-automated combo-attack Fatal Rush - which with a well-timed button press shows spectacular viewing angles and slow-mo - it's difficult to be impressed when competitors like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat and Tekken have offered similar things for much longer. Also, it is a feature we're not particularly fond of, so as far as we're concerned this could have been left out, especially as the Dead or Alive series already had its own variant of this when opponents were knocked out of the ring, triggering spectacular animations.
Another thing that Team Ninja proudly tells us is that the game now gives you the opportunity to customise each character's appearance. Several profiles can be saved for each one so you can equip everyone with the hairstyles, accessories and clothing you want. But this is also something that other Japanese fighting games have had for years and once again, as far as we're concerned, this should have been left to the infamous Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball series. The Dead or Alive series has always had a dubious reputation because of the puerile portrayal of its female fighters and the focus on their breasts, and the dressing-up and styling of the Barbie-like fighters hardly helps give it a more adult feel.
To address the breasts directly (something we dislike to do at all as we want to talk about gameplay, but Dead or Alive is not like other games in the genre - breasts are really thought of as one of the main selling points), it should still be said that the developers also talked about this in advance and stated explicitly that it will be toned down this time. As a result, Kasumi, Tina and the gang fight in slightly more practical clothes here - although the breasts still have a life of their own. If this has disturbed you in earlier entries, then Dead or Alive 6 will not change your mind on the matter in the slightest.
One of the stated goals of Dead or Alive 6 has been to make the game more beginner friendly. When we heard this we were immediately worried. The Dead or Alive series, together with Soul Calibur and Tekken, has been the most beginner-friendly series of all the serious fighting games. The training mode in this series has always been better than those of the competition, however, and Dead or Alive 6 is no exception. In the single-player game modes, you can even get suggestions about what to practice, and then you will be taken to the training mode with the touch of a button before going back to single-player when you have mastered what you practised.
Single-player mainly consists of two game modes, Story and DoA Quest, where the former is the usual fighting game story that feels totally illogical. Dead or Alive has made this into some kind of artform where everyone wants to spar and fight before they talk and the dialogue is infantile in a way that makes the Game Boy Pokémon titles look like literary works in comparison. It sometimes bordered on unbearable and made us think of early dating simulators, especially when the younger female fighters were involved.
However, DoA Quest is quite neatly laid out and in order to win matches, you have to achieve special goals. It can mean juggling the enemy with a combo that does a lot of damage, beating opponents while moving in and out of the arena, or attacking victims lying down with any of the dedicated attacks for that particular purpose. It quickly becomes challenging and also means that we get a better sense of the system since we're forced to explore different aspects of it in order to win. Soul Calibur has used similar ideas before, but then it's often wrapped in some sort of story. Here it is better executed and this is something we hope more fighting games take note of and employ in the future.
Two things that have always been particularly characteristic of Dead or Alive, with the most apparent one are the easy-to-understand counter system that revolves around a single button. It makes it very easy to handle button mashers and at the same time also very easy to handle those who counter a lot by countering back or using throws. This system feels great even in Dead or Alive 6, and although the game system and graphics show signs of ageing, it is still a solid foundation that makes it stick out in a playful way. We also noted that it is now easier to step in and out of the screen to avoid attacks, and together with the counter-attacks, it feels like the defensive possibilities are stronger than they are in most other fighting games.
The other thing that characterises the series is the so-called 'air juggles', which is when you hit your opponent so that he/she leaves the ground, and then you continue to beat and kick on your now airborne and defenceless victim. This feels smoother than ever in Dead or Alive 6, almost to the degree that we can imagine that in more capable hands than ours, it might turn out to be something of a problem.
Even though we really like the ensemble in Dead or Alive and there are some features that stand out, it's hard to shake off the feeling that Team Ninja doesn't really know how to handle this series anymore. The new additions that have been made are basically what competitors have offered for years, and we get the feeling that Dead or Alive 7 will need a thorough renovation. Now it almost feels like we're still playing Dead or Alive 3, but with more super meters and added gimmicks that spice things up but don't change how the game should be played.
Add to that the fact that the Dead or Alive series was the perhaps the most beautiful fighting series of them all, with incredibly detailed characters, animations, arenas and effects. Even in this area, Team Ninja has been left behind and we're not particularly impressed even when playing in a high resolution on a capable PC. And for anyone who chooses English dialogue, it is just mind-blowing how bad the lip-sync is and the female fighters often sound embarrassingly infantile.
One positive note we want to make, however, is the fighters themselves. The design is still first-class and a lot of work has been done on the characters. Now the Swedish fighter Marie Rose has been joined by Finnish researcher Nico, so there is an unusually strong Nordic presence in the lineup. Another newcomer is Diego, a fighter from the streets of New York, who is actually very fun to fight with. Our favourites are still Kasumi and Ryu Hayabusa who are the same, and playing them is like riding a bike, with the latter's Izuna Drop still a move that has the potential to completely change the outcome of a tight match.
But after playing Dead or Alive 6 a whole lot to do this review, we mostly feel like playing some Soul Calibur VI, Tekken 7, or going back to Jump Force. Time has moved on and the fighting genre has evolved, but Dead or Alive hasn't. Dead or Alive 6 feels a little too familiar to us and many of its features have simply become outdated, with nothing truly new introduced in order to mix things up. It's not enough to have a stable foundation, good design, and fun characters when the competition offers all this and more - only better.
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