The series that saved Tecmo from closing its doors is back with the latest installment’s ultimate edition. Known as much for its controversial take on the female form as its gameplay, Dead or Alive 5: Ultimate is now available for fighting game enthusiasts wanting to brush up on their hardcore martial arts skills. Is the complete edition worth the money if you’ve never played the series before? Is it worth the re-purchase if you already have Dead or Alive 5?
Graphics have always been the strong suit for this series compared to other fighting series, if in part to show off the curves and six-packs of its cast of characters in all their glory. Ultimate doesn’t let the series’ trademark visuals slip a pixel and looks just as good as its original countepart. Some new characters and costumes also allow the game to show off minute details like sweat and dirt that, depending on the stage, can cover the fighters from head to toe. Simple things like kicking up sand when attacking give an extra aesthetic punch, making Dead or Alive 5: Ultimate extremely easy on the eyes, with deep fighting to boot.
Not only does the game look great, but players’ ear drums will be rocking to the greatest hits of the series, as the game allows you to customize the background music of stages and characters. Obviously, not every song on any soundtrack will be loved by everyone, so this is a nice touch for those who have very picky tastes or who enjoy the soundtracks of previous titles in the series. Character and miscellaneous themes from Dead or Alive 2, 3, and 4 are included, but Bomb Factory’s hit "Exciter," the theme of Dead or Alive 2, is the only missing gem from the songs up for selection.
Like with any Tecmo Koei game, that Koei influence in character selection is going to shine through: the already impressive list of characters has been expanded again. Sarah’s brother Jackey joins the competition alongside a duo from the Ninja Gaiden series and the return of Leon and Ein. Those people who have already mastered the game or have gotten bored of the previous cast have a reason to keep playing, and may also have fun brushing up on their skills with previous characters from the series. Whether or not fans of these outside series will stick around for the competitive long-term is unknown, but the fan service will definitely strum the right chords for DoA veterans and casuals alike.
Having played the series since Dead or Alive 2 on the Dreamcast, I can confidently say that the controls are what make or break a Dead or Alive game. Unlike a lot of other fighters, Dead or Alive’s countering system adds a different level of strategy and flow, but only when the controls are tight and flawless. When playing offline, I notice that the controls are improved from Dead or Alive 5 and feel as close as possible to the perfect controls that the Dreamcast version of Dead or Alive 2 exhibited. When online, if there is even a touch of lag, the controls go from hero to zero in a split second. This isn’t the game’s fault per se, but the tremendous drop in control quality can get annoying for competitive and counter-style gamers hoping to practice laser accuracy. Those living in areas with bad internet connections, beware.
The biggest change to the combat system, and one that will make fans very happy, is the addition of tag team power blows, which add an extra element of fun and hurt to your arsenal. These are just like normal power blows, except your character tags out in the middle of it. And while controls have, on the whole, improved for this edition, one area in which they got worse is actually the tagging system. In Dead or Alive 5, it was really easy to do tag-out specials, but in Ultimate, they are unreliable to the point of match suicide. This will be a bit disheartening to Dead or Alive 5 fans, especially if you enjoy tag battles the most. Additionally, the servers for Ultimate do not work with Dead or Alive 5 or 5 Plus, meaning the amount of people around to practice those new skills with will be limited compared with other versions.
If you have never played a Dead or Alive game before, Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate is well-worth your time and money. All the extra perks and better controls make it an undeniable upgrade over Dead or Alive 5. However, if you already own Dead or Alive 5, and especially if you own some or all of the DLC, only the extra characters and new tag team skills add any incentive for re-buying the game. Casual fighting fans are not missing anything new and could safely wait for Dead or Alive 6, but competitive gamers will have to shell out the cash if they want to take advantage of the new skills. Thankfully, Tecmo Koei gives you the option of downloading a free ‘core’ version of the game that allows almost the whole game to be played, minus some characters and the story mode, which can be bought piecemeal at the customer’s convenience.