Dead Or Alive 4

Year: 2005
Platform: Xbox 360
Publisher: Tecmo
Developer: Team Ninja
Genre: 3D fighter
Review Date: 3/20/09
Rating: ****

Yet another "Dead Or Alive" game that required a new hardware purchase in order to play it. However, this time it took me four years to get around to it, partially because of the 360's weak library and partially because of DOA burnout. I consider "Dead Or Alive Ultimate" to be the best game in the series, but its increasingly difficult unlockables made me so angry that I didn't want to ever go through the DOA gauntlet again. Unfortunately, "Dead Or Alive 4" continues the trend, and numerous other "enhancements" make it the weakest entry in the series. The biggest stumbling block is difficulty. There are no "easy" settings, and "normal" is considerably harder than in the previous games. Stages are more interactive, and a new wall system has been added. Unfortunately, jumping over walls is more difficult than it should be due to the 360's poor D-pad, and it tends to interrupt the pacing of the fight (especially if you can't get over the wall). There's also a new bounce system that allows you to continue striking opponents when they bounce off the ground. Sadly, this just underscores the game's biggest design flaw, which is the extremely irritating combo and juggling system.

DOA has always placed a large emphasis on defensive tactics, which are almost useless in DOA4. This time around, the game encourages long combos that are impossible to defend against, which ruins the balance and results in some very short matches. The game is now less about skill and more about aggressive button mashing, which is a shame. It may work for more skilled players, but casual players such as myself are quickly frustrated by all of the abuse that you can't defend against and recover from. What makes a fighting game work is the delicate give-and-take flow of attack, defense, and countering, not the all-out pummeling of your opponent. It should be a dance, not a massacre. It's also frustrating that the computer opponents execute combos much quicker than human players can, which often results in some very one-sided fights that leave you with no recourse. In addition to the weak D-pad, playing DOA4 also uncovered another design flaw in the Xbox 360 controller - the "start" button is WAY too close to the X button, which results in a lot of unfortunate game interruptions.

Graphically, the game looks great, just like its predecessors. That said, it doesn't look much different than "Dead Or Alive 3," other than the textures being more detailed. Some of the new stages are gorgeous and very fun, but most of them are bland and uninteresting, and the dinosaur stage is simply absurd. The music is also disappointing and not up to par with the excellent work from its predecessors, and Aerosmith is once again inexplicably on the soundtrack. The game continues its tradition of wacky and cryptic storylines, and this time around the Tenshin Mugen ninja clan has decided to take down the troublesome DOATEC corporation, which Helena inherited following her father's death at the hands of Bayman. The characterizations are a bit strange, as Helena is now the central villain in the story. Ryu Hayabusa, Hayate, Ayane, and a reluctant Kasumi have more or less teamed up to destroy Helena's legacy and her ultimate weapon, Kasumi Alpha-152. Alpha-152 is definitely the most annoying and overpowered boss character in the DOA universe, and she's a total pain in the ass to fight. A friend of mine actually had more luck fighting her with his eyes closed and the controller upside down, which clearly indicates a broken and unbalanced game. This is an increasingly disturbing trend in fighting games these days, which has spoiled my enjoyment of the genre. Thankfully, not all of the characters have to face Alpha-152, which is a relief. This also introduces multiple continuities for the characters instead of a single storyline. Curiously, Hayate and Ein are treated as separate characters, which either implies parallel DOA universes, or non-linear time. Tina and Bass continue their father-daughter feud, and this time Tina wants to become a rock star. Lei-Fang still pursues her single-minded ambition to defeat Jann-Lee, which is starting to get stale. Hasn't she beat him yet? However, this game goes out of its way to make him a sympathetic character and not nearly as rage inducing as his previous incarnations. In fact, the entire tone of the game has changed, and the characters are much more mature, polite, respectful, and determined, even though the fighting mechanics are not.

But that respectful tone flies out the window with the game's bewildering end cinemas, which are beyond ridiculous. Kasumi's naked mermaid music video is horrifying and an embarrassment to the entire franchise. Lei-Fang, Hitomi, Christie, and Tina also have humiliating cinemas that I wish I had never seen. These self indulgent fan service movies just compound the fact that the series has lost its way. However, the movies for the male characters are extremely compelling, which is definitely a switch. I'm under the impression that Team Ninja is tired of the DOA girls and aching to do something different. Another mind-boggling curiosity is Team Ninja's decision to partner with Bungie to add "Halo's" Master Chief (or rather a female version of him) as an unlockable character to the roster. Huh? Again, this seems like a self indulgent act that adds little to no value to the game. The game also does a disservice to its fans in terms of unlockable costumes. There aren't as many available this time around, and most of them are just color variations on other costumes. While Lei-Fang has seven costumes to choose from, only three are unique. Additionally, her bonus costumes are pretty hideous, which coupled with the game's difficulty really lower my motivation to unlock the other characters' costumes. This could also be a marketing ploy, as there is an option to purchase all of the costumes online on Xbox Live.

And what would a new version of a fighting game be without new characters? DOA4 introduces geisha in training Kokoro, Gen Fu disciple Eliot, and "Dead Or Alive Xtreme's" Lisa to the roster. Having more girls in the game is always a plus, while the young and effeminate Eliot feels a little out of place. However, he's pretty tough and puts up a good fight. Kokoro is also quite powerful and feels like a cross between Kasumi and Lei-Fang. While Lisa is Tina's friend and rival in the wrestling ring, she also has a dark past that's somehow connected to Helena and DOATEC. The US marketing team finally got wise with the packaging of the game, which actually features pictures of the characters! How novel. Sadly, the character models look a bit off and Lei-Fang is missing from the group portrait. Overall, she gets much less attention in this outing. Just like DOAU, her default hairstyle is long and free, but her classic braids are also selectable. The braids are more iconic and simply look better. Just remember to hit X when you choose her outfit. Overall, while "Dead Or Alive 4" is full of problems and disappointments, it's still a great game that's considerably more fun to play than most of the competition.