Well everyone, Dead or Alive 5 just released. “Wait a minute… didn’t Dead or Alive 5 release last year?” Well, yes it did, mysterious voice from nowhere. But this isn’t the vanilla version of DOA5, this is a brand new version with lots of new features. “So it’s Dead or Alive 5 Plus, the one that released earlier this year for the PlayStation Vita?” Er, no it isn't, voice from nowhere. This is ANOTHER Dead or Alive 5 with extra features called Dead or Alive 5: Ultimate for the PS3 and Xbox 360. “So let me get this straight. Tecmo Koei released Dead or Alive 5 three times in less than one year?” Well, yes. “Well, why on Earth should I buy this game a third time?” Good question, mysterious voice from nowhere. Shutup for a minute and you’ll find out.
Let’s start by getting one thing straight. Even though Dead or Alive 5: Ultimate has been released as its own standalone game, there isn’t much that differentiates it from the version that released last year. The single-player modes have barely been touched, offering no changes to the story whatsoever. The graphics, sound, and music of the game haven’t been changed, and are exactly as you remember them from the first release. Heck, every character’s move-list is basically the same.
However, DOA5:U does have a lot of aesthetic changes that you’ll probably enjoy. Characters have new costumes and hair styles, and have received new intro and victory animations as well. Customization has expanded quite a bit, and if you are the type of guy who likes to save his character’s personal badassitude in screen captures, the game has also expanded on its character viewer. If you were dedicated enough to purchase DOA5: Ultimate after buying the original, then Tecmo Koei was nice enough to give you access to all the original DLC costume packs absolutely free.
But that’s all fluff, and fighting games aren’t exactly sold on fluff. They are sold on gameplay, and there are a few key gameplay changes of note. First of all, the balance patches that have been applied to the vanilla version of DOA5 are here, and then some. If you were upset about infinite combos or exploitable glitches, then Ultimate will make you happy. Second of all, every character has a new move called the Power Launcher, which, like the Power Blow, can only be used when your health drops halfway. The Power Launcher throws your opponent high into the air, setting him up for a damaging juggle opportunity (though it starts slowly and frankly has a very low chance of hitting).
Dead or Alive 5: Ultimate also has its pick of brand new stages. Stages are usually fighting game fluff, but Ultimate’s new stages mix it up a bit by introducing uneven terrain, stage hazards, and new and interesting takes on ring-outs. Overall, these stages are slightly more fun than the original stages, but they will likely be lost in the random stage shuffle all the same.
Ultimate’s tag mode has also been seriously overhauled and balanced to be more competitive, rather than a quickly tagged on extra. The amount of health that can be regenerated while on standby has been reduced, forcing matches to be more aggressive. A new “force out” maneuver has also been introduced, which basically acts like a “snap back” from the Marvel vs series, forcing your opponent’s standby character to come in and take a beating. Several new tag-only moves, intros, and even taunts have been included. And finally, Tag Mode can now be played online.
Also of note is Ultimate’s comprehensive Tutorial Mode, which took a page from the tutorial in Dead or Alive 5 Plus. Instead of simply having you practice move and combo execution, Ultimate’s tutorial actually has you practice important game concepts. This includes things such as mix-ups, counters, throws, high/mid/low attacks, and even, to a certain extent, dash dancing. Unfortunately, the tutorial does come off as a bit slow and somewhat impenetrable by very new gamers. Likely, the people who will enjoy this mode will be intermediate players looking to get a small edge above the competition.
Of course, the main attraction here is the five new characters joining the roster. Entering the fray are Jacky from Virtua Fighter 5, Rachel and Momiji from Ninja Gaiden, and Ein and Leon from past Virtua Fighters. Jacky’s playstyle has been integrated into DOA5 perfectly, including his high parry, his ludicrous punch combos, and his incredible damage output. As an aggro character, he easily outshines much of the rest of the cast. Rachel is a slow and heavy brawler, which is peculiar for female characters. Unfortunately, her move list doesn’t quite mimic her Ninja Gaiden incarnation, but she is still fun to play. Momiji is quick and agile, and feels a bit like a combination of all the other ninja characters in the game combined. Finally Ein and Leon play just as you remember them. The new characters are fun, but average at best. Frankly, only Jacky seems like he will be competitive at a pro level.
Overall, Dead or Alive 5: Ultimate is a great value if you haven’t yet purchased the game. It’s by far the definitive version, offering tons of characters, stages, and modes for only 40 dollars. Unfortunately, if you already purchased Dead or Alive 5 once, or worse twice, then Dead or Alive 5: Ultimate falls just short of being worth buying a third time. Granted, anyone who wants to keep up with the pro community will purchase the game anyway just to stay current, but if you are a more casual Dead or Alive fan, the additions to this admittedly quite fun fighting game may not be worth the money.
This review was based on a retail version of Dead or Alive 5: Ultimate for the PS3.