Dead or Alive 2
I'll admit, I didn't care much for Dead or Alive when it was released on the PlayStation in 1998. As far as I was concerned, it was just another 3D fighter trying to emulate Virtua Fighter. The infamous bouncing chests were insulting enough that I kept my play of the game to a minimum. Truthfully, I never gave the game enough play time to warrant any sort of real opinion of the game. After many, many hours dedicated to Dead or Alive 2, I'm extremely curious as to what it was I missed, because Dead or Alive 2 is so good, it gives even the mighty Soul Calibur a run for its money.
Dead or Alive 2 is a game about depth -- pure and simple. Virtually every move in the game has a corresponding counter-attack, and every counter has a counter. Watching two skilled players battle at this game is truly a sight to behold. In order to successfully block an attack, you must be able to tell where the attack is coming in (low, medium or high attack). The same is said about counters, and if your timing is off, you will be left open to a brutal assault. With counters being so damaging, and even simple parrying requiring you to judge the height of the incoming attack, button-mashers will be left in the dust. While on one hand, this drops the "pick up and play" aspect that's so important for party games, it also makes for a much, much more rewarding experience for those who can take the time to learn the game and master the characters.
Of course, the aforementioned beauty of watching two skilled players duke it out isn't brought about by mastery of all the game's nuances alone. An utterly superb graphics engine drives Dead or Alive 2. While the actual characters in Soul Calibur seemed more detailed, the Dead or Alive 2 crew isn't lacking in any way. The detail in their faces and bodies are most apparent during the zoomed-in cut-scenes during Story mode that use the in-game engine. At first I had to do a double take to see if they were CG sequences of not, but I soon realized that after each cut-scene the camera would simply pull back out for the fight. While the characters themselves seem a bit cliched, their fighting styles are another aspect that makes the game such a beauty to behold. Each character has a real fighting style that their moves are based around, and the moves are represented wonderfully. The moves are one of the best aspects to Dead or Alive 2. Save for a few of the more exaggerated throws, and some of the characters' reactions to particularly powerful moves, all of the kicks, punches, grapples and counters look like they could be done in the real world. Team Ninja (the in-house development team for Tecmo that developed the game) did an absolutely excellent job of modeling all of the characters and their respective moves. It goes a long way to the game's credit, as watching the game will elicit multiple "ohhs," "ahhhs" and "DAMNs" from anyone watching. Dead or Alive 2 is just a game where you want to have recordings of every match for a later viewing date.
The awesome graphics are complete with multi-tiered, hi-resolution stages. A few areas - such as the snow stage, or one where you're standing in water - will make players slip easily and lose their footing. Some of the stages are uneven and rather sloped, which makes players have to recalibrate their parrying and counter methods. Others pay a tribute to the original Dead or Alive by having backgrounds that can injure the player, although now in the form of walls (as opposed to the simple explosive tiles that hurt players if they were knocked out of the ring from the first game). While still other stages have multiple levels, and when an opponent is knocked off of one level, they receive damage from the following impact. The player that knocked them off of the side simply jumps down to continue the match. Things get really interesting when these elements are combined in a stage (e.g., two levels down the area is surrounded by an electric fence).
None of the graphics, martial arts styles or fantastically painful looking moves would mean anything without tight and fluid control. Of course, Dead or Alive 2 doesn't fail in this respect either. Control is accomplished through the simple use of a three-button system: punch, kick and "free." Punch and kick are self explanatory whereas the free button brings about a few tasks. For one, if you're using the digital pad (slower overall control, but used for jumping and more precise move commands), the free button in conjunction with moving allows for free-roaming, 3D movement. The free button also acts as the parry button, and when used simultaneously with the punch button, can grab opponents (somewhat useless on the Dreamcast however, since there's a button that accomplishes this grappling maneuver by itself). The controls are very responsive, and if you can't pull off the moves, it's because of a lack of reflexes or skill, not because of sticky control. If you don't like the idea of having to hold down a button for 3D movement, the analog stick can be used, although it makes jumping painfully awkward.
Something must be said about multi-player. As I mentioned before, button mashers won't have a good time with the game, but start something with some patient friends, and some truly awesome matches can be had. Aside from the standard Vs. Mode, Dead or Alive 2 also contains a four-player tag-team match. While this tag-team match can only be played in one stage from the outset (whether or not you can somehow unlock it for use in other stages, I'm not sure), it's certainly an impressive feat. With no loss of frames, characters can jump in and out of the action immediately, as they would in Namco's Tekken Tag Tournament or any of the Capcom titles that feature tag-teams. When certain characters are paired together, they can unleash special devastating tag combos upon their hapless opponent. This mode makes for some wicked party match ups and tournaments, as everyone tries to find who is best teamed with whom.
Overall, there's little to complain about with Dead or Alive 2. The soundtrack is certainly a taste thing, but the Smashmouth-esque music was a bit of a turn-off for me. I've found little reason to conquer the single-player game, as so far it looks as though all costumes for the characters are available from the outset, but the paltry number of available costumes doesn't compare to the original Dead or Alive. However, these are very minor complaints. Tecmo and Team Ninja have created a truly special, complicated game that is tied up in an incredibly rewarding package that is worthy of any gamer's attention. And this time, they can gain that attention without the over exaggerated "bouncing." ~ Derek Williams, All Game Guide
Simply gorgeous. The characters are all highly detailed and their martial arts styles are represented well. The fighting stages are some of the most stunning I've ever seen. ~ Derek Williams, All Game Guide
While the poor man's rock tunes detract a bit, they're not very loud and are background music in the truest form of the word. The actual sound effects - from the yelling of Jann Lee as he throws a punch to the explosions of the walls as a character ricochets off of them - are all done well. Also, all of the characters speak in Japanese as the game features subtitles. ~ Derek Williams, All Game Guide
The game itself is based around a beautiful graphics engine and excellent fighting engine. Multi-player - especially tag-team matches - heighten the experience and the fun. ~ Derek Williams, All Game Guide
While this game is sure to be pulled out at parties for a long time, there is a small hit to replay for not rewarding players for completing the game. ~ Derek Williams, All Game Guide
Surprisingly detailed for a console game manual. Illustrates the wide variety of counters and moves, and provides example screenshots presented in full color. ~ Derek Williams, All Game Guide