Ah, Dead or Alive. The boob game. The kawaii cash grab. The Japanese fighter more famous for its bouncing breasts than its juggle combos. How has a new mainline Dead or Alive game come out in 2019? Did Team Ninja, a developer that I’d thought had reinvented itself with the superb Nioh, lose a bet with Koei Tecmo or something? However it happened, the result is a game that’s at best naff, at worst grim.
Dead or Alive 6 has endured a tiresome, weird bait and switch from the developers at Team Ninja. At reveal we were told the heavily sexualised female characters of old had been ditched in favour of a more realistic look in-line with heavy-hitting fighting. Series star Kasumi was shown wearing an outfit that covered her up and looked a bit like something a modern day ninja would wear to battle. You know, it was an outfit that made sense.
The game itself, though, betrays this marketing spiel, exposing it for the lip service it always was. By default, the female characters’ breasts bounce around like balloons tied to string (you can turn this off in the settings). The skimpiest outfits – some of which are nothing more than a pair of knickers and a bra – must be unlocked via playing the game. And Team Ninja has stuck with the icky camera free roam for victory poses. Make no mistake, Dead or Alive 6 is Dead or Alive, warts and all.
Honoka, who according to her bio is an 18-year-old Japanese student but… come on… is low hanging fruit for thirsty kawaii fans. Similarly, Marie Rose, officially an 18-year-old Swedish maid, but, yeah… come on… is kitted out to be some sort of teen sex slave. Wrestler Tina Armstrong’s skimpy outfit at least makes some sort of sense, in a WWE diva kind of way, but her interactions with wrestling partner and father Bass give off more than a whiff of that most uncomfortable of relationships: Donald and Ivanka Trump. I can’t help but feel embarrassed to have Honoka and Tina’s physics-defying boobs float about on my telly. Dead or Alive 6 is a video game that includes characters I steer clear of because of how grim they are. What a world.
What’s worrying is as you slog through the game’s nonsensical story you become desensitised to Dead or Alive 6’s creep factor, and you start to realise the game has other issues instead, like how naff it all is, how flat the art style looks and how poor the audio sounds. This is a game with expressionless, wrinkle-free faces that are either covered in sweat or lip gloss. There’s a blandness to Dead or Alive 6. Generations of consoles ago the series was a technical showcase. Now, compared to the colourful, joyous exuberance of Arc System Works’ Dragon Ball FighterZ, it just feels dreary.
New characters struggle to stand out. I’d forgot about Diego, a Mexican-American street fighter who cracks heads in the back alleys of New York, as soon as I had finished the story mode. Nico, a Finnish scientist who works for an evil organisation and is obsessed with bringing people back from the dead via cloning, fares a little better, but feels torn in two opposing design directions – young and cute and a super serious scientist. I don’t think she works.
Dead or Alive has always been a fast-paced, high-damage 3D fighter, and the series has ebbed and flowed in terms of game feel over the years, but Dead or Alive 6 feels janky to me, with odd, jerky animations for many of the characters. Quality varies. You feel more work has gone into the more well-known characters, such as Bayman, Kasumi, Leifang and Tina than some of the supporting cast. Even some of the idle animations look really odd, elbows moving in ways they really shouldn’t as chests expand and collapse. Fluidity is hard to come by here. Clothing often clips into limbs and hair moves as if the characters are underwater.
If you fancy getting the most out of the fighting system behind Dead or Alive 6, then you’ll need quick reactions. Characters move and strike fast, dishing out tonnes of damage in the process. Couple this with some stages that have areas that add extra chunks of potential damage, such as exploding crates in the treasure ship stage, and you can end up rinsing life bars with a single combo.
Thankfully, Dead or Alive 6 has plenty of escape routes, and retains the hold and side-stepping systems of previous versions of the series. There are some interesting mechanics at play here. I quite like the four-way hold system, which lets you counter an attack by pressing the hold button and pushing a direction that corresponds to that attack. There are some cute mind games at play when it comes to predicting your opponent’s attack, expertly timing a hold or skillfully side-stepping a special move. If you can get in your opponent’s head, there are some satisfying ways to open them up to juggles and big damage. But in truth there’s nothing in Dead or Alive 6’s fighting system that will significantly impact the world of fighting games, or even the Dead or Alive series. There is depth here for those who strive to master Dead or Alive’s Triangle System, as it’s called. I just can’t see it being worth the time and energy.
And this, really, is pretty much all Dead or Alive 6 has to offer. It’s a bare bones experience that struggles in comparison to comprehensive efforts from, say, NetherRealm. The story mode, which is bad, won’t last you longer than a handful of hours – and a lot of that is spent loading. Once you’re done with that, you can try DOA Quest, which includes just shy of 100 challenges that unlock lore text entries and costume unlocks. After you’ve unlocked these, they must be bought with the in-game currency (there’s no microtransactions I can see, and I had loads of in-game currency by the time I’d finished the story and completed a few challenges) before they can be used. Bizarrely, the lore text entries cost nothing once unlocked, even though you still have to go through the rigmarole of buying them.
But while these challenges are mildly interesting at first, they get old, fast. Elsewhere, it’s slim pickings. There are character specific combo challenges, move lists to work through, a simple arcade mode, time attack, survival, training and not much else. The grind, if there is one, is in unlocking costumes. Some will take absolutely ages to obtain. So, if you really do want that bikini for the most definitely 18-year-old Honoka we promise, you’ll have to work for it. Online is similarly disappointing. The best thing I can say about the online experience is it works, but there’s barely anything to it. Shockingly, online lobbies aren’t available at launch. You can only play ranked matches.
I’m struggling for redeeming factors here, but there are some. Dead or Alive 6, like previous games in the series, is one of the most accessible fighting games out there. There’s a single button for punch (Street Fighter, for example, has three punch buttons), a single button for kick, a single button for throw and a single button for block. Special moves are simple enough in terms of input commands, and combos are on the easier end of the spectrum, with forgiving timing. You can get quite a lot out of Dead or Alive 6 by button-mashing. Indeed I was able to complete the story and beat arcade mode on the hardest difficulty without digging deep into the game’s systems. By mashing just one button (R1 on PS4) you can do a flashy four-hit combo called Fatal Rush that ends, if you have full meter, with a high damage slow motion attack, usually to the jaw of your opponent. It’s quite cool to nail these special attacks. Perhaps the best thing about Dead or Alive 6 is the thump it makes when your fist slams into your opponent’s face in slow motion. Usually you end up knocking some clothing off. This is Dead or Alive, after all.
Dead or Alive 6 does a decent job of imparting useful information on-screen, too. The game will tell you when you’ve put your opponent in a defenceless position, called Critical Stun. It’ll also flash an on-screen message to let you know when to do your input command for a throw combo. There’s also a nifty system for directing you to specific tutorials that help with aspects of the challenges. I’m not saying Dead or Alive 6 has cracked that eternal “how do you teach newcomers how to play fighting games” question, but it’s got some good ideas for getting people going.
But accessibility and tutorials cannot compensate for what is, ultimately, a fighting game that feels out of the loop and out of time. Dead or Alive 6 won’t make a dent on the competitive fighting game community, and I can’t see it expanding its modest fanbase, either. I can’t help but struggle to understand those who get horny from this game when the internet in all its glory is a mobile phone tap away. I mean, there’s sexier stuff made out of Source Filmmaker – probably involving the Dead or Alive girls – than is in this game. Dead or Alive 6 stumbles into 2019 like a drunken uncle staggers onto the dancefloor at a wedding: past it and likely to embarrass.