Call me crazy, but I find fighting games to be one of the oddest genres to fully grasp. Part of the reason for this confusion is the juxtaposition of it being easily one of the most approachable varieties of interactive entertainment, while simultaneously being one of the most impenetrably complex genres among its hardcore supporters. While there is an obscenely dedicated community surrounding the likes of the Street Fighter, Tekken, Super Smash Bros., or even Killer Instinct, for some reason the Dead or Alive franchise hasn’t gotten anywhere near as much love.
After over twenty years and countless spinoffs, the folks over at Team Ninja and Koei Tecmo thought it was high time to finally make an impact on the eSport scene. Thus, Dead or Alive 6 was born. Can the newest installment get past the brand’s rather notorious history? Or will it ultimately fall prey to the countless pitfalls of their past?
Let’s just take a second and get this out of the way right at the top: Dead or Alive 6 made me feel weird while playing it. As a grown-ass man with a wife and kids, it’s hard to not feel like a bit of a pervert when playing a game where you control numerous young girls in revealing outfits. Anyone who’s played a previous Dead or Alive game knows exactly what I’m talking about. Both the heels and hemlines are sky-high, which is a bit difficult to explain to my wife when she is randomly walking in and out of the room while I worked on the review.
“Yes, honey, these are not outfits that I designed. The costumes are that way by default.” “No, I swear I didn’t control the camera when it perfectly framed up an upskirt shot and then lingered in slow-motion while the combatant slowly tumbled to the ground.” “I have no influence over when people’s clothing begins to tear to pieces in combat.” “I know tits don’t actually bounce that way in real life.” These are all real conversations that I had to have with my spouse while rationalizing playing Dead or Alive 6 on the communal HDTV. It was uncomfortable to say the least. So, before you even ask, yes, the series feels as risqué as ever, despite their publicly stated desire to tone down the content.
I hate that this was how I needed to lead off the review, but with the sordid background of the series, it needed to be dealt with immediately. Fortunately, there’s plenty more to this title than just merciless blood sport and titillation. 27 combatants will enter the arena this time around, featuring two original characters debuting in this entry. The first newcomer is Diego, a New York City based brawler who is joining the tourney to scrape together funds to care for an ailing family member. NiCO is the second addition, joining the game as a M.I.S.T. scientist who has nefarious plans for several members of the tournament roster. You can look forward to seeing large doses of NiCO in the Story and Quest modes.
A Fighting Chance
As you might imagine, when it comes to the basic mechanics of this sixth numerical installment, there hasn’t been a huge deviation from the successful combat formula. The strike and kick controls map to the face buttons, along with block and toss controls as well. The shoulder buttons are used for the combination controls of punch/kick and hold/kick respectively. Lastly, there are both special and taunt buttons mapped to the remaining shoulder buttons, which again, feels pretty much par for the course for fighting controls on a DualShock 4.
In an effort to further appeal to the garden variety button masher, there’s a new combo system introduced that will aid in chaining together a basic set of moves in quick succession. By striking the same face button several times, a combo will be delivered automatically. Obviously, all of the usual combat depth will still be there, but this is simply one more way to make newcomers feel a bit more empowered. Granted, if you are playing against a player with any level of experience, this isn’t going to make a damn bit of difference, but at least you will look cool while getting your face pounded into hamburger patty.
A surprising introduction is the debut of natural body fluids. Both sweat and blood will make appearance in combat, but I was honestly shocked that they’d made it this deep into the franchise without them. There’s excessive effort to draw attention to blood, as most times when it’s actually shed, the developers felt the need to initiate a slow-motion camera to best capture the moment. Seriously guys? This shouldn’t be this big of a deal.
While blood in combat is a nice step towards delivering a bit more weight to the events, it isn’t like a bloody lip or knocked out tooth carries over beyond the scope of a single round. As soon as “Fight!” sounds again, all evidence of the aftermath has gone the way of the Dodo. This is even weirder when it cuts into post-match cutscenes during story mode. People are hugging and thanking each other after a brawl, despite the fact that they were bloodying the hell out of each other mere moments earlier. I also found myself feeling a bit uneasy when I was having cross-gender battles. It’s one thing to have a male beating up on a female, or vice versa. It’s another matter entirely when you are blooding the combatant of the opposite sex.
One last inclusivity change, which is lowering the barrier to entry on juggle timing, was a welcome change for about fifteen minutes. However, all it took was playing a couple of online matches against more skilled players to realize that it’s going to lead to nightmarishly long juggling chains that could potentially hurt the same accessibility effort the development team was trying to encourage. I would fully expect for this to get balanced post-launch, but as it sits right now, it’s far too easy to lock victims into a combo loop that can be damn near impossible to escape.
Going it Alone
Another area where I was pleasantly surprised was the stout single player offering. In an era where everyone is leaning towards an online emphasis, Dead or Alive 6 is catering directly to how I play fighting games. Between the standard arcade and story modes, there have always been a decent amount of content for those playing on their own. The new Quest mode helps expound on that dramatically through the introduction of short, one match objectives to go along with the standard combat goals. Challenges will continue to unlock as missions are successfully cleared, netting in-game currency that can be used for snagging new costumes and character customizations.
Despite Team Ninja heavily touting the wardrobe customization in this installment, it still pales greatly when compared to its peers. Don’t get me wrong, as this is absolutely a step in the right direction, but it feels like it moves the needle about a quarter of the distance that it needs to in order to remain competitive. Also, the introduction of destructible outfits was certainly an interesting touch. However, I did tend to think that the tendency for female characters’ clothing to rip in suggestive locations proved to be a bit tacky in its overall execution.
There’s still one big unknown hanging in the air at launch: online multiplayer. While there’s a rudimentary matchmaking system for ranked one-on-one combat, the Lobby Match feature will not be available until late March 2019 at the soonest. The net takeaway is that if you’ve no intention of playing ranked matches, this essentially renders DOA6 a single player title for at least the first few weeks.
One last disappointment is the game’s lack of any tag battle mode. Despite it being a staple of prior installments, it was deemed superfluous this time around. Why this cut was made remains unknown, but it can be assumed that these efforts were instead channeled into the new Quest mode. That said, given that it has been such a strong part of the series’ DNA, its absence was very noticeable. Here’s to hoping that it makes an appearance down the road as DLC. Granted, that is likely a crapshoot a best, but a guy can dream, right?
It may have felt like an eternity since the last proper Dead or Alive title, but the sixth installment picks up right where the last left off and makes substantial steps towards propelling the brand forward. Enhanced approachability and single player modes help build upon a stable of already solid content. If only Team Ninja could get past the sophomoric need to toe the line of decency and tacky content, it could really evolve the series into a mainstay on the competitive scene. The game makes baby steps in the right direction, but still has plenty of growing up to do before it can live up to its full, ass-kicking potential.
Dead or Alive 6 review code provided by publisher. Version 1.01 #84 reviewed on a standard PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.