Considering the poor reception that both Metroid: Other M and Ninja Gaiden 3 got, it would be pretty easy at this point to write Team Ninja off. The team hasn’t had a hit since its former leader, Tomonobu Itagaki, left the company in 2008 on very non-amicable terms. Don’t count Team Ninja out yet though: Dead or Alive 5 seems like it could be Team Ninja’s big comeback.
Admittedly, I only got to play a few matches at E3, but what I played of the game was very promising. The game moves pretty fast for a 3D fighter: maybe I’m just getting old, but it was pretty difficult to react fast enough to say, change my blocking stance from low to high while my opponent attacked me. I eventually adjusted to the game’s pace, and I found myself having a lot of fun with Tecmo’s bouncy fighter. Series veterans should know that DoA 5 uses the previous game’s four-point counter system, which makes it more difficult to counter attacks than in earlier games in the series. This makes a little harder to play defensively, but it should help avoid the never-ending counter battles that earlier games devolved into.
The game is also pretty beautiful. As expected from DoA, the areas you fight in are pretty large and detailed, and filled with all sorts of interactive bits: kick a guy into a palm tree, for example, and you may shake a few leaves off or cause a coconut to fall. The fighters themselves animate fluidly and have detailed costumes, and while they definitely still have an anime style to them, they look a little more realistic and less plastic-y than they did in previous DoA’s.
Gamers intent on giving themselves carpal tunnel will be happy to know that the game is still dripping (bad word choice) with fan service: while Team Ninja previously announced that they were toning down the game’s more perverse elements in order to get players to focus more on the fighting rather than the breasts, there’s still plenty of skin and plenty of gravity defying body parts to ogle. The game is pretty shameless with its attempts to titillate at times: when you have to pick your fighter’s costume, the game gives you the most gratuitous zoomed-in boobie shot in gaming history. At the very least, the girls have (slightly) more realistic proportions this time, so I guess that’s an improvement. I guess Team Ninja didn’t want to mess with a money-making formula, despite their earlier statements.
Still, the fighting engine felt solid enough to give the game substance. DoA has long been stereotyped as a fluff game that people play more for the T&A and not for the gameplay, but DoA 5 has the potential to change all that. Team Ninja has been struggling for the past few years, but Dead or Alive 5 might just be good enough to get the company back into gamers’ good graces.