In just a little over a year, the PS Vita has become as excellent portable machine for the fighting game fan. There's a healthy amount of compatible digital games from the PSP library, but with the exception of Reality Fighters, all of the native fighting games on the system are good enough to have legions of fans. The selection also covers a fair amount of types, including the party-fighting style of PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, the more technical sprites of Blazblue Continuum Shift Extend, the gory Mortal Kombat and the classic Capcom style in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. What the system didn't seem to have was a proper 3-D fighter, and that call is answered by Tecmo with its well-known Dead or Alive franchise. Dead or Alive 5 Plus turns out to be another great fighting game for Sony's young handheld system.
Dead or Alive 5 Plus is a standard 3-D fighter that's closer to Virtua Fighter than Tekken in terms of mechanics. The expected singular buttons for blocks, punches and kicks are coupled with a grab button that's also a means of countering moves, if timed properly. Together, the seemingly simple system is home to some depth, and the improved sidestepping and Power Blows only deepen things more.
The other hallmark of the game is the environments. While other titles sport some good-looking environments, this started the trend in 3-D fighters to play with the idea of making each location essential to the fight. Getting slammed into objects for bonus damage and falling multiple levels has been a staple of the series for some time, but here, the developers decided to really amplify it. Levels tilt before collapsing to lower tiers, walls on the same tier break, and moving objects like robotic arms and leaping tigers make you wary of where you're fighting. Like previous titles, environmental damage isn't enough to kill a player, but the damage is substantial enough that it can turn the tide.
Despite the technical nature of the fighting mechanics, the game is fast. Most of the fighters are capable of simple punches and kicks in the blink of an eye, and when they're performing throws is the only time they seem to move at normal speed. Even the slower characters move faster than average ones in other fighting games, so it's rare that fights would end because the time ran out. This sense of speed isn't just restricted to the older fighters but to the newcomers as well, including the three Virtua Fighter characters who maintain their signature traits.
For the most part, the game comes with exactly the same modes as before. Versus lets you pit two fighters against each other in any stage while Spectate is a CPU-vs.-CPU variation, where you take pictures in a seemingly endless bout. Arcade, Survival and Time Attack play the same way as in other fighting games, except they contain no bosses and have variable difficulty levels as their main focus. You have leaderboards for each mode and difficulty level, so you have a reason to go back through them beyond trying to train yourself on different fighters the old-fashioned way.
Story mode is the main highlight as far as single-player modes are concerned, and this is one of the few fighting games that seems interested in telling a somewhat logical story. In truth, the story mode tells two tales that intertwine, with the Alpha-152 arc serving as a wrapper for the tournament held by the new DOATEC to show some goodwill for its past actions. As expected in fighting games, there are appearances from each fighter, and you can play consecutive matches with each to flesh out their tale. Granted, some of the situations are a bit silly, but at least it's trying to do more than having a bunch of fights bookended by opening and closing cut scenes.
Those hoping that the story would get some improvements due to the delay between platforms are out of luck, as it's exactly the same as before. This means that one of the bigger complaints about the mode — it feels jumbled because of the various time jumps — remains prevalent here. Luckily, many players are willing to overlook this thanks to the wealth of unlockable titles and costumes. The mode is also quite lengthy for a fighting game, as it'll take you roughly six hours to finish. For fighting fans looking for lots to do solo, this game matches Mortal Kombat in that regard.
While the title is packed with modes, it doesn't have everything the home versions did. The ability to post your fights to YouTube is gone, and while it would have been an amazing feat for the portable to do something that robust, it isn't a deal-breaker. What will be missed is tag-team play. A staple since the Dreamcast days of Dead or Alive 2, the ability to play the modes in tag-team is gone from this version due to technical restrictions. It added some excitement since most fighters tend to be exclusively solo or tag nowadays, and seeing this gone is disappointing.
Acting as a replacement to the missing Tag mode is Touch Fight. Exclusive to the Vita, the mode is from a first-person perspective and pits you against a computer opponent. Instead of using the standard controls, you use the touch-screen to fight. Taps and swipes with one finger determine the types of hits while the use of two fingers determines blocks and grabs. Movement is automatic, so you don't have to worry about distancing, and the timing of the fights remains unchanged. This mode really emphasizes button-mashing over finesse moves. It gives the feeling that you're playing a smartphone game for casual players rather than something that series fans will enjoy, and the only reason you'll ever think about playing the mode is so that you can get the associated Trophy. As something new for this version, it isn't compelling for those who have played the home console versions.
The Vita version also has a few other features not seen in the home console versions when they were first released. Zack's Island, a new stage featured as a patch for the PS3 and 360 versions, is included in the Vita box. All of the fighters are also unlocked from the beginning, leaving you with the task of opening up titles and costumes instead. There are also cross-save capabilities with the PS3 version, though the ability only opens up titles and costumes instead of things like story progress. Finally, there's a custom soundtrack option that lets you play a specific song each time you enter a stage or take on a particular fighter. You're restricted to the game's library of songs, though, but at least the selection of tracks is plentiful for just about any game. There's also an expanded training mode that not only includes a tutorial mode but also the ability to learn some effective combos, making this a great teaching tool for newcomers.
For the most part, the online play is the same as the home console versions. The Facebook posting feature is still present, as is the ability to save match replays and have online training sessions with other players. There's a ranking system that's based on a letter grade as opposed to level-based, and there are leaderboards for your ranking as well, though they've now been combined with the PS3 leaderboards, making it close to impossible to reach the top. You can also play online against PS3 players from any region, theoretically expanding your opponent pool. "Theoretically" is the key word, as there currently doesn't seem to be anyone playing the game on either the PS3 or Vita. So we're unable to see if the hitching in the PS3 version was reduced or eliminated on the Vita. If you planning on taking the fight online, you'll either have to get lucky or plan bouts in advance.
Graphically, the game is quite amazing based on how it compares to the home versions. The fighters look like they retain the same polygon count, and the texture work is clean. Their animations remain fluid, and the same can be said for the frame rate, which looks closer to 60 most of the time and well above 30 during the more busy scenes. The environments are rather detailed, and while there are a few cases where the background textures aren't as sharp as expected, they're only apparent in a few things, which don't matter much since the other textures match the home versions quite nicely.
More noticeable is the lack of some elements, such as soldiers in the battlefield background and very minimal crowd movement. Also noticeable is the presence of some aliasing and reduction in particle effects, most likely done to keep the frame rate stable and fast. You'll still see explosions, flames, sparks and sakura petals fly into the air, but it isn't as pronounced or numerous as you would've seen at home. In that respect, it doesn't match the near-one-to-one parity like PlayStation All-Stars does, but when you consider the character sizes and the fact that they avoid some of the pitfalls, like a noticeable polygon reduction in Mortal Kombat or the static backgrounds of both Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and Street Fighter X Tekken, the work here is well done.
Save for the use of Dolby Digital, the sound quality on the Vita version is the same as the home console versions. The music goes for a more serious edge, but as exhibited by the circus background, it still knows when to be playful. The score holds up six months later with some tracks sticking in your head for some time. The effects hit hard despite the system's lack of a subwoofer and come in crisp whenever someone is hit into the environment. The dual language tracks are here, and the Japanese is certainly preferable over the mediocre English track, but don't expect any changes out of the three Virtua Fighter cameos, as they remain in their native languages, regardless of the options.
Dead or Alive 5 Plus sets the bar pretty high for 3-D fighters on the Vita. Flawed mode aside, it is a compelling port of a home console title that sacrifices very little to reach parity. The fighting engine is fast and technically sound while the environments remain just as beautiful and deadly despite the slight graphical downgrade. With all of the fighters and options intact, it makes for a great fighting game. While previous or current owners of either the 360 or PS3 versions won't find anything compelling enough to pick this up, gamers who have skipped the console versions or only own a Vita would be hard-pressed to find a fighter this impressive anytime soon.
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