Dead or Alive: Which is your fate? SSCM may be biased to AM and Sega in-house projects, but it's not ignorant enough to ignore 3rd party conversions. Especially when the originals were on Model 2 technology. (ha ha!)
When Sega decided to licence out its Model 2 arcade technology to third party developers, people were falling over themselves to grab some of what was easily the best graphics kit on the market. Or at least, they should have been. Surpassed only by Sega's recent Model 3 and Model 3 Step 2 boards, it was put to good use by Tecmo, with Dead or Alive.
But was it a load of crap, and what is the conversion like? Creeping into Emap's offices in October last year, little fuss was made about the Saturn version until Saturn Mag put it on the front cover of their December issue and everyone saw how brilliant it looked. But then it didn't appear on Sega Europe's release schedule. Ever. Unsurprisingly, this lead to one of the biggest uproars in PAL adaptation history, but the fact is that Sega didn't release the game outside Japan because of their dosh supply. Either that or they couldn't be bothered.
As such, the hardcore Saturn fans went and bought the game on import.
Dead or Alive is conceptually the same as Virtua Fighter 2. After a few days of play it becomes apparent that is some areas this excels VF2, and in some, unfortunately the most important ones, it doesn't quite make it.
Replacing AM2's guard button is DOA's most innovative feature: the hold button. Blocking is now achieved by pulling back on the d-pad, and button A has a number of both offensive and defensive, but invariably well-implemented uses. For example, it is used in many of the fighters' key throw techniques and combos, and it's also effectively a counter-attack that would be more difficult to achieve in the VF games. Time it right, and hitting the G button will give you the opportunity to turn the onslaught to your advantage. Check out the player moves lists to see exactly how it's used.
So what else affects the fight? The ring is considerably larger than in VF2, so although it's possible to get 'ring-outs', it rarely happens. There is, however, another innovative in the form of the floor: around the edge of the ring is a 'Danger Zone' which explodes upon impact. This isn't just for show. When you (or your opponent) falls on the danger zone, they are blown back up into the air again from the explosive ball of fire which rises from the ground! This of course means extra hits for your combo, and a whole new bunch of tactics that isn't to be found in VF2. Positioning yourself in the ring with VF2 is a very instinctive and fast - paced activity, because the ring is small and if you go out you lose. Here you have to avoid the danger zone as best as possible - but it doesn't mean a KO. Excellent.
Ah yes, the graphics. Over the last few issues Sega Saturn Conversion Magazine has been keen to tell you that in whichever beat 'em up, the Saturn is pushed to its limits and basically, you will never find better. Well, we all learn from our mistakes, so now I'll say this. Dead or Alive is the best looking beat 'em up ever on the Saturn, without a doubt. Running at 60 frames a second, in hi-res, and with backgrounds that are the best pseudo-3D you could hope for, they are fantastic. There's no glitching like with Last Bronx. It is, quite possibly, a perfect engine! But there will be better, methinks....
Unfortunately, not quite. When I play Dead or Alive, much of the pleasure comes from just playing a fighting game with staggering backgrounds and animation, and trying to work out just how the '2.5D' backgrounds work. The gameplay itself is great. But even now, I'd rather play VF2. It's hard to work out exactly why. Being an Akira master, as far as UK standards go, I get a buzz from VF2 that Dead or Alive just doesn't have the capacity for. VF2, as with a lot of AM games, always had a way of working on any level - for beginners through to the absolute Tetsujin God-like masters. With Dead or Alive, after you've mastered the trickiest combos, it is a little more on the 'normal' side. It's far from crap, it's just that I happen to compare it to a game that is so frighteningly advanced that it doesn't work for the biggest (and I mean biggest) AM2 fans. Read on for more opinions...
It's fair to say that Dead or Alive's gameplay is damn good. With a group of friends, mastering the combos and some of the trickier throws is great fun. The whole feel of the game is a little more like Tekken because of the less that perfect control system. VF2 managed to incorporate so much into its system: (With Akira) close range combat but with a fast-paced defence system, in which you could dash in and out, use jumping techniques for a variety of effects, a system that was fast and innovative enough to basically give you complete control over the fighter. Here the action is a little more sedate and I felt that I just didn't have the same level of control, and ultimately, that it wasn't quite as fun.
Dead or Alive, though, can't be everything. I defy anyone who isn't impressed after a couple of fights. The stunning combos, the amazing graphics and spectacular touches like players flying into the air with an explosion make for a game that is not to be missed.
The sound effects are sharp and generally well done, from the 'pudding' blocked hit sound to the crashing explosions. Although the tunes in the game are a bit samey, they are all great and appropriate for the culture the background and fighter depicts.
To ensure its top position in the beat 'em up race, DOA has the best options and presentation around. There are loads of play modes, Training to Kumite, which is effectively an advanced ranking mode. There are also more secret costumes than in any other fighting game...
Some of the costumes you receive upon completion of the game are great. You get your hardcore martial art outfit for Gen-Fu. Then there's Jann-Lee's Reservoir Dogs style suit, and Bayman's scuba-diving costume. But aha! There's more. The girls' costumes are easily the best, with some nurses costumes, tight clothes, skimpy bikinis, bunny costumes, nurse's costumes, skimpy bikinis and some more tight clothes. Scantily clad babes with bouncing breasts is a good thing. See it to believe it...
As far as Model 2 conversions go, this is easily the best ever on the Saturn. As a technical achievement in its own right, it is untouchable. Of late there have been a few games of staggering graphical quality: Panzer Saga, Grandia and World League Soccer for example. This, however, is easily the best in its genre. On paper it has everything you need. But going back to the original arcade version, you realise what a difference there is. On the Saturn version there isn't the Model 2 gloss, the shaded polygon graphics synonymous with power and with that tangible reality about them. Here it's obviously not the same, but when you go back to the Saturn, you really won't care, such is the awesome nature of the graphics. You MUST see it!
On Virtua Fighter 3 there are some stages where you can really feel the depth in the backgrounds. On Lau's stage for example, the great Wall. Over the edge and... you don't forget the experience. Well, DOA gives a similar feeling of enclosure, by virtue of the stunning BG designs and the way 2D has been used for them. When you see Gen-Fu's stage, the (relatively distant) wall moves with the foreground almost perfectly, and as such you feel you're in a 3D environment where you could, if you so wished, go and look over the side of the wall. There's even a bridge on Hayabusa's stage, and it's all done with 2D. Basically it's all very impressive indeed.
It really is a great shame that SOE didn't sign this up. Get a switch fitted though, and you can have it.
If you're in the UK you've got it easy. Other parts of the world don't get import stuff and 60 Hz switches quite so easily. Try these import shops for a copy of Dead or Alive:
Raven Games 0181 663 6822 Game Raiders 0171 434 2220 Computer Exchange 0171 636 2666
The best place to get a switch fitted is Megamix UK Ltd. Give them a call on 01732 351 220. The gameplay in Dead or Alive may not match VF2, but then what does? It has an entirely different way of control and logic, but nobody can say that it is shallow. It has all of the timing implications that VF2 had, and with the far more pronounced counter attacks, a game of super playability awaits.
There is no shortage of techniques in DOA either. They range from standard P and K attacks to attacking a floored opponent (down attacks), from PPPK variants to complex throw techniques. In fact, in terms of originality of attacks, this game is well in advance of Virtua Fighter 2. I don't prefer the overall way the game plays to VF2. But from my experience in the 2D beat 'em up area, I know that the vast majority of people will prefer it - especially in the western world. As previously mentioned, the range of options in Dead or Alive is excellent. But to make the game even more desirable, the presentation and front end is impeccable too. The amount of Japanese text is minimal, only the moves lists will prove to be a problem as the main options are in English. The FMV intro and endings are pretty cool, and there's a rolling demo of two fighters in on a random background battling it out - with awesome camera views. There's even artwork on the CD!
The game's final boss is Raidou. He appears in a burst of smoke, eyes glowing red. He uses a variety of techniques belonging to the other fighters, and, as probably the best fighter in the game, is selectable after you complete the game with every character.
For unbelievably detailed character profiles, full moves lists, billions of screenshots and wondrous presentation, purchase Issue four of Sega Saturn Conversion Magazine.
Review By: Adam Dorée