Dead or Alive (DOA) has possibly the greatest graphics yet witnessed on the Sega Saturn, certainly the best of the beat-em-ups. This is a bold claim indeed, considering opposition in the mould of Virtua Fighter 2, NiGHTS and Panzer Dragoon Saga. Iíll admit to being somewhat sceptical about the quality of the visuals in DOA, before I had actually observed it running for myself. I thought that maybe the Japenese gaming-press were exaggerating. However, all negative thoughts were banished when I first saw this title with my own two eyes. I didnít think it possible that the visual majesty that is VF2 could actually be surpassed, after all, that was nigh-on arcade perfect.
Although DOA does suffer from a very negligible amount of polygon break-up in certain situations, this is the only real negative that you can level at this particular aspect of the game. It runs at a very smooth 60 frames-per-second, incorporates some sublime 3D fighters with excellent models and textures, and all the moves and throws possess superb animations. In addition to this, there is an excellent blend between the 2D backgrounds and the 3D combatants, some very nice alternative costumes and no slowdown to speak of in any of the normal modes. To those of you who have played and enjoyed the arcade version of this game, specifically in reference the female characters, you will be pleased to know that the extreme mammary physics are still present in this version!
When I first booted up DOA, I knew that I was in for a bit of a treat. Tecmo have included an excellent movie-style intro and six different modes of fighting, ranging from "Arcade" through to "Kumite" where you can set the number of battles anywhere from at least thirty through to a hundred. Virtually everything that you could ask for, options wise, has been included.
While the cast of only eight characters and one boss may seem a little slim to begin with, there are no "weak" characters that can be beaten into submission every time, and they all appear to be well-balanced. Each has their own distinctive qualities and array of moves. The cast includes Jann-Lee, an excellent attempt at yet another Bruce Lee-type character; Lei-Fang, a girl from China; Bayman, a Russian grappler; Tina, a female version of Bayman; Ryu, Tecmoís version of a ninja; Zack, an abrasive brawler (based on Dennis Rodman, the Chicago Bulls chief-rebounder?); and Gen-Fu, who is a powerful Chinese old master. The Boss, Raidou, is arguably a cross between Tekkenís Heihachi and Streetfighterís Gouki, and unsurprisingly, a little bit too powerful.
Sonically, DOAís music is good, with a fairly varied selection of rock samples being the order of the day. Whilst not being the greatest tunes you will ever hear on the Saturn, it can be safely said that the music compliments the actual action, and that is a compliment in itself. Although the sound-effects are somewhat weak, a general affliction of most Saturn fighting games, they donít detract from the gameplay. Indeed, certain moves and throws sound very accomplished, and the voice samples are also very good.
Gameplay, where a game is either a winner or a loser, is thankfully excellent in DOA. Unlike VF2, DOA discards the "guard" button in favour of a "hold" button. The hold button allows the player to perform a veritable amount of throws and counters, many looking spectacular. Indeed, the counters aspect in this game almost adds another dimension to this type of game, a greater depth if you will. This factor ensures that two fights are rarely the same, a criticism that has been levelled at many fighting games in recent times. It could be argued that a "sidestep" facility would have ensured that DOA would truly have been a world-class product, but once youíve mastered the use of the hold button, this argument pales somewhat.
The replay-value in this title is pretty high also, as DOA possesses many hidden extras. Secret costumes (ranging from the skimpy to the truly bizarre) are unlocked each time you complete the game. Jann-Lee gets some very suave suits, the females receive some very revealing attire and Zack is awarded with a metallic Snork costume that looks particularly cool. Additionally, you can adjust the size of the ring, change the announcerís voice and turn off the Damage Zones.
So, the conclusion. Despite the Air-Juggles sometimes being a little excessive damage wise and the Artificial Intelligence being a little "cheap", this game is top-quality. To my knowledge, this game isnít going to receive an official release on either British or American shores. So, is it worth importing? Well, if you are a particular fan of DOA and Tecmo, definitely. Everyone else? Well, If you are a beat-em-up fan, specifically of the 3D variety, I would certainly encourage you to purchase this title, it really is a superb game and would be a worthy addition to anybodyís Saturn collection. To those of you wondering if this is the finest beat-em-up ever to be released on a home-system, I have this to say. In my opinion, this game is marginally behind VF2 in the pecking-order, due to the latter possessing slightly tighter controls. It must be said that DOA sometimes seems to experience a little lull between the player actually hitting the attack button, and the action actually appearing on screen. Tekken 3? Well, this is obviously a personal opinion, but I prefer my fighting games to be a test of skill, and not a somewhat cumbersome memory test
Review By: Michael West