|Theres no question that
Sega takes its fighting games seriously. In the first seven months since the Dreamcast
launched, Segas already managed to accumulate a fighting line-up that should be the
envy of every system. Soul Calibur alone raised the bar on what a fighting game should
look like, and made people stop, stare, and decide to get a Dreamcast.
But you havent seen anything yet. Not until youve seen Dead or Alive 2. The facial models are unrivaled and amazingly beautiful. The characters move with a rapid, fluid grace unequaled in any game, ever. And those anime babes, I mean damn thats worth the price of admission right there. The obscenely gratuitous wavy breast mode from the first DoA is absent, but you wont miss it. Thats not to say that DoA has gone soft or anything, theyre still cranking out the ridiculously voluptuous anime ninja super-models for your viewing enjoyment. Take the games heroine Kasumi, for example. The Aphrodite meets Kung-Fu ass kicking Wonder Woman is stuffed into a 56", 125 pound frame that might be pushing the boundary just a bit. Her breasts alone look like they weigh at least thirty-five pounds, which doesnt leave a lot of weight left over. But hey, Im a reasonable person so I guess I can live with a little dishonesty in the name of sexually suggestive cartoons.
When Soul Calibur hit the Dreamcast it drew as much praise for its amazing levels as it did for its great characters and story mode. DoA 2 offers the same quality of level design, and even manages to improve on it in a couple of different ways. Many of the stages have multiple levels that allow you to kick your opponent off balconies, waterfalls, and through plate glass windows for some big damage and a change of scenery. Some levels contain uneven ground elevation that forces you to change your strategy to adapt to new hit locations and new counter opportunities. On the down side, these beautiful arenas are useable only in story mode and two-player vs. mode. The Team Battle and Tag battle are disappointingly limited to only one arena.
Beautiful characters on amazing stages can only take you so far, and the game-play doesnt disappoint. DoA2 uses a control scheme that looks deceptively simple. It uses one punch button, one kick button, and a free button that functions as a block and counter, and can be combined with the other buttons to produce throws and other various moves. The control is simple enough for a beginner to pick up and have a good time with, but deep enough to keep a dedicated player busy trying to master the hordes of combos and moves. Much of the skill in DoA2 is in mastering the intricate throw and counter system that offers some of the most spectacular moves found in any game. The counter system is more complicated than the oversimplified system found in the first DoA that often led to a countering cheese fest. The new system requires you to time a block and a joystick movement with the incoming strike, but the command is different for each level of attack, high, mid and low. If you guess wrong youre going to get smacked, but if you guess correctly, counters can do a lot of damage and turn the tide of battle. Plus theyre a lot of fun to watch.
All of these factors combine to create a fighting game that doesnt just produce two round slug-fests. Battles between two experienced DoA2 players look scenes from an like epic anime movie as two amazing looking fighters thunder away at each other, throw one another off of buildings, tackle, grapple, gouge, and counter their way to victory.
DoA2 also offers an amazingly smooth tag mode that allows you to choose a two character team and face off against another team. The tag action is lightning fast, allowing you to literally tag in the middle of a combo with one character, get a few more hits in with the second character, and tag back out before your unsuspecting opponent knows what happened. The character not in the battle gradually heals, reminiscent of Marvel vs. Capcom, so a successful team tags often. In addition, each character has a primary tag partner with whom they can execute powerful special moves for a little bit of double team action. Up to four players at once can engage in the Tag team battles, and this is easily the best mode on the game, at least until you get tired of looking at the same scenery. Its tragic that tag battles can only take place on one stage. Other modes include the obligatory survival mode, time attack, and practice mode, which function basically like they do in every other fighting game. Theyre still nice to have around though.
One area in which Soul Calibur holds the advantage over DoA2 is in the story mode. In Soul Calibur, each character had a story that while not exactly original, was at least comprehensible. Not so in DoA2. Ive been through the game several times with each character and I still don't have a clue whats going on. Granted, I didnt have a copy of the instruction manual with my review copy, but still. The only thing Im actually sure of is that a series of seemingly random cut scenes offer you a nonsensical picture of something, and everyone wants to beat the crap out of everyone else. Heres Zacks story: (beats someone up) "Here have a mirror" "No I dont want a mirror" (beats up someone else) "Here have a mirror" "No way" (smash, break another mirror, beats up final boss) "Im going snowboarding". The originality award goes to Leon, the Italian desert nomad with a Russian fighting style, who might just be the first openly gay console gladiator, who spends the game wandering around looking for some dude named Roland. The runner-up to the confusion champion is Bass, who is looking for Tina, who I think is his daughter, but might be his lover, or might be both. The wildly erratic story isnt really a drawback though, its actually a lot of fun trying to figure out what the hell is going on, and it gives life to some creative interpretations. Anyone who has a theory as to what the story is actually about is encouraged to drop me an e-mail.
Still, none of the games imperfections stop Dead or Alive 2 from being the best fighter available on the Dreamcast. Beautiful graphics, a complex fighting system, superb counters, and a bonus Tag Team mode leave the competition bleeding and whining in the sand, and the four player combat finally gives players a reason to own more than two controllers. If you buy one fighting game, buy Dead or Alive 2.