Hands-on: Dead or Alive 2

TOKYO - We get our grubby little fingers all over Tecmo's Dead or Alive sequel.

TOKYO - As work nears completion on Tecmo's highly anticipated Naomi Dead or Alive sequel, the company decided to offer the game up for test in a popular arcade here in Tokyo. Naturally, we had to check it out.

The first thing that caught our attention, of course, was DOA 2's jaw-dropping graphics. While we had seen the game in motion before, the actual playable version showed off so much more to the game that Tecmo has kept secret. For example, there is a stage that takes place in a power plant – on an elevated platform that moves. It takes its course through the power plant, displaying some incredible scenery. The backgrounds in this stage were truly impressive, and definitely surpassed anything yet seen on the Naomi or Dreamcast hardware (not in complexity, but just in sheer design – it will make you say “woah”). Also, before and after each battle you'll get to see a close-up of the characters, often in slow motion. These scenes look borderline CG rendered. They're that good.

Of course the visual comparisons between Dead or Alive 2 and Soul Calibur are surely going to happen. And in fact, it seems like Soul Calibur beats DOA 2 in the graphics arena. Both games have spectacular character movements, but in terms of the backgrounds, Soul Calibur just has the edge (despite that aforementioned one really impressive stage). There's one level in DOA 2 where you're fighting in the snow. In the background there are some mountains and what not, but nothing really impressive – it comes off a tad dull. But then again, that's because Soul Calibur has simply upped the standards so much. To its credit, DOA 2 does have a few other neat stages, such as one where you're on a raft floating down a river (similar to the river stage in Sega's Virtua Fighter 2) that has beautiful mountain scenery and large windmill fans spinning in the background.

However, what Dead or Alive 2 has that Soul Calibur doesn't is the multiple platform battle arenas. There's one in particular that I just had to love. I started the match on the roof of a temple. Then, as the match progressed, my opponent knocked me down into an actual room in this temple. So we fought in there for a while, until I knocked him out the window into the grass below. And then we fought there. These multi-level stages just add so much to the game.

The version of DOA 2 we played had a good amount of characters to select from: most I had seen before, but a few that were new to me. I'll list the characters I noticed: Hayabusa, Leon, Helena, Ein, Ayane, Zach, Gen-fu, Kasumi, Tina, Jann-lee, Bass, Lei-fang, Ryu, and Leon. The cool part is that many (if not all – I didn't get to try them) had 3 different costumes to select from. Zach, for example, had some varied outfits – one was a very street punk-like costume, and another was this shiny metallic suit.

As for how the game plays, it's very similar to the first DOA, but one new aspect is the addition of a tag option (before you start the game you can choose to have the option enabled or disabled). The tags are accomplished by pressing all three buttons at once. The guide poster hanging on the machine said that you could only perform the tags when an enemy is stunned from your blows, but I witnessed some players tagging in the middle of a brawl. I'm not exactly sure what that means. This time around the game seems to be a little more combo oriented as well – I saw some great combo executions, and actually managed to pull a few off myself. And there are some moves that are just outrageously cool looking this time around – Kasumi's face stomp is too cool.

The version we played was the final test for the game, and overall it looked like all Tecmo needed to do now is tweak some of the fighting. One thing we noticed, though, were that the characters' mouths didn't move with their voices. Hopefully this is something that will be remedied for the final version, but it's not a big flaw if that doesn't happen.

It's a given that Tecmo has a huge hit on their hands with Dead or Alive 2. The hype the game has received over the past year has made the game a must-see by anyone even remotely interested in fighters. It's definitely one of the most visually impressive fighters yet (as for whether or not it beats Soul Calibur, I'll leave that up to you to decide when you see it), and the action is really quite good. We'll have plenty more on DOA 2 as the game gets closer to its release later this fall.

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