Disturbingly under-appreciated by casuals and hardcore alike. Thankfully tournament scenes are beginning to notice.

User Rating: 9 | Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate (Collector's Edition) X360
DOA5 came out almost a year ago after a 7-year hiatus most likely due to company issues and the leave of Team Ninja leader, Tomonobu Itagaki. So it was a big surprise that DOA5 ever came out at all with a loss of interest from the community and a steady decline of 3D fighters. Despite this, Team Ninja has managed to squeeze out a great new installment that is developed with the intentions of being a hardcore fighter that casuals can also enjoy with the inclusion of amazing visuals, animation and character balance.

DOA5U is major update to that of DOA5. Including move tweaks and tool additions for every character, new characters, new mechanics, new levels and a smoother net code to the online portion.

Hardcore fans will be happy to learn that Leon and Ein from previous DOA installments have returned. They are both great additions, and despite only having a few changes; they both work incredibly well in this installment and blend in well with the other characters. Jacky is here for Virtua Fighter. He's a great addition as well, and is as powerful as any Virtua Fighter fan may expect. Rachel and Momiji are also new to the roster from Team Ninja's critically acclaimed and panned Ninja Gaiden franchise. Both of these characters will be tough for previous players to adjust to as they both have strange tools in contrast to the rest of the cast.

Momiji has a unique double jump option, uncommon in the 3D fighting realm, and once you are in the air with your opponent, your foe is deemed defenseless. Before ending her air juggle she can either end with a fierce punch, a mid-kick critical burst (critical bursts still freeze an opponent briefly for a free combo extension) or throw that sends your poor foe in the air for an additional free ground combo. Momiji has a lot going for her as a new character, and it will be up to the player to adjust to her new strings. She is not as much of a clone of other ninjas as some would plainly say.

Rachel is the busty fiend hunter from Ninja Gaiden/ Black. She's a powerful character that will be harder to adjust to for some players than Momiji. She is one of the few characters in the game with a vortex. A vortex is a fancy term for repetition in the fighting community. Rachel can throw you, and as you are bouncing off the ground, she can throw you again, and then combo you into a combo throw. She can then proceed to low kick you. Now most low kicks just offer a small damage bonus, but Rachel's low kick can force tech her opponent, forcing them off the ground. If the opponent does not immediately guess her attack correctly, she can recycle the exact guaranteed strategy over and over again.

Tag mode has received a huge make-over if this is your flavor. The biggest problem with this mode is that it doesn't play like solo mode, this makes for a weird adjustment period. Some may argue that it should be expected but tag mode can put you into some very compromising positions with lengthy guaranteed air juggles against lighter characters in the game. Those that play solo mode regularly will need to do a decent amount of training to carry their skill over to this mode. Thankfully, you have some options this time to help you out with that:

Survival tag has returned, and it's a good way to practice combos against 100 opponents on the higher levels. Items have also returned. You can collect items that will heal you, and extend your multiplier bonus after a force tech or a KO. Tag mode also has a ranked match online option, and you can also tag up with a friend online in a player match lobby. Team Ninja clearly put a lot of focus in tag this time around, and it's an impressive mode with very rewarding tag throws and air-juggles. Those that get good at this mode will reap the reward of guaranteed damage, while those that don't adjust will suffer.

Training is highly recommended in this title, and you have a lot of fun ways to do this now. You have your basic free training, command training that teaches you all of a characters moves, and also combo challenge -- a mode that will teach you how to pull of some very nice combos for your respective characters. This is fantastic for newcomers so everyone can utilize a nifty character. There is even a tutorial mode that teaches you all the basics of the game, and also explains some fighting terms.

The graphics haven't changed much from last year's installment, but this is fine. DOA5U is a great looking fighter, with superb and perhaps unmatched animation. The game is a real treat to watch or play, and features some beautiful levels and variety. Some levels will destruct and change level design completely with insane danger zones. A lot of these levels were inspired from the Uncharted franchise. A set-piece falling and changing before your very eyes.

Environments mean a lot to serious DOA players because of how dramatically they effect the way the game is played. Your character will slip on ice, your combo will either drop or go higher on a slope, the water will make you stumble, you can break a foe through an object for a guaranteed extension to your combo, your foe can fall off an edge for extra damage or can be power-blowed into a chopper, a circus clown man-cannon or a giant boulder on the move and inspired by Indiana Jones. It will require more brains than fists to get far in your fight if you expect to survive. These environmental matches can lead to exciting moments, and it's a big reason as to how DOA is different from other 3D fighters released today.

People that enjoy dressing up their characters before a fight will be happy to know that there are more costumes, more hairstyles and more accessories. They continue to get dirty and sweaty (optional) as the fight progresses, and it's interesting to see how they turn out at the end of a match.

Mechanically the game has changed quite a bit. Every character has a new bounds move that will force their opponent to slide across the floor for a short time. When you put your opponent in a bounds you get a guaranteed follow up attack or combo depending on your precise timing. Also new to Ultimate is the Power Launcher. After losing 50% of your health you can charge an attack that will launch your opponent into the sky. This gives you the chance to set your opponent up for quite the combo and can save a match.

Also new to Dead or Alive is customization to background music (BGM). Dead or Alive 5 had a decent, but sub-par soundtrack in comparison to previous installments. With Ultimate we now have new soundtracks, and a plethora of tracks from the past games: DOA3, DOA2, DOA4 and even DOAD. You can select tracks for each individual character, or each stage, the choice is yours. The game sounds amazing, all the beautiful animation is backed up by the sounds of eloquent punches, thunderous slaps and tormenting kicks. The game also has quite a bit of good vocal talent, the victory poses and taunts are quite humorous and enjoyable.

If you were not a fan of last years online mode, it was probably because you did not enjoy the lag you received throughout a good portion of your matches. Thankfully, Team Ninja has smoothed the netcode surprisingly well. If you dismissed online last year, you might want to check it out this time around. There is also a new rank that surpasses that of S+... and that's "U". U for Ultimate I suppose.

Overall, Team Ninja has created quite a nice extension to their Dead or Alive franchise, and this game should be checked out by the hardcore (with a growing tournament scene) and the casuals, because everyone can have fun with this game and it's one of the flashiest 3D fighters in years with a good chunk of depth to back it up.