Dead or Alive (PlayStation) Review

By Athanasios 09.04.2021

Review for Dead or Alive on PlayStation

Once upon a time, Team Ninja decided to rival the big ones in the 3D fighter scene, with a little game that managed to sell many copies back in the day, with the bouncy tattas of its heroines being definitely the ones to blame. Was that focus on the sex factor a tactical move that strived to help this title survive amongst the Street Fighters, Tekkens, and Mortal Kombats, or Tomonobu Itagaki simply wanted a fighter with sexy babes in it? No matter the reason, big jiggly funbags alone can't spawn an entire franchise. In other words, here's a trip back to distant 1998, and at the humble, yet more than solid beginnings of Dead or Alive.

1996's Tomb Raider made it abundantly clear that a top-heavy gal on the cover tends to sell. Dead or Alive, an arcade fighter which had recently been released in Japan, didn't just have one voluptuous heroine, but three (with one more added later), and their assets were moving like tasty jelly… but it wasn't as successful as Core's female Indiana Jones - at least in the West. Was it a matter of different bra sizes, or was it because the fighting genre already had many veterans? Hard to say, but upon getting a PlayStation release in 1998, people started noticing it. Breast-power? The answer is yes… and no. Sexiness can attract customers, but it won't be long before they realise their mistake, and go back to the better games. Thankfully, this one is far from a bad one.

Screenshot for Dead or Alive on PlayStation

For starters, despite fanservice being a big part of the equation, there are only three(+) female characters to choose from, with the rest of the cast being comprised of male masters of Sambo, Xinyi liuhe quan, kickboxing, as well as the obligatory jeet kune do and wrestling specialists. There's a great variety here, as long as you aren't looking for people that spit icicles, extend their arms, or fart thunderbolts. Like Virtua Fighter, this keeps things nice and simple (forget about the 10 meter-high leaps of the latter), with fighters being… well, fighters, rather than superheroes. Long story short, there are many characters to choose from, all with their own unique way of fighting, therefore it won't be long before a favourite or two are found.

Once you pick one (kudos for picking Kasumi, by the way), you'll enter the arena, and, well, it's one more 3D fighter, with punches, kicks, special moves, combos, and… hey where's the guard button? It turns out that there's more than meets the horny eye here, as this implements a neat counter mechanic in place of simple guards. With the push of a button your character (for example, Kasumi) will "hold" the incoming attack, with offensive counters letting Kasu… fighters to retaliate. This isn't just a cheap way around problems, as players need to be careful not to spam this move, and create dangerous openings. Furthermore, it's important to do the correct counter, as simply pushing the counter button won't always do the trick.

Screenshot for Dead or Alive on PlayStation

Anything else here? Frankly, no. This "innovation" is the only one available, and, to be honest, it's not enough - but still, the fun factor remains very high, due to a variety of reasons. For starters, this has a refreshingly fast pace, in an era where behemoths like Tekken slowed things down considerably. Dead or Alive is also one of those few fighters that are easy to pick up and play, even if a total genre greenhorn. You won't go anywhere simply by mashing buttons, but you won't have to spend hours upon hours just to have some fun here. Finally, this is a looker. Yes, you've read that correctly, a looker. Nothing in here is as detailed or striking as the 1995 classic Tekken 2, but still, this is very appealing to the eye.

The arenas, and the backgrounds surrounding them, are extremely simple - not ugly, just simple. The focus here, however, isn't the low-resolution beaches, WWE-like rings, or ancient temples, but the characters. While, again, simple in design, their 3D models are much, much smoother than what was the norm back in the day, with the animation being top-notch, especially for a newcomer to the genre. The designs of the characters is a mixed bag, to be honest, with some standing out from the rest (again, Kasumi), with everyone else being a bit generic. At least one can unlock a variety of costumes, which range from normal and badass, to sexy and ridiculous. The J-Rock OST is quite catchy, as well, although most of the tunes won't stay with you for long.

Screenshot for Dead or Alive on PlayStation

…But now it's time to talk about the flaws. Yes, the popularity of the "Big Ones" is partly the reason why this didn't succeed, but there's more. For starters, while this is definitely a fun experience, coming from any other popular fighter will make it easier to see that pulling off moves here lacks the fluidity of, say, Tekken 3, Soul Calibur… or any other Dead or Alive instalment. To be more specific, the action is fast, and the controls work as intended, but moves don't correlate that well with each other, thus stringing together combos feels kind of clunky, especially when compared to the silky smooth transitions of Dead or Alive 6.

In the end, though, the bane of Dead or Alive aren't the basketballs stored in the brassieres of its birds, but how it sticks to its Arcade roots. In other words, there's not much to do here. There's the typical Tournament, which is devoid of story and cut-scenes (essentially an Arcade Mode), two Survival modes, one Time Trial, a training mode, and, of course, Versus and Team Versus, but that's about it. That's not to say, of course, that a fighter should artificially extend its lifespan and replayability with needless fluff. Street Fighter II didn't have a story mode, or any other special thing to offer, and it conquered the world - but this isn't Street Fighter II. It's fast, fun to play, easy to learn, and… well, sexy, but that's about it. Do check it out if a genre fanatic, though.

…Or if you just want more Kasumi in your life.

Screenshot for Dead or Alive on PlayStation

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 6 out of 10


This is not a must-have, but it's definitely a must-play for those who'd like to see the humble, yet more than solid beginnings of a very good series. Apart from a somewhat low depth (for its time), its main sin was how "pure" of an arcade experience it was, as there wasn't much meat on its bones compared to other similar games… or compared to the unrealistically bouncy meat its heroines have on their bones. Cheap joke? Well, what are you gonna do about it?! This is the late '90s, dude!


Team Ninja







C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  6/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

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