If you asked the casual gamer what they knew about the fighting game Dead or Alive, I would bet $20 that the majority of the population would give an answer something to the tune of "waterbed boobies". While the original DoA game had some neat features in it, such as the Hold system which allowed you to counter attacks with the press of a button, the majority of gamers will know the game mainly based on its exaggerated physics concerning the fabulous breastations of the female fighters such as Lei Fang, Kasumi and Tina. Fast foward to 2000, and Tecmo has redefined their marquee fighting game franchise, they have made it slimmer, smoother, and definitely more sexier in Dead or Alive 2.
First off, DoA2 uses a new button scheme. Replacing the Hold button of the first game is the Free button, which allows you to execute many moves in conjunction with other buttons. Do a dash (foward, forward), machi (back, back) or press down, down in conjunction with the Free button and you'll able to execute Free Step, which is exactly like Soul Calibur's 8WR, with the exception that you cannot block (you're holding the Free button, remember?). You also use throws by pressing the Punch and Free button along with a direction, and pressing Kick and Free will allow you to do other moves. Oh yes, you can also block by pressing back on the joystick, but you still can't block in Free Step, so don't try it. Actually, now that I think of it, you can't do anything in Free Step other than walk freely in 3D, as attacking will cancel any Free Step movement, so think of FS as gaining a terrain advantage over your opponent.
When you start up a game of DoA2, you are given four choices to play; Story, Time Attack, Survival, and Tag Battle. In Story mode, you will take your fighter through the entire game, witnessing cutscenes between your character and their opponent, eventually ending with a confrontation with the end boss. Time Attack is the exact same as Story Mode, except your opponents are randomly chosen and you don't have to go through any cutscenes. Survival is where you make your way through battle after battle fighting over and over again. You only get one life bar but after you defeat your enemy you can get some health items, such as carrots, french fries and sushi rolls! Tag Battle is where most of the fun float combos and exciting action takes place, as you take your team of two and go head to head against another team. It should be noted that Tag Battle takes place in one arena, which is octogonal in shape, and provides many unwarranted panty shots. =P
In DoA2 you have many of the cast from the first game returning; you'll marvel at the detail that the older fighters such as Jann-Lee, Kasumi, GenFu and Bass have all gotten during their makeover to the Naomi board, and the new fighters Ein, Helena and Leon will impress you with their interesting character designs and awesome detail (Bayman and Raidou are non-returning characters). No longer will you feel like you're fighting stacks of polygons on top of a boring horizontal play field. Like in Virtua Fighter 3tb, you'll feel like a part of the fight, as you take part in battles on top of churches, cliffs and mansions.
The main thing that everyone will notice in DoA2 are the absolutely breath-taking graphics. The amount of detail is astonishing, as many of the levels (especially Lei-Fang's stage) seem to have a life of their own. The characters move as smooth as silk, as they pull up snow when they walk on snow stages, have their shirts ruffle in the wind, and execute bone crushing moves so smoothly that it'll make any critic cringe at the sight.
What makes DoA2 stand out in the visual department that it's no longer over the top like the original DoA game was, but it now possesses a certain flair that sets it apart from the other cookie cutter hasbeens in the genre. The same kind of modern design that worked so well for Tekken 3.
DoA2's fighting system is somewhat of a throwback to the original game, while creating foundations for future incarnations of the series. DoA2 still retains the Triangle System of the original, which contained the three types of attacks Strikes, Holds and Throws. In both games, the Triangle System was tuned so that Holds would beat Strikes, Strikes would beat Throws, and Throws would be Holds. This wasn't the most innovative of functions, since each attack had appeared in previous games, but DoA2 is the first to use all three as fully independent attacks. The Hold system is still in DoA2, as it's another carry over from DoA. Most Holds are fairly easy to execute, although hard to apply in actual gameplay. For all Holds, you must press two directions plus the Free button. For example, for mid-level punches, you need to press f,b+Free while for mid-level kicks you have to press b,f+Free. This creates a great deal of anticipation, and with its own miss animation, it becomes a game of risk that while reaps great benefits, is very punishable to the unexperienced.
Another feature in DoA2 is the way damage is dealt. There are three (so far that I've seen) modifiers of damage, they are Counter, Close, and Critical. Counter hits are pretty simple, any attack that interrupts your opponent's attack is considered a counter. Close modifiers are executed when you score an attack from a close proximity to your opponent, and for Critical hits, it seems that the extra damage is applied when the attack is a mixture of Counter and Close. There's also a neat little thing concerning Critical Hits, that part of your energy bar will be flashing yellow. This means that your opponent can only take off that amount of energy during the stun that the Critical Hit causes, which allows for a little more balance in the game.
From what I've heard of the DoA2 music (due to the noise level in the arcade, it's hard to hear at times), it perfectly sets up each encounter. There are some great tunes in the game, as well as some cool special effects to back them up. Nothing says smackdown like Jann-Lee's "WAHHHHH TAHHHHHH!"
Most of the problems with DoA2 come within the gameplay; Holds do way too much damage for their own good, while Throws don't do as much damage as they should. Throws will only do a significant amount of damage if they are linked for multithrows, but otherwise they are pretty much useless. Lastly, Tecmo must implement the use of other arenas for tag battle, because the single tag arena gets old real fast, but with the Millenium update coming soon, hopefully these little balance issues will be ironed out.
All in all, Dead or Alive 2 is a refreshing addition to the floundering arcade scene. Absolutely breath taking graphics set this apart from most arcade games, and while the gameplay needs to be tweaked a little, as it is it's still an amazing fighting game that any gamer with a Dreamcast should be looking forward to soon.