The name of the Dead or Alive series is more literal than some might think.  Tecmo was having financial difficulties and was facing the possibility of bankruptcy.  Tomonobu Itagaki convinced Tecmo to do one more game to try to help the company earn a profit.  The game was named Dead or Alive because the game would determine the fate of the company.  Had the original DOA not been successful, Tecmo as we know it wouldn’t exist.

While the DOA series has mostly been known as a fighting game (other than a slight deviation towards volleyball), it also has been known for the characters and their…ahem…assets.  Now Itagaki has decided to release DOA Ultimate for the Xbox.  This package includes revamped versions of the original DOA and an enhanced version of DOA 2.  It comes on two DVD’s in separate cases, similar to the GTA Twin Pack.

Before playing DOA Ultimate, I played some DOA 3 to familiarize myself with the game again.  While DOA 3 was one of the launch titles for the Xbox, it still sports some of the best graphics for the system.

The DOA1 disk will not wow you with the graphics, as it hasn’t gotten the overhaul that DOA2 got.  The characters are blocky with rough textures.  The backgrounds do scroll around.  The characters and backgrounds move incredibly smoothly.  The best way to describe it might be to say that it looks like a high-resolution PlayStation game.

DOA2 looked very nice on the Dreamcast and PS2 when they came out on those systems.  However, they look spectacular on the Xbox.  The characters look even better than they did in DOA3.  The characters move smoothly and have multiple costumes.  The costumes move fluidly and naturally.  Some of the costumes look rather normal, while some are completely outrageous.  The backgrounds are amazing and can be interacted with.  On one stage, hitting the glass causes it to crack, while another one has energy bolts surging through the players if they are too close to the edge of the arena.

The DOA series is known for its “bounce” on the women, and neither game strays from this formula.  The bounce did look a bit unnatural and exaggerated though.  It felt at times as if I’d get my eyes poked out from one of them.  They can be turned off in DOA1 Ultimate at the “Bouncing Breast” option in the Options Menu.  (Yes, I’m not making that up.)

The music during the game fits in perfectly with the matches.  The up-tempo beats match the pace of the fast and furious gameplay.  The menu screen music is memorable and really sets the pace for the game.  Fans of the band Aerosmith should note that their song Dream On is played during the intro of DOA2.

Each sound effect has punch to it.  Whacking an enemy into the wall has an enormous thud.  Breaking glass cracks and shatters in the area. Lights sizzle when broken.  Having a subwoofer really brings the game to life.

The voice acting is top notch.  Although all the voice acting is done in Japanese, each phrase has emotion behind it and matches the character saying it.  The phrases get repeated often though.

Those familiar with DOA3 should feel right at home with DOA Ultimate.  Movement is controlled by the D-pad or the analog stick (although you need to turn on the analog stick option in the menus).  Y is the Punch button, B is the Kick button, and X is the “Free” button.  The “Free” move is basically a hold and guard move when used with a direction on the D-pad.  The A, white, and black buttons and right trigger all combine two or all three buttons into one single button.

The control is responsive and moves are simple to perform.  Most moves involve a direction on the D-pad in combination with button pushes, reminiscent of Soul Calibur.  While this makes the game accessible to newcomers, it will take practice to become skilled with all the characters.

DOA 1 Ultimate has several modes: Arcade, Online, Time Attack, Versus, Survival, Kumite, and Training.  DOA 2 Ultimate has similar modes: Story, Time Attack, Versus, Tag Battle, Survival, Team Battle, Sparring, and Online.  Arcade mode has you fight against all the characters and then a boss at the end.  Story mode is similar except you fight a smaller number of characters and learn the story behind each one and then fight a boss at the end.  Time Attack challenges you to clear the game in the fastest time possible.  Versus lets two players play at the same time in a one-on-one match.  Survival has you fight against as many computer controlled opponents as you can until your health bar goes down completely.  Training and Sparring are basically the same in that they both let you practice moves against an opponent that doesn’t fight back unless it’s told to.  Kumite mode lets you fight up against 30, 50, or 100 opponents in a row with the objective to defeat them in the quickest time possible.  Tag Battle is a two-on-two fight with up to four-players.  Team Battle is a battle of up to seven fighters in a tournament.

The online portion has six different modes: Winner-Stays, Tournament, Team Battle, Survival, Loser-Stays, and Kumite.  These modes are similar to the modes in the off-line mode.  Unfortunately, the online play can suffer from lag.  When it works, it works well, but it still has kinks that need to be worked out.

While all these modes are good, it won’t matter unless the fighting isn’t up to par.  The characters of DOA are all balanced fairly well.  The faster characters have less powerful attacks, while the more powerful characters move more slowly and methodically.  Except for the possible exception of Jann Lee, the fighters are well balanced.

The multi-tiered levels of DOA3 have been added to DOA2 Ultimate.  This makes your position much more strategic than the original game.  DOA 1 does have a danger zone, which is outside of the ring.  If you are hit out of the ring edge, you hit this danger zone and it causes an explosion under you that causes major damage.  More often than not, it will cause your life gauge to completely drain.  However, it still gives you a chance to fight if your life gauge is full enough instead of causing you to lose by a ring out.

The DOA series has been known as a button-masher, but this characterization has been a bit unfair.  While this will work on the default difficulty level, higher difficulty levels will give you problems with this approach.  However, it is a fun game with a good “pick-up-and-play” feel to it.

There is a lot of replay value to this title, especially for the gamer that wants to get every unlockable.  Some of the characters have as many as 10 costumes, but only two are unlocked at the beginning.  Also, there are so many modes available for the game that completing them all would give anyone a challenge.  Unfortunately, the story mode in DOA2 Ultimate is rather short.