doa4.jpgIn the world of 3-d fighting, there are two kings: Namco (Tekken and Soul Calibur) and Sega’s AM2 (Virtua Fighter). Tecmo’s Team Ninja and its Dead Or Alive franchise is closely behind the two, and is quickly gaining steam. Although Dead Or Alive has been criticized for it’s more simplistic play mechanics and heavy focus on the female form, it has earned praise for it’s envelope-pushing graphics, gorgeous backdrops, awesome looking player models, and robust online system. While DOA may not be a huge innovator in the fighting world, Team Ninja’s fighting franchise becomes deeper and more enjoyable with each iteration, and the series’s first appearance on the Xbox 360 is no different.

The story, or the closest thing that can resembles one, focuses on Helena’s search to find out the truth of DOATECH and her parent’s deaths. Hayate and his fellow ninja set out to destroy it, and several characters, both old and new become wrapped up in the chaos. Along with old favorites such as Hulk Hogan and Dennis Rodma… Zack and Bass, there are some new additions to the cast. Kokoro, a geisha in training, Eliot, a British boy who is the apprentice of longtime DOA fighter Gen-fu, and La Mariposa, who should be familiar to those who played DOA Xtreme Beach Volleyball. In addition, as part of a semi-crossover with Halo, Spartan-458, who is a female Master Chief, shows up as an unlockable character.

The stages make good use of the Xbox 360’s power. They show lots of detail, interactive elements, and are often multi-tiered. You’ll knock opponents into traffic, throw them from cliff sides, and even throw them into electric fences. The game’s online has been fleshed out as well. While waiting for your match to begin, you create an avatar and run around a special room. You can even outfit your lobby and avatar with items you can purchase with your game winnings.

Although DOA4 isn’t as deep as the Virtua Fighters and Tekkens of the fighting game world, the graphics and characters more than make up for it. It’s also one of the standout launch window titles on the Xbox 360, and it helped to keep new owners tied over until some of the system’s bigger games were released. Now that Ninja Gaiden 2 is only weeks away from release, hopefully Team Ninja will begin work on a sequel that elevates the series even further.