Beautiful brawling in Dead or Alive 5

I've always been a fan of the Dead or Alive series. To this day, the story of my colleague Ludwig's visit to The States back in 2007 and how we played DOA 4 for hours straight at our boss' house (much to his chagrin) is one of the fondest memories of my life. It's been too long since I've had my fix, so you can be sure I'm looking forward to Dead or Alive 5.

At a recent event in San Francisco, Team Ninja brought out the first playable build of DOA 5. For fans concerned after Tomonobu Itagaki's departure from Tecmo, and based on the time I've spent with the game, it's a non-issue. Well, mostly.
%Gallery-141350% There were a total of four playable characters available in this Dead or Alive 5 build: Hayate, Hayabusa, Ayane and Hitomi. Each character felt largely unchanged from Dead or Alive 4 -- aside from one different move in Ayane's three-hit dash combo, she felt exactly the same. I thought she may have been slowed down a bit, but I'm sure my inability to hit some of my favorite combos was due to the fact that I'm pretty rusty.

But for as much as these characters haven't changed here in Dead or Alive 5, there is one thing different about each: they've all got a new power move ability. Upon successfully landing the blow, this charge move initiates a brief cutscene then lets you choose a particular area of the environment to send your opponent reeling into. An explosive generator or a parked car are valid targets, for example.

In the one stage available, sending an opponent flying into a group of girders opens up one end of the level. Knocking the opponent into that direction again initiates a kind of QTE -- as your opponent holds on, trying not to fall down from a massive metal crane, the attacker can choose to perform a strike or throw, and the defender has to anticipate what the attacker is going to choose. If you've played Deadliest Warrior: Legends, it's a little like the grapple system in that game.

The addition of the power move lends a more cinematic feel to Dead or Alive 5, and the dazzle of all the explosions and wear and tear on the characters as they fight is a nice addition. And it looks like Team Ninja aren't interested in the porcelain doll look of past games, as faces look narrower and more realistic this time around.

As a fan of the series, it was comforting to be able to jump into Dead or Alive 5 and excel unabated. The power move and altered look of the character models feel like the byproduct of Itagaki's departure but, right now, the game is in such early stages of development that it's hard to gauge whether these features will be changed or taken out of the game all together, or if they're final as they are. And even though I'm not entirely sold on either, one thing is certain: Dead or Alive fans don't have much to worry about so far.

Dead or Alive 5 will launch sometime in 2012 for the Xbox 360 and PS3.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.