Dead or Alive 4

Developed by Tecmo Available for Xbox 360

Developed by Tecmo's Team Ninja—a development crew headed up by the closest thing gaming has to a rock star, Tomonobu Itagaki—the Dead or Alive fighting games have always been about looks more than gameplay, style over substance. Filled out with cheesy Aerosmith riffs and hyper-sexualized women (Team Ninja must have an entire division working on boob-jiggle algorithms), the DOA games have always been the poor man's Soul Calibur—or, worse, the poor man's Tekken.

All of which makes the series' latest iter­ation, Dead or Alive 4, a dubious game with which to test-drive the Xbox 360. But—surprise—the game's one of the young console's best.

First, DOA4 is goddamn gorgeous—easily the prettiest, smoothest, most detailed game yet seen on consoles. (For the 360—which has been criticized for having a next-gen price tag and current-gen graphics—the arrival of a visually groundbreaking game like DOA4 is a welcome one indeed.) Environments are vast and varied—from a neon-soaked Vegas street, to a Japanese courtyard filled with slowly drifting cherry blossoms. Characters—each of whom has their own striking level of stylized detail—tumble off bridges and through windows; extra damage ensues when one knocks their opponent into the level's obstacles. None of this is necessarily new, but it's all executed so smoothly that it's impossible not to be impressed by Team Ninja.

Unfortunately, Team Ninja's more annoying tactics are back too—cheap bosses, arbitrarily difficult AI, and repetitive tasks. These are flaws in the single-player mode, though, and Dead or Alive 4 is meant as a multiplayer game—which is where it pretty much rules. Lightning fast gameplay ricochets kicks, punches, and throws back and forth. (In fact, the game runs so fast that most of Team Ninja's elaborate combo attacks are impossible to pull off. Nice try, Itagaki, but DOA4 remains a shallow brawler.)

Unlike other heavily hyped 360 titles—coughPerfectDarkZerocough—DOA4 actually makes the 360 feel like a next-gen console. For the moment, at least, Dead or Alive 4—and the struggling 360—have a moment to shine.