Video Game Review: 'Dead or Alive 4'

Beating up your friends in a video game has never looked so good — or been so difficult.

"Dead or Alive 4" (Rated M, $59.99) finally arrives for the Xbox 360 with a simple goal: Clobber your opponents before they can return the favor.

You start by choosing from more than a dozen brawlers. Each has strengths, weaknesses and unique fighting styles.

Kokoro, for example, is a young geisha in training who'd rather perfect her Ba Ji Quan combat technique. Bass is an American pro wrestler who looks at home in the ring but can dish out massive damage in any setting.

The game even pays homage to the sci-fi shooter "Halo" with a special character from that game that you can unlock.

But good luck getting to that level. Unless you're a fighting-game vet, prepare for a grueling training schedule.

In learning how to play this game, I felt like Uma Thurman's "The Bride" in "Kill Bill: Vol. 2" as she's beaten down by sadomasochistic master Pai Mei.

I'm not on some lifelong quest to learn the five-point palm exploding-heart technique, but this game left my hands aching and my temper raging.

A trainer system is buried in the menu, but I think a more straightforward beginner's guide would help newbies.

"Sparring mode" aside, there's no gentle introduction for beginners, just "normal," "hard" and "very hard" settings.

Prepare to have your brain reprogrammed so you can tap the Xbox 360 buttons in perfect sequence to perform all sorts of attacks, holds and throws.

You could just jump in and start mashing buttons, but the cunning artificial intelligence will tear you apart in no time.

At least there's some reward in learning something new, and it's a feeling of well-earned satisfaction once you finally get the gist of things and regularly beat foes.

"Dead or Alive 4" has razor-sharp graphics that pack detailed characters and a limited array of interactive environments. Watch out for incoming traffic and angry tigers.

The M-rating is earned: The many female combatants sport Barbie-doll proportions and wear little more than lingerie. And their acrobatic gyrations during combat are rather lascivious.

The better that video game graphics get, the more visual oddities stand out. I observed a few of them here, particularly one where digital hair and loose clothing sometimes brushed through the fighters' bodies.

"Dead or Alive 4" seamlessly integrates with the system's Xbox Live online gamespace so you can brawl with others around the world.

For me, it was little more than an opportunity to see just how bad I am at fighting games. But experienced players should find lots of replay value here.

Three out of four stars.