Let me start this off by I’m not big on fighting games. I’ve always been a fan of platformers and RPGs, and while I grew up dabbling in Street Fighter and SoulCalibur, fighters were just never my cup of tea. So imagine my surprise when the 3DS, Nintendo’s newest handheld darling, came in to my life and suddenly sparked an interest in the genre that I never really had before. The 3DS had an admittedly weak launch, but it had a few solid titles, chief among them being Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition, which proved to be an extremely robust and faithful addition to the series. Now Dead or Alive, Tecmo’s long running fighter series, has made the jump to the 3DS as well with Dead or Alive: Dimensions, and I can safely say it’s one of the strongest titles on the platform. Imagine that.
I’ll admit that I’m not intimately familiar with Dead or Alive – my exposure to the series consists of a fist full of quarters spent on the 1996 arcade debut, a fair amount of drunken matches between friends on DoA3, and some time spent with Dead or Alive: Extreme Beach Volleyball, the latter of which I played merely for the sake of science. You understand. That being said, I’ve not been around to witness the evolution to the series, but I have always enjoyed the fact that DoA takes pride in being fast, furious, and heavily reliant on twitch reflexes. This key gameplay element has carried over to the 3DS in full force, and it works amazingly well. You’ve got your standard button commands – one for kick, one to punch, one to throw, and one to block. You’ll use these to unleash devastating combos on your opponents, as well as deliver counter attacks, another staple of the series. In fact, that’s likely one of my favorite parts of the game – virtually every attack can be countered with a well timed tap of a button. This leads to some wonderfully fast paced battles, and it’s fun seeing just how easily the tables can turn.
There are touch screen commands as well, however I found them to be somewhat useless. This was implemented well in Super Street Fighter IV, as you could map specific attacks to four hot keys. In Dimensions, however, your entire move set is listed on the bottom screen, which scrolls and changes automatically to supply you with commands that best suit your current situation. This is a nice idea in theory, yet I found that my fingers were simply too large to tap at the rather small text on the screen, and ultimately I found it easiest to just manually enter in combos.
Visually the game is a joy to look at. Textures look great, and the whole game runs extremely fluidly. Fists fly, kicks connect, and in typical DoA style, breasts bounce – everything looks and acts like it should. The 3D effect is implemented well, and it never gets in the way. It doesn’t really add anything to the game per se, but it does make some of the more complex environments pop, and characters in particular seem to jump out of the screen when moving around the large and varied arenas you’ll find yourself fighting in. Dimensions is also one of the more robust games I’ve seen recently. There are a ton of features, ranging from Arcade mode, where you can take on a series of increasingly difficult fights, to Survival Mode, where you have to stay alive as long as you can against a constant onslaught of enemies.
The highlight of the game, however, is Chronicle Mode, which is the game’s story mode. Ultimately, this feature is a mixed bag. Chronicle Mode works well in the sense that it eases you into the game. It’s a sort of tutorial that guides you through the basics, and gradually introduces some of the more complex elements of the game. You’ll get to play as a ton of different characters and really get a feel for what the game has to offer. Unfortunately, the story part of Chronicle Mode leaves a bit to be desired. Again, I’m not particularly familiar with the mythos of Dead or Alive, so maybe a lot of it just went over my head, but even on a very basic level the plot is a convoluted mess. You’ll be thrown into fights without notice, the story jumps from character to character with no explanation – it’s all over the place, and while the results can often times be unintentionally hilarious, it’s ultimately somewhat of a let down. To make matters worse, the majority of the story is told through static cutscenes. The few cutscenes that are fully animated look awesome, but the rest of them just feel awkward. That’s not to say it isn’t enjoyable, but it could have definitely used some polish.
The online component of the game is pretty neat, in that it relies heavily on SpotPass content. SpotPass (not to be confused with SteetPass, though that is also a feature) is a sort of notification service that allows developers to interact with their audience directly. In the case of Dimensions, this translates to new costumes, exclusive content, and custom battles. There is online play as well, so you can battle other players around the world. This works well enough, though a convoluted ranking system and some occasional lag take away from the experience a bit. On top of all that there’s also figures to collect, new characters to unlock, and a photo gallery where you can *ahem* pose your figurines and take pictures of them. Oh, Tecmo – you know your audience so well.
On a whole, Dead or Alive: Dimensions is an incredibly solid game. It has some faults here and there, but nothing so terrible that it detracts from the experience in any significant way. Fantastic gameplay, stunning visuals, and a wealth of content makes Dimensions one of the most robust and long lasting games out for the 3DS right now. If you’re a fan of the series, you’ve likely picked it up already. For the rest of us, though, it’s a great title that’s absolutely worth a look if you’re in the mood for a frantic, fun fighter in the vein of Tekken and Virtua Fighter.
Dead or Alive: Dimensions was released on May 24th, 2011 for the 3DS.