Review by MegaXtreme

Reviewed: 06/20/11

Dead or Alive: Dimensions delivers exactly what not only DOA fans, but fighting game fans in general would want in a portable entry.

Dead or Alive is a franchise I’ve always (unfortunately) overlooked. I never took it as seriously as other fighting franchises like Street Fighter and Tekken. Playing both DOA2 Hardcore and DOA4 in the past weren’t enough to make me fully grasp how truly great this franchise really is, but maybe it’s because I’ve started taking fighting games in general much more seriously lately as I’ve been trying to get better at them. These types of games are always more fun when you know what you’re doing, and that’s where previous DOA entries fell flat. They simply weren’t very beginner-friendly, and time and time again I would get my ass handed to me online on DOA4. After over five years of waiting, the DOA franchise returns in the form of Dead or Alive: Dimensions, one that is a fantastic fighter for both beginners and vets alike.

Let me start by saying I was walking into this one just expecting another game to give my 3DS some use until both BlazBlue: Continuum Shift II and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time come out. I’m happy to tell you that this isn’t a “me too” port from Tecmo to counter the release of Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition. It is, in fact, a very fleshed-out package that fully encompasses the franchise to date, rather than being a straight port with some extra negligible features and weakened visuals thrown in like SSFIV 3D was. That’s not to say SSFIV 3D was bad; it certainly wasn’t. However, DOA: Dimensions has this feeling about it that puts DOA fans at ease, kind of like Tecmo and Team Ninja saying even after all of this time, they still know how to make DOA a great fighter despite the long wait.

One thing Dimensions nails is content. This game is completely loaded to the brim. There’s now a “Chronicle Mode” that basically retells the entire story of the DOA franchise, from the very first on the Sega Saturn and PSX, all the way to the latest entry on the 360, and it does so in a cohesive manner with decent dialogue. The story really is, well, it’s a fighting game story. It’s there to drive you along, nothing more. The cutscenes are done rather well, for the most part, but sometimes they become frozen character models that just stand there in various poses while they talk without their mouths moving. They were probably going for a sort of dramatic look, as the camera pans and zooms on the models, but the actual full-motion cutscenes are far better and more engaging. It’s a real head-scratcher as to why this sort of design choice was made, but it certainly doesn’t kill the mode altogether.

The really good part of Chronicle Mode, however, is the way it teaches you the game’s mechanics as you go along. It starts at the very basics like punching, kicking, and throwing, and as the story plays out and you compete in fight after fight, it gradually teaches you combos and chaining punches and kicks, blocking, and holding and countering. It even goes on to explain what moves can stun, juggle, and knock back an opponent. My only issue with the tutorials is that once it shows you these things, you then go on the match right afterwards with no restrictions, allowing you to fight however you wish. Sure, some freedom is nice, but if you’re going to teach something, why not use some repetition? If you’re going to teach me about counter holds, why not make me have to use a certain amount in the following match in order to sort of engrave it in my head as to how they work and when to use them? Now, I think it’s awesome that Team Ninja took the time to have tutorials in here at all, and ones that do a decent job of teaching you something, but making fights where you have to use the mechanics would have been more effective in understanding and using them.

Chronicle Mode lasts you about a solid 3-4 hours, which isn’t much, but it’s a recommended play not only for the tutorials, but for unlocking some characters for use in other modes. Those other modes I speak of include Arcade, Survival, Tag Challenge, Free Play, Training, Local Play and Online Play, and Throwdown. Arcade has you vying to complete various ladders with a certain amount of enemies in each. Each subsequent ladder has more enemies and the overall difficulty increases, and the game also times you to see how quickly you can complete each ladder. Survival pits you up against a pre-determined number of enemies as you try to defeat them all without being defeated yourself. One of them tasked me with beating 100 opponents straight. I felt pretty damn good upon completing it, only to find out it unlocked another that tasked me with defeating even more. Yikes.

Tag Challenge seems like a cool idea when you think about it, as you pick two characters to swap between as you take on either single or dual enemies that increase in difficulty as you unlock more. The issue is that the second character you select is always controlled by an A.I. You can’t control them. At all. The only thing you can do is tag in when you want and they’ll promptly leave and heal over time as you fight. My problem with this is that, not only is the A.I. not always very good against more difficult opponents, but the times it tags you out while you’re playing can get frustrating. That’s right; it can automatically tag itself in if your health gets too low. Now, sometimes, my health only gets knocked down to about half bar, and my A.I. partner won’t have healed up very much, but it could care less. It’ll tag you out even if it has low health, which could lead to its demise in a rather frustrating and unnecessary fashion. Some battles allot you “lives”, so if someone does get KO’d, the remaining partner hops in and the KO’d one takes five seconds before he/she is ready to go again with full health, thus using up one life. Health even regenerates rather quickly while tagged out, but the thing is, as opponents get crazy hard towards the end of the mode and you have no spare lives, buying enough time for your partner to heal while you hold off the enemy and try to deal some damage becomes maddening when your A.I. partner decides it’s okay to jump when your health isn’t even that low and it’s is. This is a mode that clearly would have been better if you had control over both characters, and why it wasn’t done that way is beyond me.

Free Play is pretty much your standard “Versus” mode, where you pick characters, pick a stage, and duke it out with a computer-controlled opponent of your choice. Training is self-explanatory, as are Local Play and Online Play. One thing I can confirm is that Online play, while it isn’t feature rich and is nothing more than jumping into matches with random opponents, the netcode is very good and finding opponents is not an issue whatsoever. There is some notable lag here and there, depending on yours and your opponent’s connections, of course, but for a vast majority of my time online, it worked great. Kudos to Team Ninja for hitting the nail on the head when it comes to multiplayer. Lastly, there’s Throwdown, which lets you battle with opponents you’ve interacted with via Street Pass. My 3DS never leaves my house, so this is a feature I could not test, unfortunately. However, I did try out the 3D figurine viewing mode, which lets you take pictures of various figurines you’ve unlocked throughout the game. A negligible feature, really, but if you’re into taking pictures of the DOA gals, this is for you.

All of these features would be meaningless without a sound gameplay foundation, and thankfully, the transition to a portable platform hasn’t phased the franchise at all. It plays just like its console brethren, with silky smooth animations, deep movesets, an eloquent counter system, and very responsive controls that are, unfortunately, not enhanced by touch-screen buttons. You can touch a combo on the touch screen to execute it, but it only shows a handful of combos, and the combos it displays depends on the first button of the combo you use (i.e. press Punch and handful of combos that start with the Punch button appear). Not very intuitive in the heat of a fight, so hit up Training mode to learn combos and such before hopping online if you want to get some practice. The game also features every single character in the franchise to date in playable form (except for DOA 4 guest character Spartan-458 for obvious reasons) as well as various stages from DOA4, making this a culmination of the franchise to-date and bringing it full circle. The game also includes an unlockable Metroid stage, so fans of that franchise get a bit of a bonus. Samus Aran being a playable character would have been so much better, but it’s better than nothing.

Visually, the game carries on the traditions of its predecessors just as well as its gameplay does. Character models look great, animate beautifully, and look superb in 3D. The stages are well detailed and full of life with tons of activity in the backgrounds. Of course, the framerate takes a dip when viewing in 3D mode, so if you’re a major fighting game competitor, you’ll likely opt for no 3D, but, damn, if this isn’t a beautiful game. This is easily the finest-looking game on the 3DS to date, and it only gets me more eager to see what’s in store for titles graphically in the future, as the 3DS is still but a toddler in the handheld realm.

In closing, Dead or Alive: Dimensions delivers exactly what not only DOA fans, but fighting game fans in general would want in a portable entry. While not every mode in the game is stellar, it’s still loaded with stuff to keep you busy for a long time, and a competent online component only strengthens that to the nth degree. It also delivers the same fast-paced, counter-heavy mechanics and overly-busty female characters fans have come to know and love. It’s one of the finest handheld fighters I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing, and this is coming from someone who not only failed to appreciate the franchise in the past, but is more of a 2D fighter fan, personally. It’s officially won me over to the franchise and it makes me want a Dead or Alive 5 (like many fans want) more than ever.

Rating: 9

Product Release: Dead or Alive: Dimensions (US, 05/24/11)

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