Barely two months have passed since Nintendo's latest console has hit American shores, and it already has an excellent fighting game in the form of Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition. While it lacked the animated backgrounds of the home console and arcade versions of the game, it had everything else as well as exclusive features such as touch-screen special moves. It used almost every feature on the console, from StreetPass to online Wi-Fi play to the use of coins for unlocking things. For 2-D fighting fans and those just looking for an excellent title on their new console, that was it. However, for those craving 3-D fighting, the system had nothing, and neither did the original DS aside from a few Naruto games. Enter Tecmo Koei, who has come to serve the needs of 3-D fighting fans and introduce Nintendo-only gamers to their fighting universe in the form of Dead or Alive: Dimensions. Not only is it a great 3-D fighter for the console, but it can easily challenge Capcom's offering as the best 3DS game for the time being.
For those unfamiliar with the series, the fighting system is fast, familiar and has introduced gameplay elements that are still being used in 3-D fighters today. Much like the Virtua Fighter series, Dead or Alive makes use of only one punch button, one kick button and one block button; a wide variety of moves come from the button sequences and directions used. From this alone, you can get a wide variety of high, mid and low strikes per fighter as well as a variety of throws to inflict.
Timing also plays a big part in the game, as evidenced by the familiar reversal system. With few exceptions, any and every attack can be reversed, and that either lets the user escape unharmed or unleash a counterattack of his own, making it a more technical fighter than you would be led to believe. Another series staple is the use of interactive and multi-tiered environments. While you can make someone hit a wall for some damage, you can also make him knock against electrocuted floors and explosive barrels. You can also knock the opponent against some walls, causing massive damage as he falls to another area while you chase him down to continue the fight. The damage from these environmental hazards isn't enough to end a fight immediately, but it adds more excitement to some already exciting fights.
Dead or Alive: Dimensions, while new, is more of a compilation title that takes everything from the previous four Dead or Alive fighting games and puts it together in one comprehensive package. Every fighter that has ever existed in the series, excluding the Spartan from Dead or Alive 4, is playable in Dimensions, including the various bosses. Unlike most fighting games, this means that there is an even male-to-female fighter ratio. The backgrounds from those games are also here, though some have been tweaked with additional features, and most of the arenas from the first game have been excluded. Everyone's moves are still intact, with no new tweaks or additions to the fighting system.
The game gives the player a very healthy selection of modes. At the heart of the game lies Chronicle mode, which is meant to tie together all four games into a cohesive narrative. The story starts off with how the expelled ninja Raidou attacked his former village to steal a powerful fighting technique, crippling the heir apparent to the clan, Hayate, in the process. His sister, Kasumi, leaves the clan to seek revenge against Raidou while his half-sister, Ayane, is instructed to kill Kasumi for her betrayal. Both end up at a fighting tournament held by DOATEC, a powerful conglomerate with a secret agenda. From here, the story unfolds as to how the band of ninjas and a few others team up to take down DOATEC and stop its worldwide plans.
The mode is five episodes long and features just about every character in the series. Though the main focus is on the ninjas, others appear in incidental roles. The plot still retains the traits of most fighting game story lines in that semi-important characters just seem to pop up out of nowhere so that they can get some air time. Similarly, the major players don't have much characterization beyond their mission and their success and/or failure in completing it. It's still a decent enough story that fans will certainly want to go through to get a better understanding of the mythos behind the series.
The Chronicle mode is unusual in that it also acts as a tutorial part of the time, helping you to get accustomed to the mechanics of the Dead or Alive world. Not only is it teaching you the basics of combat and reversals, but it also teaches you more advanced techniques, such as reversal recovery, counterattacks and timing your hits. The mode is peppered with these little lessons, but it never seems to hit your head with them and then leave you to fend for yourself. In that respect, the flow of the lessons is gradual and rewarding enough that you'll learn something about the mechanics by the end.
One thing that remains perplexing about the mode is how the cut scenes are handled. Some scenes are recompressed versions of the CG movies from Dead or Alive Ultimate, Dead or Alive 3 and Dead or Alive 4, minus the Aerosmith tracks in the score. They look great on the small screen despite not being in 3-D, though some cuts of those videos seem to lose some color later on. Other scenes are re-creations of non-CG scenes in the earlier games, right down to the lines and movements; while this was done with the in-game engine, there are still some hints of color loss. The most baffling, though, are a majority of the scenes where characters are rendered with the in-game engine but don't move. Characters simply pose as they speak without lip movement and while their hair blows in the wind. It's strange that they go for this scene style since it conflicts heavily with the rest of the game's emphasis on constant movement.
Arcade mode isn't exactly what you'd expect from a fighting game. Instead of picking a character and going through a ladder, you're given six courses. Each course has a specific set of enemies to face in addition to difficulty increases, and once it's completed, you're graded on how quickly you beat the course and are given another one. As a time attack mode, it's fun enough for small periods of time, but it robs the player of the joy of seeing each character's individual ending. With the story squarely focused on the ninjas, this would have been a great opportunity to add more to the other fighters in the game.
Like Arcade mode, Survival is just a little different. Instead of going for as long as possible before you get beaten, you're given different levels with different quotas to meet, ranging from 10 to 100. Your enemy selection is randomized in terms of opponents, but the difficulty scales up as your opponent count does, especially with the inclusion of bosses as your final opponents in each level. It makes for a fun mode, though longtime fans will miss the bonus fruit points.
Tag Challenge was first seen in Dead or Alive 2, and it makes a return here with a few changes. The mode plays out like the majority of the Vs. series from Capcom, where both fighters on a team must be eliminated for a victory to occur. Tag team fighting can occur in any arena instead of being restricted to a ring or cage. You still have tag-specific moves, moves that extend a combo, and specific win poses if you pick the right partners. There's also the ability to regain energy when you're not fighting, though you can refill it to the maximum level.
Like the other modes, you're given a selection of stages and a certain number of opponents, usually with higher health bars than before. To combat that, you have a cache of lives should you get knocked out of the fight. Fights start out easy, with your duo squaring off against one opponent, but you soon face true teams to make things even more interesting.
While the mode sounds fun, one modification ruins it a bit. Unlike past versions, you have no control over your partner and his/her actions. While you can instigate a tag, you'll sometimes find yourself out of the battle as your partner tags in. You'll also find that, at times, your partner isn't fighting like you'd want him to, taking more hits than he doles out. It saps away at the fun when you realize that you may lose the fight because of computer action, and it makes you wish that the developers had left things the way they were instead of trying to improve the mode and breaking it in the process.
Free Play is your standard versus mode against the computer at variable difficulty levels. Any unlocked mode, character and costume can be used along with your choice of rounds. It's a decent substitute for human contact, but ultimately, it becomes a more glorified training mode.
Training is exactly what it sounds like. After picking a partner and an environment, you can spar and see how effective your moves are. Your button presses are shown as soon as you make a move, and there are all sorts of graphs and meters telling you how good each move is. Because of the ever-present move list at the bottom of the screen, training feels more efficient since you can easily glance down to see what's needed for a move or combo instead of pausing the game. The screen displays moves depending on the first button pressed, and that makes it easier to learn those moves.
Tying together all of the modes is the wealth of unlockables. Making progress in the Chronicle mode gives you the ability to unlock new fighters, backgrounds and costumes. Those items can also be unlocked in all of the other modes, though Chronicles has proven to be the fastest for those particular items. What really become overwhelming, though, are the various figures made for each character that can be used in the Showcase mode. With close to a thousand to collect, including a few figures and costumes sent over from Team Ninja via the system's SpotPass mode, you should expect to put plenty of time into this title if you hope to get every collectible item.
Those collectibles get put to good use in Showcase mode, where you can set up any figures you want against the available backdrops. It doesn't do much for the game, but considering the notoriety of the game when it comes to the female fighters, you can imagine some of the things that people try once they get the right figures. To further add to that idea, players can take pictures of the dioramas and view them later as 3-D images. It's a decent mode, but since you're restricted to only using one figure at a time, don't expect to use it more than a few times. Also, since the pictures are only viewable on the system and not on the PC, don't expect to post your creations online, either.
Multiplayer takes on several different forms in this game, including a few that make use of some 3DS capabilities. Local offline players can partake in the standard versus matches as well as co-op tag matches against the computer. Online players get to do the same but with the added bonus of having a ranking system that records wins and losses over the lifetime of the profile. It a nice touch made even nicer by the fact that the experience is relatively lag-free during the fights; it's comforting when you notice some stuttering during pre-match taunts. In addition to this, the game uses StreetPass to locate other fighters and download their ghost data, which keep records of who they use the most as well as their win-loss records. Up to eight people can be held in queue, though the opponent disappears once an outcome is determined, win or lose. Considering that this is just another way to get rare figures, you can expect people to use it.
Dimensions makes excellent use of its sound. The effects are just as clean as the home console versions, so each impact has the right pitch whether it gets blocked or successfully connects. The music is really a whole suite of tunes from the older games in the series, but they are faithfully re-created here with no sound issues. Voices are included in both English and Japanese, but purists will stick with the Japanese since the English voice actors don't seem to do justice to the characters. What you will notice is the lack of variety in both pre- and post-match taunts, making Japanese the preferred language since it'll take longer for one to realize that lines outside of cut scenes in Chronicle mode are indeed being repeated ad nauseam.
Graphically, the title is an impressive display of the system's capabilities. In 2-D, the game moves at a crisp 60 frames per second, a standard for most of the older titles even during the Saturn/PlayStation years. Characters are well detailed and textured, though you will see some pixelated textures on some boss characters. Ryu's uniform and the various pads of the ninjas, for example, look detailed enough to rival what was seen in the Xbox versions of Dead or Alive 2 and 3. Movements are also fluid, with each move gracefully flowing into another at lightning quick speeds. The environments are also well detailed, and while not all of them have moving objects, some sport some interesting touches. Flying birds, fireworks and snow drifts are just some of the things that make the backgrounds feel more alive than what was seen in Capcom's game. One thing that does hurt, though, is the lack of anti-aliasing. Jaggies are everywhere, and while the overall product still looks good, one can't help but feel like this could have looked better if things had been smoothed out.
The 3-D is nice but ultimately something you'll want to turn off. It looks gorgeous when it's on, as the depth afforded to each model and object is tremendous. The cut scenes really try to pull off the classic 3-D tricks you've seen before, like objects popping out of the screen, but it's still well done. During fights, there's a real sense of depth to the arenas, and the camera angles really try to make the effect stand out. As good as it is, though, it hurts the experience since win-loss screens get choppy, and the frame rate drops to around 30 frames per second. Considering that the series has always prided itself on getting 60 frames at all times and that's something fans need to get their move timing right, the effect will be used once or twice to see how it is, but expect most players to keep it turned off.
The controls are well done, since they're better suited for the given hardware. The d-pad is fine for movement and menu navigation, but the experience feels much smoother with the circle pad. With so few buttons used for moves, the face buttons feel more responsive since you don't have to worry about using the shoulder buttons. Those who've mastered the controls on the arcade or Xbox systems will easily make the transition to these controls. Like Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition, the game uses the touch-screen to initiate moves and combos quickly, but considering the size of each command, it isn't useful since even amateur players are likely to depend on the buttons and circle pad instead of the touch-screen. Oddly enough, the game also makes use of the system's built-in gyroscope when viewing the cut scenes, the title screen and taking pictures. Moving the system changes the viewpoint on the top screen, and while it ultimately does nothing to enhance the game experience, it is a neat little trick.
Simply put, Dead or Alive: Dimensions is another excellent fighting game for the young 3DS handheld console. The fast fights and frantic action make for some perfect portable play while the graphics are an excellent example of what the system can do despite showing jaggies in the process. It's a feature-packed game that also happens to take advantage of almost everything the system has to offer and good online code. It's a portable title with lots of replay value, especially for completionists. This is an excellent buy for fighting game fans as well as fans of the series. For everyone else looking for the next title in their portable library, look no further than this one.
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