For someone who has always loved fighting games, it took a long time for me to appreciate the Dead or Alive series for anything more than its reality-defying breast physics. As far as fighters went, it never seemed to have a cohesive narrative, there was a limited roster, and the fighting seemed simplistic. The only thing that truly kept me coming back was the lovingly-rendered, idealized female character models and – from the second installment – spectacular, multi-stage environments which allowed players to create some cringe-worthy falls and spills. It wasn't until Dead or Alive 4 that I began to see the inner-beauty of this beautiful fighting beast though; a counter-heavy, ferociously-quick style of combat that generated as much heat and intensity as the curvaceous women that the series was renowned for. Unfortunately, we haven't seen any Dead or Alive game that has focused on anything other than the ladies since the launch of the Xbox 360. After a small delay, Tecmo Koei have thankfully bucked this trend with Dead or Alive: Dimensions that acts as an anthology for this deceptively-deep fighting franchise.
Junk in the Trunk – Dead or Alive: Dimensions is a fully-featured fighter that offers just as much content as any of its console counterparts. Chronicle mode allows players to delve into the series' lore and explore the narrative of each of the franchise's four chapters. There are also genre standard Arcade, Survival and Training modes for solo play. The game features two kinds of online options, the first being a conventional online versus mode, the second is Throwdown mode which allows you to fight the ghost data of players that you unknowingly walk past using the system's StreetPass function. There is also the mission-based Tag Challenge mode, the controversial Showcase mode and a 3D Photo Album to preserve your potentially-perverted memories.
Jugs a poppin' – Pardon the reference to That 70s Show, but Dead or Alive: Dimensions is a system leader for visuals in both 2D and 3D. With the 3D slider turned off, the game runs at 60 frames per second with high quality character models and beautiful, expansive environments. Bump the slider up and the frame rate is cut in half, but what you get in return is 3D that pops out at you from the portable system's screen. The effect is impressive and vastly different to the 3D effects that I've seen in other 3DS games where the visuals appear to sink into the screen in layers.
Storied Cast – Dead or Alive: Dimensions features a series-spanning cast of twenty-five fighters, each with unlockable and downloadable costumes. What's better than that is that each character's move list is displayed on the lower screen during every fight; making it easier than ever to acquaint yourself with each of these varied combatants.
Whether it's boobs or scuba suits: Dead or Alive has a character for you!
This is how we do it – On top of the aforementioned, readily available move lists, Chronicle mode introduces you to each of the mechanics at play in your standard DoA:D fight. Before the end of the third chapter you'll know the difference between a combo throw and an offensive hold, which is impressive, because I haven't been able to grasp any of these concepts previously after having engaged with the series all the way since its first installment on the PSone.
Watch your step – Multi-stage environments are back with a vengeance in Dead or Alive: Dimensions. I can't think of many other fighting franchises that allow players to finish almost every fight by knocking someone down a flight of stairs (or off a cliff, or through a window). I can't think of any other 3D fighter that offers as many falls, thrills and spills as this one.
Harder! – Even on True Fighter difficulty, the challenge presented is far from insurmountable. You could argue that the Chronicle mode taught me how to defend myself against increasingly-tougher opponents, but I would reject that as spam is still an acceptable strategy against AI opponents in any mode, at any difficulty level. I managed to beat ninety-nine opponents out of one hundred opponents in the hardest survival challenge with about three interchangeable combos. Sure I didn't conquer the final opponent, but I didn't deserve to win with the tactics I had chosen to employ.
I thought we were friends – Tag Challenge mode can only be played with an AI companion, and they have no idea what's going on. They may decide to interrupt a promising combo or juggle, either that or jump in just after you've tagged them out due to ill health. With the right choice of partner – in my case Brad Wong – your computer-controlled friend may just be competent enough to weather the over-powered storm.
Fingers meet chalkboard – The sound design found in DoA:D is woeful across the entire package. The repetitive music begins the assault on your ears, but the recycled victory cries and abysmal voice work throughout Chronicle mode ensured that the volume was turned down and even off during prolonged play.
Twisted Tale – For all that I learnt about how to play DoA:D while playing Chronicle mode, I still have no idea what the outcomes of the story's four chapters were. To say the narrative was nonsensical would be a massive understatement, with peripheral characters being thrown in to create the illusion of a tournament and villains that appear with no rhyme or reason. To give you an idea of the abject craziness on offer, in chapter 4 – which is based on the events of DoA4 – I defeated the boss character (from that game at least), Alpha-152 but the story didn't end. In fact, several other characters seemed to be making their way through a tournament of their own in another part of the ominous Tri-Tower. It appeared as Team Ninja were just throwing in fights for the sake of extending the mode's length. Nowhere is this observation more obvious in the mode's epilogue which attempts to weave an intricate sub plot into the main story. This bumbling attempt to redeem one of the series' central villains would be laughable if it weren't so long and unnecessary.
Stop! Or my mom – who was killed in an earlier chapter – will shoot!
The Ninja Report – Throughout the cut-scenes in Chronicle mode you're presented with text biographies of characters and explanations of events from the DoA series. That can be helpful, however you're also shown definitions of words like "conglomerates," which while interesting, is somewhat insulting to an average adult's intelligence.
Online Slideshow – I haven't been able to trial local wireless multiplayer, but any online fights I've managed to find have been nothing more than a stuttering mess. Don't get me wrong, it's far from unplayable, but it falters significantly when compared to the competition. When the only competition on the console (Super Street Fighter: 3D Edition) offers what I described as an online experience that matches its console brethren, anything less – which is what Dead or Alive: Dimensions presents – is unacceptable. This also inevitably impacts on the longevity of the experience players will have with this title, as most will be forced to play against inconsistent AI almost exclusively in light of the spotty connectivity. Also, there's no ability to engage in tag battles online: that, dear readers, is criminal.
Controversy – As detailed in my previous post, Dead or Alive: Dimensions once again straddles the borders of taste in regards to the representation of age and sexuality. With teenage combatants dressed in outfits that would make some exotic dancers blush and the potentially voyeuristic Showcase mode, the game has been pulled off store shelves in Australia after not even a month on sale. For the sake of allowing a greater audience to experience this great fighter free of guilt, I plead that Team Ninja afford their child characters a little more modesty in future iterations (or just make them older, you know what they say: time heals all wounds). This is not child pornography – as an alarmist reporter from the Sydney Morning Herald claimed – but it does take the Dead or Alive brand of voyeurism to an uncomfortably-high, almost indefensible level.
It's OK Kasumi, I'm outraged too.
7.0/10 – For those who like to fight alone, Dead or Alive: Dimensions comes highly recommended with a comprehensive offering of modes, a storied cast of characters and features that teach players how to play the game; and quickly at that. The graphics, both in terms of 2D and 3D planes are the best found on the system at the moment. The 3D is the kind I'm accustomed too, as it pops out from the screen at you and never fails to impress. The game is only held back by a nonsensical, almost frustrating narrative, inconsistent AI and connectivity issues. This is a great fighter, but the best games in the genre are defined in the heat of competition between people either locally or online. As I don't know anyone with a 3DS nearby, DoA:D has to deliver the competitive goods online, and it couldn't. It's a shame too, because with some decent netcode, Dead or Alive: Dimensions could have been the best fighter on the 3DS.