With its departure from legitimate fighting games and its foray into less kosher sidegames, the Dead or Alive franchise doesn’t exactly hold much prestige or reputation these days. It’s a shame, as the fighting games themselves are actually solid experiences, and Dead or Alive 4 was a step in the right direction for new players to take notice.
Unfortunately, that was a lengthy six years ago, enough for people to forget the series ever existed. Does Dead or Alive: Dimensions take the series to new heights, or keep it in a middling position of obscurity?
The answer isn’t exactly clear. It’s much much better than mediocre, but it’s not the best game in the series either. It’s not even really a new game per se; Dead or Alive: Dimensions is a conglomeration of all the titles in the series so far, mixing and mashing and molding all of the plots of the fighting games into one big, flowing uber-continuity for the main Chronicle Mode.
Problem with that is, none of the story makes sense whatsoever. I’m not the biggest fan of the DOA series, but there surely are some plot holes between the core games; Team Ninja’s solved that by retconning in scenes and story elements that connect everything together. They apparently didn’t care if it was coherent though; scenes jump around in a mish-mash of melodramatic, ridiculously acted fluff that you won’t ever understand.
Luckily, you’ll have the opportunity to skip these cut scenes in the single player Chronicle Mode at any time; I guarantee there will be a breaking point in which you do so. Mine was when I’d just witnessed Ryu Hayabusa eavesdropping on La Mariposa talking to someone on a cell phone while in the shower, which ends with Ryu jumping from a hotel room balcony door onto a fully armed combat helicopter. Yeah, I know.
The Chronicle Mode is certainly lacking, but I know most of you are thinking the same thing: who plays fighting games for the single player? I completely agree, which is why I can forgive the mess of the plot. I don’t think even Team Ninja cares about the coherence of the narrative.
Besides, the game looks too fantastic graphically for it to really matter. In 2D mode, the game runs at a silky smooth 60 frames per second, with amazingly fluid animations and attacks. Turn on the 3D and the framerate is halved, but it’s nothing to laugh at. The 3D is quite striking with Dimensions, as it does provide the sort of depth that could possibly help when you’re trying to sidestep opponent’s attacks. However, it runs into that problem where things that are in 3D look amazing, until they get cut off by the borders of the screen. It’s jarring and messes with one’s perception to a fault; multiple times I found myself starting to get a headache because half of someone’s attack was off-screen, causing my brain to constantly adjust to the 3D just ending abruptly at the elbow. When are video game developers going to learn that in order to become immersed in a 3D atmosphere, you can’t shoot a kick at an angle where it looks like a disembodied shin with no foot?
The fighting mechanics of Dimensions are quite fun and a refreshing departure from the projectile/special-move based mechanics of more popular fighters. As is carried over from DOA4, there’s a rock-paper-scissors style balance between holds, throws, and strikes, and much of the strategy involves countering your enemy in such positions. It’s mostly timing and reaction-based, yet it’s a lot more fluid than I initially thought it would be. Moreover, the fights are fun, even if you get your ass whooped. There’s hardly any methods to spam your way to victory thanks to this mechanic; you really will find yourself learning quickly how to take on opponents after they’ve countered your button-mashing throughout the entire fight. That said, some of the unlockable boss characters do have some spammy attacks that can be infuriating, but it’s nothing that can’t overcome.
Speaking of opponents, the online component of Dimensions is the main draw, and it does not disappoint. I might say this is the smoothest online experience I’ve encountered on the 3DS, except this is the only 3DS game with which I’ve gone online. Regardless, online play is smooth, quick, and rarely lags. The only time I came across lag was when I was fighting opponents from across the world, or when I was facing opponents on a shoddy wi-fi connection (thanks E3!).
Dimensions also comes with the addition of a “Tag Challenge” mode, which should probably be skipped if you like your games being fun. In Tag Challenge, instead of having two controllable characters which you can freely use, you’ll only control one of those characters, with the other one being AI. Should your health get too low, the AI tags in immediately and, more often than not, proceeds to get brutally murdered by the computer opponent while you slowly recover health. With another press of a button you can tag back in, but once again, get too low and you lose your opportunity to fight. It can potentially ruin the flow of a combo and ruin the entire match, which is likely why that “Tag” battles have only been quartered into a separate, throwaway mode.
Beyond that though, Dead or Alive: Dimensions is once again a solid, notable entry into the series, and yet again, a step in the right direction. At this point, I don’t think Dead or Alive will be anywhere near as big as the franchise used to be, but Dimensions makes sure that the series doesn’t fall into mediocrity. I’m not a big fan of fighting games at all, much less Dead or Alive games, and I found myself playing Dimensions whenever I had free time or was bored. The single player mode is just laughably terrible and the Tag Challenge mode is head-scratchingly backwards, but otherwise, I’d say it’s a definite pick-up for the 3DS. If you’re one of those people complaining that there aren’t enough good games on the 3DS, pick this one up; I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.