Dead or Alive: Dimensions marks a few 'firsts' for the series. It's the fighting series' handheld debut. It's also the first time a Nintendo platform has been Team Ninja's platform of choice. More importantly, it's the first fighting rendition since series creator, Tomonobu Itagaki, departed Tecmo. Does the series merely hold up, improve, or take a slide without the original creator? Keep reading!
This next paragraph is really for hardcore DOA fans, to catch them up on the narrative. If you don't count yourself in their number, you may safely skip ahead!
In the game's "Chronicle" mode, Dead or Alive: Dimensions retells Dead or Alive's story - something that, thanks mainly to poor presentation in earlier titles, has been difficult to figure out. It takes the narrative from the first four titles and links them together, with chapters 1-4 covering the main stories from Ayane, Kasumi and Ryu Hayabusa's point of view, while chapter 5 tells the of story DOATEC boss, Helena. The latter sees a little more background detail come to light, with some new behind-the-scenes footage from DOATEC, as well as letting you in on what went on with project epsilon.
The story is told through a bizarre mix of FMVs, ripped straight from previous entries in the series - notably Dead or Alive Ultimate, DoA 3 and DoA 4 - and new clips, consisting of a mix of stills and engine-based animation. It feels like the developer couldn't settle on a cinematic direction. The English voice acting is on par with the rest of the series; sadly, that isn't a good thing. Fortunately, players can switch between languages... only to find that the Japanese language track is just as bad, and reading subtitles distracts from the on-screen action.
Team Ninja has put the handheld's 3D feature to good use, both in the cinematics and in the fighting itself. Although some cynics may have expected something along the lines of 3D characters on 2D backdrops, the developer has instead opted to include genuinely 3D environments, which the player can have a significant amount of interaction with. Team Ninja also used 3D to great effect on the included "figure collection" functionality. 3D comes at a cost, however, as at times (particularly on the high-difficulty levels), you'll find yourself moving the 3DS around a bit, causing the image to go out of focus [or is that just you? - Ed.]
The arcade mode is split into six courses, spanning three difficulties. Initially, the opponents won't counter at all - even in "normal" courses it's a cake walk for Dead or Alive veterans. Once you get to the final (hard difficulty) course, you'll need to be a little more DoA-savvy.
Overall, the fights are much more balanced. While they still pose a challenge, boss battles have been tweaked to be a little easier. In particular, Dead or Alive 3's Omega battle: previously fought from a strange grounded camera angle, it's now a traditional side-on camera, while the fight against Alpha-152 is much easier compared to the battle in DOA4 (she teleports less frequently and seems to have been slowed down a little, making her easier to hit).
There are 25 fighters in all - 24 if you exclude Kasumi Alpha (or Clone-sumi as I call her) - including bosses who weren't playable in their original games. Almost every character from the previous titles return, except for Dead or Alive Paradise's Rio, and Dead or Alive 4's Spartan-458, who were on loan from other publishers. Each fighter has numerous set of outfits to unlock and Tecmo will be releasing additional outfits as DLC.
When it comes to the combat system, Dead or Alive: Dimensions sticks with the series-classic reversal system. The system has been tweaked so that reversals are a little easier to pull off, and Dimensions also provides a quick tutorial for beginners; failing that, users will find punch / kick combos sufficient in the easier fights.
The key to winning fights comes down to three factors: how well you exploit the environment's traps, timing reversals, and mastering combos. The latter is made slightly easier with a combo list on the touch screen - you can literally dial-a-combo using it. It's good for beginners, but it's a feature veterans can do without.
The remaining singleplayer modes padding out Dimensions include survival - in which you battle through a set amount of opponents - and tag challenge - a mode focused on tag matches. The latter mode differs a little from previous titles; instead of controlling both fighters, when you "tag out" the CPU takes over as your partner. Fortunately, the AI is fairly competent and is unlikely to cost you the match if your character is knocked out. Should the CPU get in trouble, they will tag out promptly (if you have sufficient health). The idle character regains health, even if they were knocked out; once healthy enough, they will tag back in and continue the fight.
Prior to the review going live there had been some negative publicity regarding the figure collecting feature - specifically the photo option, which some news outlets accuse of allowing the player to take naked photos of underage girls. In reality, the figure mode allows the player to collect a number of figures of the various fighters in different poses and outfits. You can then rotate and zoom in or out to take photos at different angles - although it doesn't allow for shots from underneath. in a few cases you can see panties or side boob, but it's no worse than you would get in a similarly rated anime.
Dead or Alive: Dimensions's multiplayer offering includes the standard local play via Wi-Fi, and internet play. Unique to the 3DS version is Throw Down, which allows players to take on battles downloaded via SpotPass and StreetPass. Once you finish a fight in Throw Down you'll be rewarded with a new costume and / or virtual figure no matter what the outcome is.
Ultimately, Dead or Alive's previous handheld outing on the PlayStation Portable may have been titled Dead or Alive 'Paradise' but as far as fighting games go, this title is more deserving of that moniker. No matter which way your see it - 2D or 3D - Dead or Alive is one of the best titles on 3DS and, potentially, the best handheld fighting game ever.