Dead or Alive: Dimensions Review

By Adam Ma on May 31, 2011

Just about everyone is familiar with the Dead or Alive saga through its absolutely stellar Beach Volleyball series, the scantly dressed underage ninja girls, or alternative protagonist Ryu Hayabusa from the Ninja Gaiden series. But the main foundation for the cast is based upon a 3D fighter, one that has managed to hold up quite nicely against the test of time. The proof: Dead or Alive Dimensions, a 3DS game that not only goes through the storyline from start to finish, but also features every character, level and camera angle that has encompassed the series up to this point. Is the title fun? Is the 3D worth it? Is the series still a little creepy in how it exploits overdeveloped underage girls? Absolutely, but damn if it isn't at least a little enjoyable.

Dead or Alive Dimensions is a pretty straightforward title in that unlocking characters requires players to go through the story mode, which also serves as an excellent tutorial. In fact, just entering the first fight in the game is a primary example of how well put together the series is for a 3D fighter. Up and down on the D-Pad control 360 degree movement, while forward and back dictate both where a player moves and what kind of attacks/throws/counters are done. For example, pushing Y will make a character block while pushing back and Y will cause the character to initiate a counter stance. The game uses both high, medium, and low attacks. Changing the direction that you'll be making a combo from will change exactly how an enemy is hit and what sort of combo chains you can initiate from there.

It all sounds relatively complex but is handled expertly through both the Story Mode's tutorials and the bottom touch screen of the 3DS. While many fighting games will feature an in-game list of combos and special attacks, DOA:D goes one step further by showing a self-updating combo string in the bottom screen. For example, hitting the punch button will show every single combo that begins with the punch, while hitting punch a second time will then update to show all attacks which use punch twice. This list updates for every single move in the game, no matter how simple or complex, so those who have quick eyes (or good memory) should find it very easy to discover each characters natural combo strings. Coupled with the game's tutorial that walks players through step-by-step on how to do throws, counter-throws, guard breaks, stuns, and air juggling, DOA:D makes getting into the game easy for veterans and newcomers to the series alike.

That being said, the tutorial is just about the only compelling aspect of the Story Mode as the plot story is really rather typical of a fighting game. I personally can't imagine anyone picking up this series for its plot, but with so many other fighting games focusing a bit more on storyline as of late it's hard not to warn people away. Some parts become so cliché it's hard not to simply skip them in hopes of reaching combat quicker, which doesn't really make the game worse by any means, simply a little more tedious.

Fortunately, the title has quite a bit more going for it than just a story/tutorial mode. Together with the traditional Arcade and Survival modes, DOA:D actually becomes a pretty fleshed out title. Online mode exists as well for those who're looking to take their skills to the net, so its hard to say that Tecmo left anything out here. Half of what makes the series so much fun is how fluid the combat is and the relatively wide variety of characters should entertain for quite a while. Levels are just as detailed as previous releases and still feature the multi-level-ness expected from a Dead or Alive game, allowing for players to knock opponents over ledges, down canyons, and off of buildings for additional damage. While the environments aren't entirely interactive, characters do gain new attacks when positioned closer to walls and ledges. It's just another way that the depth of the series really shines through.Unfortunately, some of the same things that make DOA so much fun can also be part of what can turn people away from the franchise. Counter-throws and level drops can provide an obscene amount of damage to punish an opponent with. For one, it's really just based on player positioning, while the other has more to do with the core mechanics of the game; Dead or Alive is a series that's supposed to look fluid and feel like there's a true 3D environment in a fashion that's very similar to Soul Calibur. Attacks don't simply knock an opponent back, but rather toss them aside, roll them over, or position the player differently. It's great when its all going your way, but having a well versed opponent could mean getting countered hard on a very frequent basis. The result is a title that's very satisfying to master, much like the console versions, and the in-game tutorial/combo assist screen make it very easy to follow what's happening, but just like any other fighting game time must be spent learning all of the nuances in order to really see the full potential that the title has to offer.

Of course, there's no such thing as a Dead or Alive title without some way to ogle the main female cast, and thankfully Tecmo delivers. Players can unlock various figurines in game which they can then enter picture mode with, and using the gyroscopic camera take 3D pictures to their hearts content. It's both hilarious and kind of gross that the feature exists in the game, particularly knowing that such a feature doesn't exist as a mere novelty, but it's hard to hold it against the developers for making such a feature. At the very least they kept things equal and included the guys as well, although whoever would want to sit down and take a 3D picture of Bass is most likely just as creepy as anyone looking for ninja girl upskirt shots.

Graphically, Dead or Alive Dimensions is one of the few games that look better with the 3D function on than it does off, particularly in the cutscenes. Sequences that use in-game graphics instead of CGI tend to look flat and boring without the 3D effect, and likewise any CGI cutscenes taken from prior games only look better with the 3D activated as well. Those who find that the 3D effect wears down on their eyes may be a little disappointed at this, but rest assured that outside the story the game still looks quite nice using either visual option. Character animations are extremely tight, and the loading times in game are so quick it's hardly a concern.

Final Thoughts

So how does the game hold up on its own? It really depends on whether or not you've had the chance to play the console versions. Fans of the series will no doubt want to pick this one up, and general fighting game fans should find that there's quite a lot to enjoy on the handheld recap of the franchise. Getting access to the full cast of characters means that there's quite a few play-styles to experience before you put the title down for good. Typical game modes means that, in the long-term, there is no real surprises here, but if you're the type of person who enjoys online play or simple survival/arcade modes, then there's very little to be worried about. If you're the kind of person who simply follows the series for its cast more than its content, well it has a neat picture mode to satisfy that. By neat, of course, I mean creepy "” but strangely satisfying.

Tight controls and fluid animation.
Dynamic combo list comes in rather handy, especially for newcomers or those with bad memories.
The game looks great in 3D — and there's also that neat camera mode.
Don't expect a great plot.
It doesn't really bring anything new to the table.
Expect to be beaten up if you're not at all familiar with Dead or Alive.
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