Also available on: N/A
Developer: Team Ninja
Publisher: Tecmo Koei
It's been a vintage year thus far for the once mighty beat-em-up. Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 impressed with its colourful blend of fast-paced fisticuffs, while recent release Mortal Kombat recaptured past form with an offering that featured as much content as it did gore. On the handheld front we were treated to an excellent port of the brilliant Super Street Fighter IV, which showed that the Nintendo 3DS can handle all of the flying fists and fireballs thrown at it. Now it's the turn of something a little more three-dimensional to squeeze into the duel screens of the Nintendo's latest portable, with the release of Tecmo Koei's Dead Or Alive Dimensions. Featuring its famous cast of buxom beauties and hard-as-nails ninjas, Dimensions is not short of flair, but does it have the gameplay to match?
For years gamers have debated the merits of the Dead Or Alive series and it's not hard to understand why when you look at shallow releases such as Xtreme Beach Volleyball, which features the female cast of characters doing little more than bouncing around the beach in skimpy outfits. However, at its core, the main fighting series has always gone beyond cheap thrills offering a fluid fighting system that emphasises counters and combos, as well as intelligent use of the surroundings. Dead Or Alive Dimensions is no different in this respect and contains a fast and flowing fighting style which works really well on Nintendo's handheld.
For a start, the controls are excellent and not only has Team Ninja done a good job of mapping everything onto the limited array of buttons of the 3DS, they've also made inspired use of the touch-screen. In many respects the touch-screen works the same way as it does in Super Street Fighter IV, except instead of housing four additional action buttons or special moves, it displays all of the game's combos, strikes and throws. Players can choose to use the touch-screen in one of two ways, either to unleash any combination of the moves with a single tap, or as an input command reference point for those who prefer the manual touch. The Circle Disc is also much better suited to a 3D fighter than Capcom's offering and makes the game far easier for the casual fan to pick up and play.
The game's tight controls and fighting mechanics are complimented by the excellent visuals. The character models and the majority of the backgrounds are wonderfully drawn and animated and really help to create one of the smoothest handheld beat-em-ups to date. Granted, the female characters are bouncier than an Icelandic banker's cheque book, and their outfits aren't in the least bit practical, but they are impressive to look at, especially under falling blossom, on rickety bridges or snow-capped mountain ranges. There's a generous 25 characters to choose from (once unlocked), although there are too many similarities in fighting style to make this a factor to get excited about.
The game's main single-player mode is called Chronicle, and tells the entire Dead Or Alive story from the first game up to the fourth - minus the beach antics from the Xtreme series. In addition to filling in the narrative gaps, Chronicle also serves to teach players a thing or two about the fighting mechanics and the ins and outs of the game's combos, counters, throws and blocks. From this perspective the game does a very good job, giving players a brief interactive tutorial before unleashing them on opponents in quick-fire single-round combat.
Unfortunately, the mode features a ton of cutscenes, far too many in fact, and players will spend a considerable period of time staring at the screen and soaking in the increasingly confusing story before a single punch has been thrown. The cutscenes are so long and often feature so many different characters and plot threads that by the time the action gets under way, you'll have forgotten (or never been told) why the two characters on screen are the ones fighting. It's funny that Dimensions reaches us so soon after Mortal Kombat, which handles storytelling in an infinitely more effective way by breaking the action up character by character.
Luckily, Dimensions contains a wealth of other modes and extras which go some way towards making up for the desperately disappointing Chronicle mode. Players can compete in a standard arcade mode, endless survival battles, free play, training and tag matches, not to mention local and online multiplayer bouts. On the down side, despite the wealth of characters and the game's sheer number of combos, counters and throws, the experienced player doesn't have as much of advantage as they should have. Button bashing tactics are often enough to get the job done, resulting in a far too shallow experience. The figurines and 3D photography are a nice extra and are legitimately fun with the 3D effects turned up, while it's nice to see another title incorporate Street Pass features.
When the fights are in full swing, Dead Or Alive Dimensions is a satisfying beat-em-up and a perfect fit for the small screens of the 3DS. The in-game action is fluid and smooth and is complimented by some impressively realised 3D visuals and tight controls. The sheer number of game modes and extras is commendable, and it's nice to finally have another game other than Super Street Fighter IV which takes advantage of the machine's online capabilities. Unfortunately, the storytelling in the game's main single-player mode is long-winded, poorly executed and ultimately distracts from the action. What's even more unforgivable is that despite the amount of time spent watching cutscenes, the story makes less and less sense as the game goes on. The fighting system, which encourages the use of counters and combos, is not without depth, but can be mastered by button bashers and leads to an altogether too easy experience. Dead Or Alive Dimensions is an impressive title with enough flair and things to do to warrant a play, and while it may be more instantly enjoyable than Super Street Fighter IV, it doesn't have the same depth.
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