Over the last couple of entries from Tecmo’s Dead or Alive series, each has gradually become more synonymous with women’s bust sizes and low cut shirts than a truly innovative leap into the sometimes stagnant fighting genre. But while many may still have those preconceptions, Dead or Alive: Dimensions, for the Nintendo 3DS, puts the focus back where it should be: in the ring. That focus comes in the form of the new Chronicle play mode.
Chronicle mode separates the narratives from the previous installments in the series, giving you a spark notes type of education relating to specific plot points while also introducing you to the core mechanics. The story may start off simply enough, as a tournament where the outcome of each fighter is “Dead or Alive”, but eventually brothers get killed, kidnappings occur, nether realms are introduced, people start screaming and cloning is the only answer to world peace. Tecmo even seems to acknowledge the nonsensical nature of the plot by giving players pop-up information on the bottom screen of the 3DS, adding another layer of attempted explanation to the chaos going on in the upper screen. While the narrative makes no sense, and is as ham-fisted as a SyFy original movie, it does a great job of continually introducing new characters and compelling you to play through their perspective, meaning you are required to fight as whomever the story currently centers around. Not only is this a great mode because it gives the player a better understanding of how different some characters are from one another, but it also seamlessly gives old veterans or new players from the series a chance to dust off the cobwebs. Throughout each fight Tecmo slowly introduces a new fighting mechanic, slowing down time so you can see, frame by frame, the precision needed to pull off each move. This means that as you progress through Chronicle, so does the difficulty and range of play styles that your opponent can choose from. Because the Chronicle mode combines the stories from each of the preceding Dead or Alive games in the series it will take a couple hours to beat, but there are also many additional modes to choose from once you finish.
Dead or Alive: Dimensions includes a multitude of single player modes besides Chronicle including Arcade, Survival, Tag Challenge, Free Play, Training and Showcase. Arcade mode isn’t the typical one-shot mode, but rather is broken down into different courses, each with an emphasis on finishing in a timely fashion to compete with others’ completion time. Instead of having one course in Survival mode, where you would fight until you lost, Tecmo has decided to break it into increments, giving anyone the possibility of winning at least some of the courses and having a score to compare it to. Tag Challenge takes the natural assumptions that come with the name–two versus two tag-team fighting–and adds a twist by forcing you to play with a computer controlled teammate. The other twist in Tag Challenge revolves around the actual act of tagging a partner; your A.I. controlled teammate decides when it’s the best time to interrupt your fight. The only time you actually control the tag is when you are on the outside looking in. You can rightly assume this leads to some frustration, but it also adds a safety net more often than not, allowing you to recover health while your partner is in the ring. Free Play and Training is self explanatory while Showcase adds a hording element. As you play through each mode you start to unlock figurines and in the Showcase mode you can choose the level setting as well as the figurine to fulfill all of your diorama needs, creating lovely battle stills which can be photographed and stored for bragging rights later.
A player could spend hours in solitude, going through each of these modes to hone their craft, but eventually you will still want to test yourself against another human opponent at some point. Unfortunately, as of this writing, there aren’t too many options.
Those looking to compete online may need to look elsewhere or hope Tecmo can fix the current issues, involving lag. The disappointing performance of Dead or Alive: Dimensions‘s online mode makes its other features, such as fighting people you have encountered using the 3DS’s Street Pass, pointless. The best chance you have at a fight worthy of the single player modes continues to rely on local play, with each player having a copy of the game.
No matter what mode you decide to play, however, you can’t help but notice the rather surprising detail Dead or Alive: Dimensions offers. Each of the characters and levels in Dead or Alive Dimensions seem to take full advantage of the new platform Nintendo has created. Level design has always been a focal point in the last couple of installments in the Dead or Alive series and more specifically it was how those levels interacted with the players/fighters. Just like the series’s console installments, each level has areas that can be interacted with, dealing more damage to your opponent while sometimes even altering the playing field mid-fight. These lead to unscripted situations that can’t really be planned for, making for some very tense and satisfying moments.
Fighting games seem to be making the most noise in the 3DS’s rather lackluster launch line-up and it stems from the perfect marriage between fighter and level as a definition of depth. Most genres still seem to be figuring out what 3D can do to enhance the overall experience, but in the fighting genre it’s pretty simple; put the fighter in the foreground and the level in the background, thereby enhancing the overall feel of depth from the level while also putting the focal point on the two characters on screen. Early adopters looking for a game to showcase the power of the 3DS will be pleased with what Dead or Alive: Dimensions has to offer.
For a genre that seems to have alienated players more and more, Dead or Alive: Dimensions does a great job of reinvigorating a stagnant series by concentrating on the simplicity of its fighting system, adding a multitude of modes and making sure anyone can join in on the fun.