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Dead or Alive: Dimensions (3DS) artwork

Dead or Alive: Dimensions (3DS) review

"Environments are expectedly gorgeous and expansive, with cascading waterfalls and rope bridges that span wide chasms. There also are the underground laboratory and ancient rooftop venues, and you can still knock your opponent from high ledges and then follow to kick his or her butt on lower ground. In other words, any concessions that had to be made due to the hardware have minimal impact on the presentation… when it comes to fights."

When it comes to portable fighting games, the 3DS is 2 for 2. First there was Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition at launch. The two-dimensional fighter was packed with a ton of characters and value. Now, only a few months later, those gamers who prefer their fighters with three dimensions have Dead or Alive Dimensions. Tecmo’s effort arrives on the scene too late to drop jaws the way Capcom’s title did, but there’s still plenty of quality and value to go around.

Right from the start, Dead or Alive games have focused on strong visual presentation and beautiful leading ladies. Long-time fans of the series will be pleased to know that the focus for this portable outing remains largely the same. Kasume, Ayane, Leifang, Christie, Hitomi, Helena and other favorite ladies have returned, along with the usual group of men (including Ryu Hyabusa, Hayate, Brad Wong and the disappointing Eliot) who seem to exist for the sole purpose of avoiding an all-female cast. The full list includes an impressive 25 characters, but that number includes multiple versions of Kasumi.

The 3DS certainly isn’t as powerful as the Xbox 360 and you’ll see a lot more jagged edges during battles and cutscenes as a result, but it’s hard to knock the game’s overall visual quality in spite of that. Environments are expectedly gorgeous and expansive, with cascading waterfalls and rope bridges that span wide chasms. There also are the underground laboratory and ancient rooftop venues, and you can still knock your opponent from high ledges and then follow to kick his or her butt on lower ground. In other words, any concessions that had to be made due to the hardware have minimal impact on the presentation… when it comes to fights.

The game’s plot sequences don’t fare as well. Arguably, the game’s main mode is the Chronicle mode, which tells the familiar Dead or Alive story another time. If you’re still not sure why Kasami and Ayane are fighting, or who Helena is or anything like that, this is the time to catch up on some backstory. The plot winds its way through a few tournaments and some betrayals and sudden revelations, so you have more time to get a sense of the relationships these characters share. It’s a nice change, but not always executed as proficiently as one might hope.

The big problem is that sometimes there are no obvious connections between sequences. You’ll be treated to a view of Zack climbing a tower and he’ll say he’s climbing it because it’s there. Then you’ll be whisked off to watch two separate characters fight and Zack won’t be referenced again until the closing credits. Or you’ll travel to a cafe and two characters will talk and one will mistake the other character for someone else and suddenly the two of them are fighting. There must be something in the water. It would have been nice if the scenes had all led logically into one another, but only about half of them do. Some bits seem almost like they could have been pulled from an entirely different game.

A less significant issue is the inconsistent approach to storyboarding. Sometimes you’ll be treated to a beautiful cutscene. More frequently, you’ll see character models exchanging lines. Such scenes normally would be fine, especially given the high polygon counts and solid voice work, but there’s no consistency to the proceedings even if you leave out the pre-rendered sequences. Sometimes everything is choreographed beautifully and sometimes it feels like you’re just looking at still frames. Sometimes mouths move when people talk and sometimes they don’t. It’s jarring.

Chronicle mode doesn’t exist merely to tell a story, though. It also provides the opportunity to master the game’s fighting mechanics. In that respect, it is a true success. Ahead of most fights, particularly in the early chapters, you’ll learn about blocks and grapples and low and high kicks and such. Dead or Alive Dimensions features a surprisingly robust and balanced system. While it’s true that you can get through nearly the whole game just by mashing buttons and remaining on the offensive, you’d be missing out on some welcome depth. The grapple system in particular is exciting because it leads to true brawls. There’s little point in trying to keep a distance from your opponent when you can’t throw fireballs, so fights tend to be intense when you’re going up against a competent opponent.

As you play through Chronicle mode (and the Arcade and Survival modes), you’ll also unlock content. There’s a ton of stuff to unlock, particularly at first. Besides characters, you’ll access numerous costumes and statues and fighting environments. If you want to collect everything, you’ll have to put a lot of time into the game with each of the characters. That forces you to appreciate their differences, strengths and weaknesses. It becomes easier to view the unique characters as distinct threats when you work through the various modes.

It’s worth noting, given the history that the franchise has, that you’re in for a disappointment if you’re hoping to see oodles of skin. There’s a photography mode where you can rotate the camera around statues of the characters placed in various poses, but the ladies dress conservatively and the 3DS screen is tiny compared to an HDTV. There are scenes elsewhere in the game where cleavage is more evident, where breasts sway ludicrously at times, but such moments are rare. The overall game is more artistic and less perverted than you’d perhaps expect. Parents should appreciate that change, even if it leaves horny teenagers disappointed.

At least those horny teenagers will have somewhere to vent any frustrations. Dead or Alive Dimensions features an online mode that is easily accessed from the main menu. When you go up against a rival, you can see his or her win/loss record and general rating. You’ll be paired with other players that the game code feels have similar skill based on your past performances. Unfortunately, it can take a while to find a connection and many times a possible match ends before it begins as someone refuses to connect with you. After each round, you have to go through the whole process again, making it difficult to fight a bunch of successive matches unless you’re playing with a friend.

The game may lack the overall polish that players saw in Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition, but Dead or Alive Dimensions is an excellent choice for someone who is looking for a strong and generally satisfying fighting title early in the 3DS system’s cycle. The three available dimensions are put to good use and the Chronicle mode does a better job than ever of turning the story behind Dead or Alive into a tale of substance… even if sometimes it falters in surprising ways. There will quite possibly be better options for fighting fans throughout the coming years, but at least for now, Tecmo’s latest is a solid purchase even if you already own Capcom’s attempt.


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Staff review by Jason Venter (May 25, 2011)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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