This year marks the 15th Anniversary of the Dead or Alive franchise, having first hit retail back in 1996 for both SEGA Saturn and the original PlayStation. It seems fitting, then, that such an occasion sees the release of the first core iteration to ever grace a handheld system, as well as its debut on a Nintendo platform. Yet, in the unenviable position of hitting retail just a few months after Capcom’s Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition, is there enough quality on show to warrant another beat-em-up purchase? In short, yes.
Taking centre stage within Dead or Alive Dimensions is a lengthy Chronicles mode, a portion that easily becomes its tour de force. Not only implemented as an opportune method of being brought up to date with the entirety of the saga’s narrative, its five-chapter structure is built upon the very foundation of allowing those unfamiliar with the series to ‘learn the ropes’ in a relatively short space of time.
As the first handheld iteration in the series, such a decision is seemingly a necessity. Both Dead or Alive veterans, more accustomed to playing with controllers and arcade sticks, and newcomers alike will benefit from the mix of one-on-one battles and gradual tutorial progression on offer here. With the Circle Pad and button set-up providing a sufficient control scheme, early chapters cover fundamental mechanics such as Standing, Low and High Strikes as well as Throws, whereas later chapters move on to more sophisticated elements like performing Advanced Combos or a Critical Stun.
It perhaps makes Dead or Alive Dimensions sound like quite the daunting prospect, but whilst there is an underlying challenge for the more hardcore audience to master, those not seeking to investigate such depth and stick to the basics will still find plenty to enjoy. Also, for those less combo-inclined Team Ninja have seen fit to include the entire move list for each character on the touchscreen, allowing you to perform any with a simple tap. Whilst such an addition sounds good on paper, it doesn’t serve as well as Capcom’s similar venture within Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition. With an entire move list at your fingertips, you never have enough time to scroll to browse for one that you actually want to use and with seven on the screen at once in list form, it’s hard to choose the exact move that you’re after.
Accompanying all of this is an impressive quantity of 3D CGI cutscenes blended with static 3D imagery, serving to detail the backstory to each member found within of the character roster, whilst easily demonstrating the technical prowess of Nintendo’s latest handheld. This, coupled with detailed character models, fluid combat and incredibly well-crafted stages, ensure that Dead or Alive Dimensions becomes one of the best looking titles currently available for the Nintendo 3DS. Stages are also multi-tiered, a hallmark aspect of the franchise, with players able to knock opponents tumbling down stairs, falling from rooftops or into icy caverns as rounds continue to progress. The scenery is particularly varied, ranging from the beautiful Kyoto in Bloom to the more wacky Genetic Biolab.
As you make your way through Chronicles mode, you’ll also receive a continual level of reward in the form of unlockable characters, stages and figurines. Whilst the two former are rather self-explanatory, figurines form a welcome distraction beyond purely bashing your opponents to pieces. The player is invited to collect an average of 40 figurines for each of the game’s 25 characters, that can then be enjoyed within the Showcase mode – allowing players to take snaps to later be viewed and shared in the 3D Photo Album.
Further modes are offered in the form of Arcade, where you fight your way through a series of short courses against a set group of opponents. It’s different to the standard Arcade mode affair, with each course able to be completed in a matter of minutes. These increase in difficulty, with the end reward being to unlock the Geothermal Power Plant from Metroid: Other M as a playable stage – on which if you knock your opponent from the platform, Ridley scoops them up and scrapes them along the wall before tossing them back to continue to fight you.
In contrast, Survival lets you battle a continual wave of opponents as you see how many you able to defeat before you conk out, whereas Tag Challenge pits you alongside an AI partner as you battle your way through 20 missions. Additionally, Free Play and Training provide more casual-orientated modes that allow you to experiment or improve with your favourite characters. If there’s one thing Dead or Alive Dimensions doesn’t lack it is diversity, and there’s enough here to keep you occupied for weeks.
Of course, if you’re looking for more challenging opposition beyond that granted by the AI, you can dive into competitive play – either locally or online through the use of a wireless internet connection. Internet Play remains largely lag-free, and matchmaking is relatively simple with the player provided the option of seeking an opponent within your region, across the entire world, or to search for a lobby opened by someone on your Friends List. Having been fortunate enough to have the title ahead of release, I did have to rely on playing against fellow journalists in the UK as worldwide matchmaking found no opponents, but the matches I had were error free.
It’s worth mentioning that for those looking to play in 3D will see the framerate drop to around 30 frames per second, whereas opting for non-3D will see the game consistently at a solid 60 fps. Whilst the 3D visuals look particularly fantastic, especially within CGI cutscenes, you may find that you opt to play the majority of the game without as to enjoy the smoother performance.
Dead or Alive Dimensions offers an incredibly robust package, filled to the brim with content and offering an entirely different fighting experience to that of Capcom’s counterpart. With Nintendo 3DS software support finally starting to kick into gear again, this proves to be a further addition to the library that you certainly won’t want to miss out on.