Dead or Alive: Dimensions
Kasumi’s goal was simple: kill Raidou. It didn’t matter how or when, just as long as he was finally stopped. He’d gotten away with too much. He’d turned away from the Mugen Tenshin Ninja Clan, seeking power and glory. He’d left the village in shambles, leaving its leader – his own nephew – with an injured spine and a possibly fatal coma. He’d also stolen the Sky Torn Blast, the clan’s most powerful secret technique. Then he just walked away, with only Kasumi left to pick up the pieces. But the most infuriating part? No one wanted to go after him; the clan elders forbade anyone to leave. Seeing no other option, Kasumi decided to handle things on her own. She ran away from home, fully intending to utterly annihilate Raidou and take down anything else that got in her way. What didn’t occur to her, however, was that her quest for justice would have consequences that would go far beyond those of petty vengeance.
While Kasumi always has the best intentions, her mistakes and shortsightedness are quickly made apparent. The elders weren’t kidding when they forbade the other ninjas from leaving the village; defying their orders is punishable by assassination. Thus our would-be heroine is treated like a criminal, constantly pursued by her former peers. Kasumi is too distracted to realize that she’s being used by almost everyone around her. What begins as a simple revenge tale gradually evolves into a massive conspiracy, involving corporate espionage, cloning experiments, and an all-out war between the tournament sponsoring company and the Mugen Tenshin Clan. The story isn’t particularly interesting; the twists are predictable, and (aside from Kasumi and the other three ninjas) the characters are shallow and one-dimensional. Despite having a Chronicle Mode that explains the story, the game never elaborates on anything beyond the main plot points. Aside from serving as a glorified tutorial, it’ll do little to help you get acquainted with the Dead or Alive series.
You’ll be better off by diving straight into the Arcade Mode and learning as you go. Each of the 25 playable characters has unique playing style, ranging from Karate and Sambo martial arts to flashy acrobatics and professional wrestling techniques. The basic attacks require little more than mashing the punch and kick buttons; there are several combos that can be performed by merely tapping the correct commands enough times. While the offensive mechanics seem simple at first, they lend themselves well to the defensive-oriented gameplay. Combos can easily be broken by a countering maneuver; if you can read your opponent’s movements and time the command well enough, you can parry almost anything. Not only can it save you from an impending defeat, but it allows you to turn the tables on an enemy and launch your own attacks. The counters are balanced out by throwing maneuvers, which are in turn defeated by regular attacks. This triangle of strengths and weaknesses makes for some surprisingly complex and engaging fights; not only do you have to know your character’s moves, but your enemy’s as well.
There’s not much of an incentive to master the game, though. The computer is pathetic; even on the mid-level settings in Free Play matches, it’s possible to beat your foes without having to resort to any strategy. It’s not until you reach the last set of fights in the Arcade Mode that the computer starts kicking your ass. It’s even more pronounced in the Tag Challenge Mode, which lets you have two characters tag-team their way through twenty progressively harder missions. The majority of them are easy enough, but there’s a huge difficulty spike for the last three. While the sudden jump in the learning curve is appropriate given the opponents in those stages, it would have been nice to have a capable AI throughout the entire experience. The same kind of thing happens in the Survival Mode, which eventually has you take on a hundred fighters back-to-back. While the first half go down easily, the ones afterward can tear you apart. It’s little things like this that make the experience seem unbalanced and unfulfilling.
You’ll get a bit more out of the online content. You can search for random opponents (or friends, if you have their code) and compete against them in up to three rounds per match. Depending on your performance, you’ll be awarded with bonus points and an eventual rank upgrade on your gaming profile. While this makes for a decent and straightforward multiplayer, there is nothing else going for it. There’s no way to create lobbies, fight others with similar skill levels, view other matches or leaderboards, or any customization whatsoever. Thanks to the occasional bouts of lag and connection issues, the fights are inconsistent at best; it’s hard to play a game that focuses so much on timing and combo stringing when the controls are unresponsive and the animations don’t always keep up with your commands. You might get fed up enough to stick with the Throwdown Mode, which uses the 3DS’s StreetPass connectivity to download automated versions of other gamers’ fighters. It doesn’t make up for the lackluster online features, but at least it’s something.
Your efforts will be rewarded with hundreds of unlockable figurines based on the cast. Acquiring these collectibles is rather hit-or-miss; it’s never spelled out exactly what you have to do to get a new figurine. The game lets you view your collection, set them against the backgrounds of the various stages, and take 3D pictures. It’s nothing mind-blowing, but it makes good use of the 3DS’s functionality. That goes for the regular gameplay as well; every movement, from the basic combos to the most complex and stylish counters, is displayed with fluid and life-like movement. You can see how Jann imitates Bruce Lee’s most famous maneuvers, or how Ayane’s decorative ribbon keeps up with her fast-paced spinning techniques. There’s also a fair amount of…well, jiggling, which is par for the course for anyone familiar with the Dead or Alive series. The stages aren’t quite as detailed, but they’re still impressive. You’ll have to fight your way down a snowy peak, a cherry blossom-filled shrine, and even the charred remnants of a facility seen in Metroid: Other M. What makes such stages interesting isn’t their visuals, but their structuring; depending on the angle and strength of your attack, you can send your foes flying off of balconies and through well-placed obstacles. Sometimes, there’s nothing more satisfying than killing difficult foes by throwing them down a flight of stairs.
That probably won’t be enough to keep you satisfied, though. Dead or Alive: Dimensions has some great things going for it, but neglects everything else. Chronicling the events of the series is a great way to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the franchise, but the game never goes in-depth beyond the basic plot points. The combat mechanics are a solid blend of offensive and defensive tactics; they’re complex and demanding enough for fighting game enthusiasts to enjoy, but easy for newcomers to pick up. You’ll never need to master them, though; the AI is rarely competent enough to pose a real challenge. That’s reserved for all the other random opponents you’ll fight online. Or try to, anyway; the annoying lag, connection issues, and bare-bones features don’t provide much of an incentive to keep playing. Instead, you’ll probably just wind up going through matches until you’ve unlocked everything or gotten bored with seeing all the female competitors in their fan service-laden glory. If all else fails, Dead or Alive can still fall back on that.