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Dead or Alive Dimensions review: Comedy masterpiece theatre


Team Ninja does not make life easy for game reviewers. Dead or Alive Dimensions, a sort of anthology volume combining all four Dead or Alive fighting games on 3DS, is clearly a great translation of the series to a portable format, beautiful to look at, and also more accessible than any DOA game to date.

It's also marred by some terrible decisions, mostly around the presentation and the structure. As I played, it kind of felt like everything awesome about DOA Dimensions had been intentionally paired with a huge mistake. However, after a period of deep reflection and soul-searching, I came to the conclusion that the awesome parts are sufficiently awesome to outweigh most of the janky stuff, and a lot of the janky stuff turns out to be super hilarious anyway.

Besides, the technical criteria for a successful DOA game are if the female characters' pendulous chests display soothing, hypnotic waves, and occasionally people get knocked off of waterfalls, and in both categories this game passes with flying colors. Colors flying right off of a waterfall.

Gallery: Dead or Alive Dimensions (5/29/11) | 51 Photos

The new "Chronicle Mode" is what I would consider the "main" component of DOA Dimensions. It's a linear retelling of the storylines of all four games, using a combination of old and new cutscenes and actual fights (casting the player as a predetermined character in each bout). This mode introduces each match with a quick lesson about some aspect of the fighting system, from basic controls to the rock-paper-scissors-like countering system, forcing the player to perform the button inputs before the match can begin in earnest.

In addition, the bottom screen displays a clickable list of all the moves and combos you can perform, which is helpful for learning purposes even if you just read them -- and very helpful if you tap them, because it allows you to see each combo's timing. When playing online, a little DS icon pops up if your opponent is being a jerk and using the touchscreen. This constant reference, along with the well-designed tutorial, are enough to introduce new players to the game without forcing the actual game to be too easy.

Oh, except the game is also too easy. I never really internalized those lessons from the Chronicle Mode, because I didn't have to. It was no trouble at all to just button mash my way through the whole thing, and then through the first three or four preset "courses" in Arcade Mode, and so on. In fact, there is no difficulty selection in Chronicle Mode, and you have to play through several easy "courses" in other modes to unlock even moderately challenging ones. The only places to find difficult matches on demand are in the single-match "Free Play" mode and in online play, where humans are on call at all times to mess you up guaranteed.

While it's regrettable that the Chronicle Mode has no difficulty curve to speak of, you can find some real competition after ... a few hours, and nobody really plays fighting games for the single-player anyway. The too-easy AI is a temporary annoyance. It's just a shame that the excellent teaching tool is sabotaged by the milquetoast sparring partners.

The Chronicle Mode is rich with cutscenes, telling the story of the Mugen Tenshin ninjas (Hayabusa, Kasumi, Ayane, and Hayate) working to take down the DOATEC company, which is building evil clones or whatever. Some of these cutscenes are pre-rendered videos from previous games; some are new real-time, fully acted scenes, and some are essentially shots of posed, unmoving character models. They change poses from scene to scene, but don't actually move within the scene. It's distinctly like watching Oh! Mikey -- and these scenes comprise the majority of Chronicle Mode's storytelling.

While I must knock the game for this cheap presentation, I also admit that I found these scenes hilarious, especially accompanied by pop-up factoids on the bottom screen explaining the characters and other entities mentioned, along with info like what a ninja is and what "conglomerate" means. It's also worth noting that Team Ninja's reputation for respectful treatment of women is intact: one of the female characters is slapped in the face in every chapter, and one particular cutscene has Ayane helpless to escape from Brad Wong's embrace without her brother Hayate's assistance. (In the game itself, she can effortlessly throw a giant demon through a window.)

Another cool aspect of the game tied to a terrible aspect: DOA Dimensions includes an impressive roster of 25 characters, including every playable character from previous games (except for the Halo crossover character from DOA4), though most are only unlocked over time, and some of whom unlocked only through the miserable "tag battle" mode, which pairs you with an uncontrollable AI partner.

Despite all the problems, DOA Dimensions is fundamentally a good fighter, and a great DOA. The controls don't really require an arcade stick or six face buttons, and therefore translate nicely to the 3DS; the graphics look slick, especially the huge, interactive environments; the counter-heavy battles are as quick as ever. I can't ignore the egregious missteps made, but there's a lot to enjoy about the game despite those. And, in the case of the unintentionally goofy cutscenes, because of them.

This review is based on a retail copy provided by Tecmo Koei.

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