Monday, 13 June 2011

Dead Or Alive: Dimensions

It’s easy to see why the Dead Or Alive series is so maligned by many fighting game fans; after all, it’s difficult to imagine Capcom making Cammy’s breasts bounce faster the higher you enter your age (up to a maximum of, er, 99 years), or Namco releasing a game in which the sole objective was to hang out with the scantily clad likes of Nina Williams and Michelle Chang on a private beach resort. Creator Tomonobu Itagaki may have left Team Ninja under a dark cloud, but his provocative and exploitative imprint, laser guided to appeal to 15 year old boys, remains embedded in the company’s output. Dead Or Alive is of course about a lot more than just the above examples - Dimensions is evidence of this - but think of the games and the first thing that still comes to mind is tits.

The approach of Dimensions assumes however that many gamers would have forgotten about the series by now, with the last entry – the superb Dead Or Alive 4 - released way back in 2005. Collected here are every character that has graced the four games, as well as a large assortment of modes and enhanced 3DS-specific bonuses. Perhaps this virtual retrospective is also Tecmo’s way to put a full stop on the Itagaki era, with the long-rumoured Dead Or Alive 5 a chance to make a fresh start. Whatever the foundations of its release are, Dead Or Alive Dimensions is finally here, and it’s brilliant.

Using the 3DS’s gyroscope to look around the arenas during the game’s title sequence serves as an apt metaphor for Dimensions’ use of the handheld’s unique properties – it’s technically impressive and briefly diverting, but adds little to the game. If anything, it’s actually better to turn off the 3D altogether. Doing so doubles the frame rate to 60fps, and suddenly battles turn into the slick, fast-paced tests of reaction that Dead Or Alive fans will remember fondly. It’s unlikely that many will preserve with the 3D beyond showing off the effect to the odd interested observer.

That’s not to say that Dimensions wastes the potential of the host hardware. For example, the use of SpotPass is excellent, with costumes and challenges appearing on a daily basis. These regular SpotPass bonuses are scheduled to end on the 29th June, but the potential for developers to re-ignite interest in older titles with time-specific automatic downloads is clear, and Dimensions is already something of a pioneer amongst the tiny pool of 3DS games currently available. Online also fares reasonably well, featuring a decent enveloping structure which tracks your ranking.

Above all it’s the gameplay, when on the aforementioned 60fps non-3D setting, that makes Dimensions an essential title for 3DS owners looking for the sort of quick arcade-style fix sorely lacking elsewhere. Counters, the key staple of Dead Or Alive’s fighting system, carry little of the complexity that is usually found in other fighters. Here – in Dimensions counters seem easier to carry out than in previous DOA titles – it’s just a well-timed button press and tap in the direction away from your opponent’s attack that, more often than not, results in your character flinging the other player into the air/against an electrical fence/over the edge of a cliff. DOA fights between two good players tend to be amusingly cagey affairs, with this threat of counters ever present.

Dimensions is a consummate example of the handheld fighting game. It’s packed with content (the highlight of which is a Chronicle mode which recaps stories from past DOA games), and brings back fond memories spent playing the Dead Or Alive games across previous generations. It’s also an effective restatement of the series in the minds of gamers. Perhaps most important of all is that, following the example of Super Street Fighter 4 3D, it underlines the 3DS as a console capable of faithful conversions of the sort of games that the PSP previously had a monopoly in. Itagaki may have left, but Dead Or Alive remains a brand of eccentricity, quick reactions and, yep, ample bosoms.

- Originally published by D+PAD Magazine.

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