(3DS) Dead or Alive : Dimensions
There are few things as awesome as a game about a bunch of female scantily-clad ninja going around and beating the flip out of each other, especially when said game is known for its glorious application of specialized physics engines.
The latest installment in the series, Dimensions, resembles DoA4 in everything, with the addition of a few boss (read : lame) characters, a convoluted story mode that will leave you utterly confused and souped-down single player modes. Multiplayer is this portable offering's saving grace, with lag reduced to a minimum and an easy to pick up, hard to master playing style.
Graphics have always been a strong point of the series, especially when it comes to detailing feminine assets. Boobs aside, the game does a great job of looking good, with the stages as diverse as they come and well-animated characters. At the time of the release it was easily the 3DS' best-looking game (although Mercenaries may have taken that title). The game plays without any stutter and everything is as fluid as can be expected from a portable offering.
I can't comment on the 3D effect because I cannot see it (I have a blind eye), but I've been told it's good.
The single player experience is horrendous. Chronicle is the game's story mode, and it falls flat on its face (to be fair, as do most other fighting games' story modes). The "story" is quite simply uninteresting, and the design choice to have them told through almost exact replicas of the other games' story modes leads to a puzzling lack of continuity that makes the gamer wonder what exactly all this manure is about. Chronicle also serves as a tutorial, and that part is pretty well-done, although it feels like a chore to go through because of the game's weak pacing and storyline.
The "residual" modes, Arcade, Free Play, Tag Challenges and Survival, are forgettable at best. Arcade's AI seems locked to the easiest difficulty and consists of a meager 6 stages. Even if you're bent on going through all of them with every character, it won't take long. Free Play is the usual skirmish versus the computer.
Tag Challenges are frustrating affairs where the game puts you and a jobber-level difficulty AI against progressively harder opponents. In the very last tag match you are put against two boss characters at the highest AI with 10x your health and who can rape 85% of your lifebar with a single tag throw. If you haven't been playing the series for a long time you're going to have to cheese through these.
Survival is a x-man beatdown with an AI level that is surprisingly even more incompetent than the lowest setting.
But who buys fighting games for the single player?
The gameplay is easy but hard at the same time. Basically there are three "fighting buttons" (kick, punch and throw) and the controversial "hold" button. Predicting an attack's height and holding it causes your character to counter it, even in the middle of a combo. It functions as a non-metered, harder to use, less powerful "breaker" as you can't break combos while being juggled. There is also a rock-paper-scissors mechanic to the game, as strikes beat throw attempts, throws beat hold attempts, and holds beat strikes. This leads to entertaining mind games where, for example, a character will stop a combo short, bait a hold, and throw the other for more damage. It is pretty easy to beat nooblets by button mashing, but to beat people who know what they are doing you need experience and learning.
The controls are surprisingly crisp for a portable fighting game, so no complains there.
Thankfully, the multiplayer is quite all right. It's best not to expect a balanced, competitive title in Dimensions, although the series has its competitive scene (then again Marvel vs flipping Capcom has a competitive scene too, despite its ridiculous balancing).
The basic metagame rules in DoA are the following :
-if it is a ninja, or Gen Fu, it's overpowered
-if it has breasts or if it is comic relief, it's good
-the closest to realistic a fighting style is, the more it sucks
These are cumulative. So Zack is comic relief but also an user of Muay Thai (good - sucky). He sits squarely in the middle tier. Kasumi and Ayane have (gigantic) breasts and are shinobi - broken (Ayane more so). The pro wrestlers consistently outdo the Combat Sambo users as throwing and countering-oriented fighters. The list goes on.
While they did tone-down Ayane from her ridiculous DoA4 state, Team Ninja had the (not so) great idea of introducing projectiles in the move lists of certain playable characters (read : ninja). While the imbalance this causes is no greater than the pre-existing ones, it can lead to frustrating affairs as 90% of people play Ryu (of course a ninja) and spam the fireball. Not unbeatable, but decidedly boring and frustrating, especially when 10 online games in a row can be versus Ryu or Genra (a samurai-thing boss) projectile spammers.
FIGHTING STYLES REPRESENTATION
Sounds like a funny category to write about in a video game but the truth is that DoA is an under-appreciated game where it comes to how fighting styles are represented. I've seen plenty of games where supposed Judo specialists end up being just like the Kung Fu guy with different animations. The first game I've seen that did Judo right was Virtua Fighter. Anyway, moving on...
Although Ninjutsu is your dime-a-dozen parcel of the flashiest techniques, with fireballs, spins and warping around aplenty, I find that the other styles are surprisingly true to real life. The two Karate people (Hitomi and Ein) have linear, powerful strikes. The Combat Sambo mercenary (Bayman) does a ton of throws, leglocks and armbars, while the other Combat Sambo representative (Leon), prefers to double-leg people and GnP them into submission. The Muay Thai guy uses a lot of leg kicks, roundhouses, elbows and knees, as well as his hands.
Of course, Bayman has a high axe kick and Zack does a surprising amount of high flying kicking. Almost every characters have jumping bicycle 1080 flying kicks and the like. It's a video game after all. But at their core, when you play a character whose data says he does Combat Sambo, it feels like you play a Combat Sambo guy. For someone who knows a bit about martial arts, it's particularly rewarding.
I'd compare the feeling to watching a movie about MMA where the actors end up doing generic movie kung-fu, and watching one where it feels like it could be happening in a ring. It's like watching Flash Point versus the Karate Kid remake.
Let's be frank here, there are over a thousand figurines to collect, 20-something characters, fanservice costumes (teehee Japanese schoolgirl costumes) and a multiplayer online mode on a portable game. If you're a completionist it's going to last a long time. If you're a multiplayer guy it's also going to last a long time. If you're a single player guru, look elsewhere.
-the 3DS' gyroscope has two uses : looking at a stage when the game starts or bouncing the figurines' boobies
-there is free DLC, including challenges from the developers and additional costumes