With the series' long-time rival, Street Fighter IV having seen its release alongside the 3DS, Dead or Alive: Dimensions has found itself in the unenviable position of being the second fast paced beat 'em up to launch for the 3D console. But despite their similarities, in that both games pit two over-the-top fighters in a one on one contest, there's actually a surprising amount of differences between the two games - and in many respects, Dead or Alive: Dimensions comes out on top.
The first, and most obvious improvement for Dead or Alive: Dimensions is that this is a game that doesn't presume any previous knowledge from the player. With a story that ties all four previous Dead or Alive games together, (which saw release on the original Playstation, Dreamcast, Xbox, and Xbox 360 respectively), the developers Tecmo are actively courting newcomers with Dimensions - so much so that the game has one of the best tutorials we've seen.
Get stuck into the Chronicle mode, which serves as the game's main story driven single player mode, and after being treated to a lengthy cutscene, you'll be ready to get stuck into a match - but first, the game takes you through how to punch and kick. As you progress through the first few fights, you'll learn how to string together combos, reverse moves, perform grapples, and later in the game, even how to change stance - and rather than giving you some obscure list of buttons to press, Dimensions actually pauses the action on the top screen, and shows you exactly what button to press, only unpausing it when you've done so. It's an effective tutorial that talks through practically everything you could ever want to know - which is refreshing for a beat 'em up.
The action in Dead or Alive: Dimensions is a lot more fast paced than other beat 'em ups. It's as much about having lightning quick reactions as it is about performing elaborate combos, and judging what your opponent's going to do next is an important skills to have, especially when it comes to reversals. Strikes can be performed in high, middle, and low variations (you can change by simply pushing up, down, or left on the Circle Pad or +Control Pad), and if you want to reverse the strike, you'll need to push away from your opponent, and diagonally down, diagonally up, or just away, and press Y if you want to reverse it. Get the timing right, and not only will perform an elaborate counter that dishes out damage to your opponent, but you'll also end up annoying whoever you're playing against. It's kind of like a fast paced chess match, except when your opponent goes to take your Queen, you can punch him in the face and not get disqualified.
As with all fighting games, there's a wide range of characters to choose from, each with their own fighting style and unique moves. From the pro-wrestlers Tina and Bass, who borrow a lot of moves from WWE/TNA, to the lightweight female ninjas, Kasumi and Ayane, all the way through to the old martial arts master, Gen Fu, whether you like hard hitters or backflippers, there'll be someone here for you.
One of the things that often stops fighting games from being as accessible as they could be is that in order to perform a fancy combo, you usually have to memorise an elaborate combination of buttons that you need to press in quick succession. Usually between one and four buttons long (eight if you count directions), it can be a serious task learning how to play as even one fighter, yet alone memorising multiple moves for multiple characters. On Dead or Alive: Dimensions, however, things are a lot easier. Rather than having to remember the button combinations for each move, instead, you get a nice big list of them all on the bottom screen, which you can scroll up and down. We're in two minds about this, as, if the move you want's on the screen, it's certainly a handy to be able to glance down and remember the buttons you've got to press, but scrolling up and down the list isn't exactly all that easy, and worse still, the moves aren't labelled, so unless you've used it before, and remember the combination already, you won't have a clue what it does. On the plus side, as in Super Street Fighter IV, you don't actually have to press any buttons at all to win a fight, as you can always just touch the move you want on the touch screen, and the game will do the combo for you - but it's not as simple as in Street Fighter, which gives your four nice, bright, buttons.
On the single player side of things, however, Dead or Alive: Dimensions is by far the superior game. Chronicle mode offers a somewhat illogical, albeit still enjoyable tale, which attempts to tie the storyline from all four games together, and basically serves an excuse for you to play as several different characters in a series of increasingly difficult fights. The story's hardly Dickens, but it does the job - and it's the gameplay that matters here anyway. Again, the game caters to newcomers, with the difficulty starting out so easy, you'd be hard pushed to lose, before gradually, slowly ramping the challenge up. By the time you've finished the Chronicle mode, you'll be a lean, mean, fighting machine, ready to get stuck into the rest of the modes DOA: Dimensions has to offer.
Where Street Fighter IV basically offered one single, and one mulitplayer mode, DOA: Dimensions is a lot more generous in terms of content. Here, there's a survival mode, which sees you facing off against a constant stream of opponents, without the chance to stop for a breather - or the chance to get your health back; Arcade, which is a "beat the clock" challenge across a series of around ten fights; and Tag Challenge, which lets you team up with an AI controlled partner to face off against a team of AI opponents. Play through these modes, and you'll unlock different costumes, menu voiceovers, and figures - so you'll have to play through every mode, with every character to see all there is to see in Dead or Alive: Dimensions.
Along with the single players modes, there's also the obligatory local, and online multiplayer modes - although disappointingly, there's no support for single card download play here. It's all the more surprising when you look at how Team Ninja have pushed the online boat out on this one, as there are more SpotPass and StreetPass features than you can wave a stick at. Walk past someone who's also enabled StreetPass in their game, and you'll receive what's effectively a computer controlled version of them. Called a Throwdown Challenge, you'll end up fighting against an AI controlled someone's favourite character, which fights in the same way they do in real life. If you use a lot of throws, your throwdown character will too - pull off a lot of reversals, and the character you send to other people will do the same. It's a great idea, and one that means there's constantly a new challenge to be faced - so long as you keep bumping into people who also own the game.
Meanwhile, the game's also one of the first to make use of SpotPass, by delivering a special developer Throwdown Challenge each week for the first month, along with a brand new costume every day for the first 32 days of release - so long as your 3DS is turned on, and can connect to your wireless router, regardless of what game's in the slot, you'll get your new goodies. If you haven't got the game yet, there's no need to worry, as they're planning on releasing the costumes in two batches - one for the day one crowd, and another for the stragglers, so you won't necessarily miss out on any of the new costumes. Somewhat disappointingly, the notification LED doesn't come on when it's downloaded the new costume, so the only way you can tell if it's downloaded anything is by running the game - but perhaps that was part of the cunning plan all along...
With a wide range of modes, plenty of replay value, and a great learning curve to help beat 'em up novices find their feet, there's plenty to like about Dead or Alive: Dimensions. While the £39.99 price tag the shops have stuck on it seems a bit on the extreme side, with any luck, it'll drop soon - and when it does, you shouldn't feel worried about making the jump. This is one of the better beat 'em ups around.