Wednesday, May 25, 2011

3Ds - Dead or Alive: Dimensions Review

I remember playing Mortal Kombat II on the Game Gear. Far from being the meaty, “realistic” arcade fighter my mother refused to buy me, this pocket sized version had the spirit, but not the heart. The realistic sprites had been reduced to cartoonish caricatures, the buckets of blood had seen their budget reduced to mere droplets, and the deep, heavy bass had been reduced to generic bleeps and bloops. This is a fact that I was more than willing to accept, because after all, how could a portable with two buttons ever hope to capture the glory of the mighty arcade cabinet across the street from my school? So I accepted the slighted controls, the reduction in fidelity, and the notion that while they would never reach their arcade counterparts, they were at least competent enough to enjoy, and –just-unintelligible enough for my mother to accept.

Man, if I were a child of today, that wouldn’t have worked at all.

Dead or Alive: Dimensions
For: Nintendo 3DS
Publisher: Tecmo / Team Ninja
Price: $39.99
Release: 5/24/2011 (North America)

We’re in the middle of a fighting game boom, but arguably, that movement was already heralded by the arrival of the PSP five years ago. Far from aspiring to be a glorified portable Super Nintendo like many of the handhelds before it, developers saw it as a chance to offer up portable games with the same level of quality as a handheld, and for the most part, they all succeeded. The idea of what a portable fighter should be has been redefined since then, and although everything from Street Fighter to SoulCalibur has been faithfully reproduced in portable form, Dead or Alive has suspiciously never made the cut. Perhaps they were just waiting for the right technology, or perhaps creator Itagaki’s departure (who stated console type games have no place on portables), but no matter the reason, Dead or Alive: Dimensions is here, it’s handheld, and in typical Team Ninja fashion, is a showcase for just how capable the new 3DS hardware is at delivering an experience that (for the most part) matches it’s console counterpart.

Moments after booting the game up, you’re thrown right into the game’s Chronicle mode, and it’s exactly as it sounds, a retelling of the entire DOA saga that also serves as a tutorial mode. This is great for players new to the series, as it literally teaches the ins and outs of the fighting system in easy to understand portions between cutscenes. What it doesn’t do however, is make the conspiracy-laden drivel that is the DOA storyline any easier to understand. Ninjas are fighting corporate entities, Kung-Fu prodigies are at odds with capoiera practicing assassins, and the whole ordeal is just more enjoyable if you simply marvel at the 3D action scenes and soak in the brief fights punctuating it until its conclusion. Just one question, Team Ninja: Why the stop motion cutscenes with 3D models ala 2010’s Bayonetta? While I can understand maybe a lack of budget (or time) contributed to this, at least the latter game disguised the stylistic choice with a “film reel”look. Here it happens suddenly, randomly, and without warning. Newsflash: It was strange watching a full motion fight turn into a pantomime in its latter stages back in 2010, it still is now.

When you’re in control of the action however, are where the game really shows it’s teeth. DOA’s fast paced rock-paper-scissors gameplay has been translated fully intact to the 3DS, and it’s well-designed circle pad (or D-pad, depending on your preference) is a perfect fit with the game’s traditional 4 button setup. The common failing of most portable fighters is the explicit precision needed to pull off some of the more complex moves on a small controller, and its a problem not present here, as DOA has always been more about the moves thrown and keeping your opponent guessing than performing them. Taking a page from the SSF4: 3D handbook, the bottom screen plays host to a helpful movelist that changes dynamically with each button pressed, or if you’re more of an advanced player, you can set it to list attack properties and frame data(!!!). The counterbalance to this ease of offense is the counter system, and it’s back to the more intuitive (in my opinion) system of DOA3, eliminating the (unnecessary) kick hold for the better. Since it works with only three levels of attack this time around (high,mid,low), your reaction time while under attack can be much snappier, but of course, the same applies to your opponents.

Other modes include an Arcade mode that forgoes the usual structure for a number of bite sized “circuits” that can be played with any character, a perfect choice for a portable game. While you inexplicably can’t change the number of rounds, difficulty, or even damage dealt, each circuit offers up a different challenge, and a different boss fight at their conclusion. Survival mode is just as you’d expect, a gauntlet until you run out of life, and the new Tag Challenge mode offers the full on 2v2 tag experience, albeit one with a CPU controlled ally that performs better than expected (and tags in/out on cue), but isn’t truly a replacement for a human. Fortunately, the online mode is there to whet your appetite, and though it’s only limited to 1v1 battles, the connection holds up well via wi-fi, with only a hint of lag here and there. A ton (literally) of unlockable figurines are the centerpiece for a trio of modes where you can pose, photograph, and StreetPass battle them, but it’s a novelty at best, being unlikely to hold anyone’s attention for long.

----------------------------------The 3D Effect ------------------------------------------

Switching the game on, it’s almost impossible to ignore just how well done the 3D effect is. Hands and feet pop out of the screen, projectiles whiz dangerously close, and the camera somehow has a knack for playing up the added depth at every turn, highlighting players in the middle of combos and making the crash through a church window into the street below look that much more intense. However, it isn’t all paradise. Though it displays some of the best visuals on the 3DS thus far, the framerate has trouble holding with the slider up. While the fights themselves mimic Super Street Fighter 4 3D’s 30fps standard with the 3D turned on, intros and victory poses dip way below that, creating an odd visual disconnect that’s actually a bit distracting from the otherwise superb 3D presentation. Cutscenes in the game’s chronicle mode suffer this too, with dips marring the otherwise cool 3D action occurring on screen. All of this is remedied by turning the slider down, which locks the game’s visuals at a solid 60fps that looks too smooth to be true. Most people won’t mind, but visual sticklers will be at odds between having a smooth presentation or a “cool” one. At least it’s a decision you can make for yourself.

Far from a full fledged sequel but not quite a Dead or Alive 4: Turbo either, Dead or Alive:Dimensions may be the best entry the fighting series has seen yet. It features every character the franchise has ever seen, brings to the forefront an improved story mode that ties all of it together, and features a refined version of DOA4’s “ultimate” fighting engine. Best of all, it manages to do this on a portable system of all things, helping usher in the 3D era with a Team Ninja level of polish. It may not be the deepest experience you’ll have, but it’s one perfect for the system, and the sheer number of unlockables (in typical DOA fashion) ensure that if you are a fan of fighters, despite its flaws, there’s very little to hate here. Much like its predecessors, what we have here is a fast, flashy, yet accessible fighter that shows off the breakthrough hardware of the moment. After all, it’s what the Dead or Alive series is known for. Not a bad reputation to have, if you ask me.

Rating: 8.0

Oh, and I managed to go the whole review without the words “3D” and “boobs” in the same sentence.

..That didn’t count.

No comments:

Post a Comment