Dead or Alive: Dimensions' cast of impossibly proportioned females makes it all too easy to dismiss it as a form of mere titillation, rather than a serious fighting game. Yet underneath its busty exterior lie fast-paced 3D battles that eschew complex button combinations in favour of agile reversals and counterattacks. It's a battle system that's easy to pick up, and offers plenty of depth. There are a host of exciting new modes to play through too, all of which are wrapped up in great-looking visuals that take advantage of the 3DS's powerful hardware. While Dimensions is sullied by a story mode that’s more difficult to penetrate than a copy of War and Peace, and online play that's mired in lag, there's fun to be had in this slick and exciting fighting game.
While most fighting games shoehorn their storylines into their arcade modes, Dimensions tackles things differently, with an ambitious mode called Chronicle. It tells the story of the first four Dead or Alive tournaments via in-engine cutscenes and prerendered videos, which are split across five separate chapters and interspersed with one-on-one battles. Trying to make sense of the story is a nigh-on-impossible task, though. You're thrust into various characters' worlds, jumping between cutscenes that reference companies, villains, and mystical legends with little explanation. You might be having a conversation with one character, only to be randomly thrown into battle with another. It doesn't help that parts of the story are intentionally left out, supposedly to be filled in by subsequent chapters. Even when you reach the end of the narrative, though--complete with its laughably wooden voice acting--you're none the wiser.
What it lacks in coherent storytelling, Chronicle mode makes up for with a seamlessly integrated tutorial. Early bouts teach you the basics of fighting by displaying commands that light up when you hit the right buttons. The battle system is very simple, using just two attack buttons, plus one for block and one for throw. Because there are no complex directional inputs to learn, it's easy to chain together impressive-looking combos just by alternating between the two attack buttons and left or right on the circle pad or d-pad. While this might seem like a recipe for button-mashing mayhem, a deep counter and reversal system lets you stop would-be mashers in their tracks. If your opponents are spamming punches, you can grab their arms mid-punch and fling them into the air, or if they're too kick-happy, you can grab their legs and body-slam them into the ground. Deft timing is required to perform reversals, so there are always opportunities to launch attacks, and not just play defensively. By reading your opponents well and identifying breaks in their attacks, you can launch tactical reversals followed by devastating counter combos.
More tactical options are available by making use of Dimensions' many multilevel arenas, which are set across a range of beautiful-looking environments. Whether you're fighting in a blossom-filled garden, on a snowy mountaintop, or in the fiery depths of hell, you're treated to some impressively detailed visuals. Towards the edges of most arenas you can knock your opponents off using a well-timed combo, causing them to fall gracelessly to another beautiful area of the level and lose health. This, coupled with Dimensions' swift combos, reversals, and the ability to juggle your opponents in the air, results in a refined battle system that's fast and fluid and has tactical depth. If you're looking to refine your skills to take advantage of the system, a Training mode lets you battle against a dummy AI opponent, while an input display lets you know if you're pushing the right buttons. Also helpful is a dynamic command list, which is displayed on the bottom screen in all modes. It displays different combos and changes depending on what buttons you've pushed so far, making it easy to learn different moves.
Once you've completed Chronicle mode, there's still lots of content to play. Arcade mode is split into six different courses, starting on the easiest difficulty and moving up to the most challenging. Your goal is to complete them in the fastest time possible, setting an offline record for others to beat. Survival mode is similarly split up into rounds of increasing difficulty, along with an increasing number of fights to play through. These start at 10 fights moving all the way up to an epic 100 fights on True Fighter difficulty, which is a real test of your endurance and skill. If you're after something even more challenging, though, Tag Challenge is it. The difficulty is set to its highest from the start, with your opponents sporting swift reflexes and a knack for executing incredible combos. As the mode's title suggests, you're not alone in taking on your skilful adversaries. You enter each battle with an AI partner, whom you can swap places with to recharge your energy if you're on the ropes. Unfortunately, the tag switching mechanic is a little iffy, because your AI partner is free to enter the fight at any moment. While most of the time they join only when you're low on health, other times you might be in the middle of an epic combo only to have your partner randomly jump in and spoil it.
Oddly, there isn't any tag team play in Dimensions' multiplayer mode, so you're limited to standard one-on-one matches. You can play via local Wi-Fi or online, but sadly there isn't download play for friends without a copy of the game. Playing online is a simple process, mostly because there's little in the way of options. You can choose to play with friends, anyone within your region, or anyone across the world. Even if you stick to your own region, though, online play can be incredibly laggy, turning fights into stuttering slide shows where you're more likely to win because of dumb luck rather than your skill. There's little to keep you coming back to the online multiplayer, thanks to the lack of even a simple leaderboard to track your progress or a tournament mode. If you're fortunate enough to encounter other Dimensions players on your travels, their favourite character will be automatically transferred to your 3DS via StreetPass for you to fight and vice versa. This feels like little more than fighting against the AI, though, particularly since you gain nothing from winning the match.
Other modes are much more generous with their rewards, giving you new costumes and characters. You also receive virtual figurines, which you can view, pose, and take photos of in 2D or 3D. The figurines are based on characters you can play as, with favourites such as Kasumi, Ryu Hayabusa, and Hitomi all available for your posing needs. And like their moving counterparts, they look great, sporting the same detailed anime-style that the series is famed for. In motion, each fighter moves gracefully between combos with fluid actions. Land well-timed reversals or throws, and you're treated to sweeping camera angles and bright explosions that make them all the more satisfying. Dimensions also sports well-implemented 3D that's easy on the eye. Each arena feels huge, with details such as blossoming trees, fire-engulfed dungeons, and snowy mountain ranges stretching off into the distance. Using 3D does have a detrimental effect on the frame rate, though, knocking it down from a speedy 60 to 30 frames per second. Because Dimensions is so fast and fluid, the drop in speed is noticeable, so much so that you'll often want to play with the 3D off.
3D or not, Dimensions is a great-looking fighting game with heaps of content to explore. Its fighting system offers a unique and more accessible alternative to that of Super Street Fighter IV, while still giving advanced players plenty to dig into. Its limited online play and impenetrable story might deter those after a more complete fighting experience, but executing well-timed combos and knocking opponents off ledges to their doom is so much fun in Dead or Alive: Dimensions that you'll be too busy throwing punches to care.