Note - due to vision issues, I won’t be able to review the 3D capabilities of any 3DS games.
The DOA series started out as an underrated 3D fighting game during the height of the VF/Tekken war and then exploded with DOA 2 on the Dreamcast before carving a niche out for itself on the Xbox by delivering not only fantastic fighting action, but the finest fan service of its day in both the fighting and volleyball realms. DOA 4 hit the 360 years ago and while it was technically fine, it didn’t really evolve things much past DOA 3 and was super-difficult to boot. Now, after a hiatus of over five years, the series is back in fighting form and making its Nintendo and portable system debut. After experiencing portable incarnations of the Tekken series and the 3DS’s own Super Street Fighter IV, how well does Dimensions hold up?
The answer is surprisingly well in every way. The top screen gives you the usual 3D fighting the series is known for. DOAD plays exactly like one would expect a DOA to play, with nothing major lost in the transition. The controls are responsive and the button layout is great too. Both the d-pad and analog pad work well, although I find the d-pad works better for special move inputs and the analog one works better for moving around the stage. Speaking of those, their interactivity has held up very well in DOAD. While the effects for things like railings smashing and snow falling as you (or you foe) go sailing down a snowy hill aren’t as nice as the console versions, their high level of interactivity is impressive enough on a console, and really shines on a portable. It’s one of my favorite things about the series as a whole since it helps it stand out as a game and not just a T&A exhibition, and the thrill of doing a throw into a wall never gets old. Especially when that wall happens to be electrified - THAT rules.
DOAD’s mode selection is pretty robust when compared to any fighting game, let alone portable ones. Beyond the usual arcade, survival, and time trial modes, there’s also a “chronicle” mode that explains the storylines behind the characters, their relation to each other, and acts as a training mode as well. Since it takes you through all four DOA tournaments and forces you to play as multiple characters, it really works great as a learning tool and is worth going through just for that. As a story…yeah…the DOA storylines, and to be fair, those of just about any fighting game, aren’t known for being super-compelling, and that holds true here. It’s campy fun though, so I’d say it works really well as a teaching tool and if the silliness really bothers players, the story scenes can simply be skipped.
The arcade mode is notable for giving you multiple paths to take that vary in difficulty and opponents, with the easiest path being perfect for a quick play session as you can go through it in just a few minutes, and the later ones being better-suited for longer sessions since you’ll definitely have to retry some of the fights. Online play is done really well, with connections being pretty smooth across my games against folks in North America, and just a bit too laggy when I fought players in Japan. The StreetPass feature is used to not only unlock action figures ala SSF IV 3D, but also allows you to fight ghosts based on the players’ style that you’ve passed by. The use of the 3DS hardware is tremendous here, and the ghost data combined with online play really help ensure that the game has a lot of substantial replay value beyond the seemingly (and possibly literally) hundreds of unlockable items.
DOAD’s use of the bottom screen strives to do more than SSF IV’s four-move setup by including a clickable robust moveset across the screen which allows you to theoretically just tap and do a move, but realistically, things don’t work out so smoothly. With a fast-paced game like DOA, you can’t take your attention away from the game that’s going on most of the time - sure, if you’re sending someone down one of the breakable parts of the stage, you can do it for a second, but that’s not much time. It certainly doesn’t give you much time to actually read the cluttered bottom screen and tap it to do moves on a regular basis. Now, on the easiest settings, sure, you can avoid things like blocking at the right time and using the 3D gameplay to actually avoid attacks, but in anything at normal or beyond, using the bottom screen for attacks is simply impractical. It makes for a nice listing of a moveset without having to pause, but that’s about it. As a learning tool, it works - you’ll probably at least learn some new attacks because you see them listed and have their commands fresh in your mind, but beyond that, don’t expect to get much use out of the feature.
While this may not be the best-looking entry in the series, it’s impressive for a portable game. I’d say the character models are about on par with the original Xbox offerings, while the backgrounds are somewhere between the DC and Xbox games as far as detail. In a nice little touch, you can move the dual cameras around before matches to view the stages as if you were actually there. As a whole, it looks more impressive than the PSP Tekkens, but isn’t quite as jaw-dropping as SSF IV 3D, which has better character models, but inferior static backgrounds.
DOA’s audio has never been it’s strongest point, and that holds true with Dimensions. The audio isn’t bad, it just isn’t stuff you absolutely need to hear. The voice work varies from okay to goofy due to some overacting, while the music is perfectly fine and covers a variety of genres, but isn’t something you’ll likely want to listen to after playing. It accomplishes the goal of giving you decent music to beat people up to, but that’s about it. The sound effects while beating people are great though - punches and kicks have some oomph behind them and the sound of a rival rolling down a hill is always a welcome one to the ears - especially when they land with a giant thud.
DOA Dimensions is a fantastic entry in the series and a must-have for someone craving a portable fighting game. If you’ve ever even slightly enjoyed the series, you will get your money’s worth out of this game - the core gameplay is as good as ever, and while the touch screen usage isn’t perfect, you are able to play using the usual d-pad/button setup, so the game isn‘t hurt too badly by it. The whole experience is setup marvelously - if you want something time-consuming, there’s chronicle mode, while the online and arcade modes are perfect for faster play sessions. The DOA series’ hibernation is over, and thanks to it, the 3DS has yet another great fighting game on its roster, and the most impressive 3D one yet on a portable system. As much as I loved the Tekken PSP games, this trounces them as an overall package.