Team Ninja’s Dead Or Alive series has played a specific role in the videogame canon over the past 15 years: It’s the boobie fighter. Even when the game was brand new in 1996, it didn’t matter that it was a 3-D fighter with solid one-on-one fundamentals that were accessible and differentiated from those in Virtua Fighter and Tekken. What mattered was that the lady combatants’ polygonal mammary glands swayed with the wild buoyancy of half-inflated beach balls trapped on a tilt-a-whirl. But the landscape has changed in the six years between Dead Or Alive 4 and Dead Or Alive: Dimensions. Compared to newer fighters like Soul Calibur IV, Mortal Kombat, and even Super Street Fighter IV, what once made Dead Or Alive distractingly lascivious is now commonplace. All fighting games are filled with wild boobs nowadays. The Dimensions subtitle isn’t a creepy pun; it really is just a reference to the Nintendo 3DS’ marquee technology. So with the game stripped of its unique identity, what remains?
A perfectly cromulent fighting game, actually. Its take on brawling uses the Triangle System: You have punch, kick, throw, and hold buttons. Punches and kicks are strikes, which take priority over throws. Throws take priority over holds, while holds overpower strikes. This simple structure is the foundation for fast, balanced fisticuffs. Fights that are seemingly over can turn around on a dime when a hold is injected into an opponent’s punch combo. The speed and simplicity of the fights make it entertaining and inviting to beginners, and since Dimensions relies less on the quarter-circle-style rolling-joystick inputs that Street Fighter favors, it’s a slightly more inviting 3DS option for fighting-game enthusiasts.
Dimensions uses its principal single-player mode to teach basic and advanced techniques alike, but it stumbles in its execution. The five chapters that recap the entire series—a hallucinatory, nonsensical screed about an evil corporation trying to make extradimensional super-clones of sexy ninja siblings—preface most fights with interactive instructions on how to play, from throwing a single punch to stringing together combos that end with crazy acrobatics. There are two problems, though. First, no opponent is challenging enough to necessitate the more complex maneuvers. Second, the game has you sit through Team Ninja’s long, batshit cutscenes between fights, making move retention even more frustrating. (Sure, you can skip them, but then you’re just playing a jittery tutorial.)
Dimensions’ other single-player options, including difficulty-tiered arcade, AI tag team, survival modes, and special downloadable fights, among others, are varied, though not nearly as deep or entertaining as those in the new Mortal Kombat. Dimensions also features a bare-bones online vs. mode and local play. It’s a solid package all around, and one that has, for the most part, escaped the troubling sexism that defined earlier entries. There’s no morality at work here. Dimensions’ bosomy action-figure characters are as devoid of moral perspective as a box of Legos with circles drawn on them. Like Legos, though, they’re fun to play with.