Review: 3D Dot Heroes
I need to start this review off with a confession: I’ve never actually beaten a Zelda game. I know, I know, you can stop your booing and hissing and declarations to strip me of my gamer cred. I’ve had the opportunities and the chances over the years to play them; hell, Ocarina of Time is sitting on my Wii at this very minute. I just never got around to it.
However, after playing through 3D Dot Game Heroes, I guess I can now say I played the original Legend of Zelda for the NES, in spirit anyway. Atlus’s new adventure game nearly identically copies the gameplay from the presentation, but adds on a few innovative improvements and a sterling upgrade to the graphics.
Plotwise, 3D Dot Game Heroes offers nothing new. The game follows a nameless hero (players are able to both name and design their character or choose from a group of pre-designed avatars, including Santa!) as he journeys through the Dotnia Kingdom to rid the land of a dark plague causing large monsters to appear. As you progress through the game, you must acquire the six orbs of light that must be combined in order to rid the land of evil. The orbs are strewn throughout the kingdom in different caves and dungeons; each temple has a standard characteristic, such as ice, fire, wind, water, etc. After you defeat the boss in a temple, you then move on to the next temple until you’ve acquired all six orbs. The game also has a princess and evil dark lord that must be fought, but c’mon people, you know the drill.
While 3D Dot Game Heroes feels, well, just a bit too familiar for gamers who grew up with 8-bit systems, that’s where the charm of the game shines. Developer Silicon Studios not only managed to capture the 8-bit-styled gameplay of yesteryear, they also managed to bring back a flood of nostalgic memories from my old NES days. The developers created the game with a winking nod to the Legend of Zelda and games of its ilk; when you start the game, the kingdom of Dotnia is presented in a bland 2D until the king, after hearing of declining tourism, orders the kingdom to be upgraded to 3D, creating a beautifully retro 2D style in a 3D environment. Nearly everything in the environment, from characters to buildings to enemies, are textured as 3D blocks; think pretty much what a LEGO Zelda would look like and you’ve got the right idea. Even the music and sound effects are fantastic, eschewing so closely to Koji Kondo’s score that you would’ve swore it’s a lost track from 1986.
However, anybody expecting a deeper sense of gameplay more akin to the later games of the Zelda series will be sorely disappointed. Players walk around the main world and are equipped with the standard sword and shield combo, except this time when at full health, your sword extends nearly the full length of the screen. As you progress, you’re able to lengthen the size of the sword and increase its power for when the sword is elongated. You’re also given items such as boomerangs, arrows, and bombs, and if you’ve ever played the original Zelda, you know what to do. Combat is simplistic in that you mostly just wander around at enemies swinging your sword, though an improvement over the original Zelda’s combat system is the ability to swing your sword in a circular attack. This makes attacking enemies a lot easier when sometimes your field of depth is obscured by the angle of the camera.
I must say, though, the game proved to be unnecessarily difficult at times. I thought the final dungeon itself was going to be difficult at first, but I spent about an hour trying to access the final dungeon without a key item that I was given no rhyme or reason to obtain. I would say I spent nearly 5 hours on the final dungeon alone, probably about a quarter of my gametime. Sure, I appreciate the developer maintaining some respect for the “old-school” style of gaming, but throw the modern gamer a frickin’ bone here. Around the halfway point enemies are nearly too powerful and confusing direction leads to a lot of time wasting. Seriously, when the game doesn’t tell you you need a key item in order to get to the boss and not die by the terrain, you know you have a problem.
Overall, I would say that despite its challenges, 3D Dot Game Heroes was an inspiring throwback to old-school gaming, a long-forgotten NES game dressed up in unique style and stellar graphics. The gameplay, while offering nothing special, brought back a flood of memories, both good and bad, from back when I was a kid. For RPG enthusiasts and retro aficionados, you really can’t go wrong with 3D Dot Game Heroes. Just don’t blow on it like an old Nintendo cartridge.