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Review: 3D Dot Game Heroes
Developer: Silicon Studio - Publisher: Atlus - Platform: Playstation 3 - Release Date: May 11, 2010
Concept: Write a giant love letter to The Legend of Zelda while adding some new twists that gives PS3 owners a taste of Nintendo's best
Graphics: Blocky (in a good way), clean, and colorful. Seeing objects explode into bits never gets old and the purposely stilted animations are a nice touch. The light reflected by the water is blindingly bright, though
Sound: The apt soundtrack manages to evoke feelings of nostalgia despite being contemporary
Playability: Moving with the more precise d-pad is actually preferred over the somewhat loose analog and quick-selecting items is a huge convenience
Entertainment: It doesn't top Zelda, but 3D Dot Game Heroes is a fun and amusing tribute to one of gaming's greatest franchises
Replay Value: High
The Legend of Zelda is arguably the most influential game of all time, and as such, several tributes have been made to it, but none quite like 3D Dot Game Heroes. By converting the retro 8-bit style into full 3D, Silicon Studio has helped refreshed the aging Zelda template. While Game Heroes doesn't surpass Shigeru Miyamoto's masterpiece, it's a great shout-out to one of the gaming's finest.
The setup will sound familiar to fans of Nintendo's premier adventurer. Ages ago, a legendary hero wielding a powerful, battled a powerful darkness. With the help of six sages and their power orbs, they sealed the evil inside of another orb, bringing about an era of peace. Years later, an dark bishop has stolen the orb, ushering a new era of darkness. As the new chosen hero, it's up to you and your fairy sidekick to collect the orbs of the six sages and prevent the dark bishop from releasing the great evil once again.
The kingdom of Dotnia once existed on a 2D plane until the King ordered that everything be switched to 3D in order to stay up-to-date. The fourth wall is broken like this consistently and the humor pokes fun at genre conventions and game development in general. Dotnia is split into the standard grass, forest, desert, and mountain zones, with towns sprinkled about. Towns are littered with side quests and activities. Fetch-quests in the vein of Link's Awakening, comprise most of them; bring a cook book to an aspiring chef, and she'll give you an item that a boy in another village requires, and so on. Other quests, such as finding a missing princess, are much more involved. Inns offer a few mini-games, such as tower defense, that provide limited fun at best but reward players with rare loot.
Dungeons are basically a medley of Zelda staples, for better or worse. Classic elements like block puzzles, conveyor floors, and more are all present. Collecting dungeon maps, compasses, and unique items is still the name of the game. In addition to standard and boss keys, special multi-colored keys mix things up by only opening corresponding doors (red key to red door, etc). These keys are somewhat rare, and you'll likely make return trips to previous dungeons to unlock their doors and the goodies behind them. Dungeons are designed exceptionally well and are enjoyable to explore overall, but some annoying elements of the past rear their ugly heads.
I've never been a big fan of starting at the beginning of a dungeon after dying or quitting, and it becomes a huge pain in the later, larger dungeons, particularly the switch-block one. Zelda uses mid-dungeon warp zones to alleviate this annoyance, but Game Heroes has traded them for end-dungeon versions. That means you'll have to complete the entire maze before being allowed to fast-travel to the start (unless you have an item that lets you). In terms of appearance, dungeons are painfully bland and too identical to each other, with the only real difference between them being their hue.
In 2D Zelda games, the Master Sword usually fires beams when Link is at full health. Silicon Studios took that idea, but instead of shooting lasers, your blade grows gigantic. Cutting down everything in sight with such a huge sword is overwhelmingly satisfying, which makes taking hits feel all the more deflating. Sword stats, such as the power, height and length, can be upgraded at town shops. Play your cards right, and an almost screen-filling blade could be yours. There are a plethora of cool swords to collect and some are as absurd as they are awesome. Two of the more bizarre weapons I got were a lightsaber and, I kid you not, a giant, realistic, fish.
Other indispensable items like bombs, the hookshot, and dash boots appear as well. What's really great is that frequently used items can be assigned to a quick-select inventory, accessed via the shoulder buttons, for on-the-fly swapping. This drastically reduces the need to pause the game for inventory checks and keeps you in the action. Enemies are humorous doppelgangers of Link's rogue gallery and I loved blasting them into literal bits. The huge boss battles provide a great challenge and require as much patience as skill.
One of the Game Heroes' more original features is the character creation. Creative players can craft any 8-bit hero they desire, from warriors, creatures, to favorite characters (creating Link is practically a must). If you'd rather not bother, there's an entire roster of ready-made characters that range from awesome, to hilarious, to straight up odd (Santa Claus is a character).
Despite it's shortcomings, I had a hard time putting Game Heroes down. It captures the Zelda-formula excellently and by injecting it's unique brand of humor and features like the character creation, it exemplifies the potential for innovation in this style, if only a little. Zelda fans will find plenty to love here. Sony players that have never touched a Nintendo console should take a look to see why these types of games are so celebrated.