Review: 3D Dot Game Heroes

Genre: Action/RPG

Platform: PlayStation 3

Developer: Silicon Studios

Price: $39.99 (USD)

I have a confession to make: growing up, I never played the Legend of Zelda games. My family didn’t have much money, so I didn’t always get all the games I wanted. Over the years, however, I was able to play each Zelda game released, from NES to handhelds to the current crop (minus Twilight Princess).

One of my favorites in the series was A Link To The Past, and it’s the memories of that particular game that fueled my nostalgia receptors when I first heard of developer Silicon Studios and publisher From Software’s 3D Dot Game Heroes. From the music, to the excellently realized visual aesthetic, the whole concept just transported me back to a younger, simpler time.

3D Dot Game Heroes is a great amalgamation of old school game play, and current generation technology, and I fell in love with it from the moment the game opens: In the kingdom of Dotnia, the King has decided that their old, 2D sprite ways were awfully outdated, and decreed that Dotnia Kingdom would reinvent itself in 3D. The transition was successful, if not quite what the King expected, as the world is now rendered in 3D blocks, instead of, say, polygons and bump-mapping.

All seems well until an evil force begins to plague the land, and our protagonist, the decendent of a Legendary Hero who once rid the land of the evil Dark King Onyx, is tasked with restoring peace to the kingdom and saving the day.

Players can choose from a wide variety of premade characters, such as a knight, or even a dog, or, they can spend some time with the character creation, and craft a hero of their own liking. Yours truly crafted his very own Moogle hero, but eventually settled on a version of Link. I generally try and stay original when it comes to character creation, but 3D Dot Game Heroes looks and feels so much like Zelda that I couldn’t help but play through the title as Link. Sorry Nintendo.

Once character creation is complete, the player is dropped into the shoes of their hero as he begins his quest, which revolve around traversing the increasingly dangerous landscape, and clearing a series of complex dungeons, complete with their own theme, puzzles, and difficult boss.

Game play is vintange Zelda. This is a compliment, not a criticism. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then I can’t help but think the developers at Silicon Studio were a bit in love with Shigeru Miyamoto and his Zelda series. Music, to sound effects, to the weapons all pay homage that classic series, as well as a few other notable games from the 8-bit era. The game is viewed from an isometric perspective, although there are few options to change the camera angle if the default is not to your liking.

Combat is simple, yet difficult. The hero can swing his sword with Square, and utilize special weapons like bombs and boomerangs with the Circle button. Blocking is handled via the shoulder button, and is crucial to much of your survival. The difficulty of this game can not be stressed enough. It’s not as hard as Demon’s Souls, but it has a decidedly old school design ethic, where patience and learning an enemie’s attack pattern is key to success.

A few things that set the game apart from Zelda is the unique weapon upgrade system, in which you can level up the length and width of your sword, as well as decide if you want it to fire a projectile when your health is full. There are other hidden swords in the game, each with their own plus and minuses. The player will also learn a few spells along his or her journey, that will aid in not only defeating foes, but solving some of the games tricky puzzles.

Outside of the main quest, there are a few side missions that flesh out the world, and it’s always fun to talk to the very self aware villagers, who either have something to say about the change from 2D to 3D, or make a sly reference to an old school game. That tongue in cheek humor purmeates the entire game, and as a child of the 80’s I can’t say how much I grinned like an idiot when talking to NPCs, or realizing what game the over 100 loading screen images are spoofing (I recommend leaving loading screens on in the options menu, as the screens spoof everything from Castlevania to Final Fantasy to Super Mario Bros).

As stated before, the graphics are 3D, but create objects and characters with small 3D blocks (often called voxels). When an enemy (or player character) is defeated, they will explode in a shower of tiny blocks. There are some impressive lighting and post processing effects that make the game look as if you are playing on a gigantic model kit, and the environments are lush and colorful. Audio is top notch, as the musical score is sure to delight many old time gamers, as are many of the sound effects, which sound ripped straight from 80’s gaming.

VERDICT: BUY – If you are an old school gamer that has even just a bit of nostalgia for a bygone era, this title is sure to tickle you with it’s unique presentation, tongue in cheek humor, and old school game design. Newer gamers that didn’t get to experience that era of gaming can give this game a whirl if they want to experience old school game design, with an updated presentation. The Zelda game play template still holds up today, and the value price for this title makes it hard to pass up. I highly recommend this endearing title to old school and new school gamers alike.

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