Game: 3D Dot Game Heroes
Developer: Sillicon Studio
What do you get when you mix Lego-style characters and environments with old-school Zelda gameplay? You get 3D Dot Game Heroes for the Playstation 3, one of the quirkiest, most amusing and fun games you will play this year. Atlus has ripped off everything that made the early Legend of Zelda titles (we are talking NES and SNES here), added a ton of humor and charm and thrown in some blocky aesthetics to create a game that will make old-school gamers feel right at home.
The premise of 3D Dot Game Heroes is as much homage as a parody. Back in the days of 2D a hero saved the Kingdom of Dotnia from great evil. So great was this hero and his story that Dotnia became a “tourist paradise”, so to speak. But soon the people stopped coming and the king had to come up with something to make Dotnia worth visiting again. So, unleashing his Kingly powers (“Because I am the mighty King of Dotnia, YEAH!”) he transformed the world and a new era of 3D began. But with 3D came evil and now a descendant of the legendary hero steps up to the plate with the goal of recovering some orbs that went missing, rescuing the missing princess (wow, everything is missing!) and stop ultimate evil.
If you have played any of the old-school Zelda games, then you know the drill. You walk through an over world and inside multi-level dungeons killing enemies, solving simple puzzles, hacking grass to pieces and beating a big bad boss at the end. Instead of a life bar composed of hearts, we get apples. But most of the key “Zelda” items are here: Boomerang, Bow, Bombs and even the Hook shot, called the “Force Rod” in this game. The puzzles you will find are also very Zelda-like: moving statues, pressing switches, using the bow or the boomerang to hit far away objects, bombing walls to uncover secrets and of course, traversing from side to side with the hook shot as quickly as possible. Not to mention falling down broken tiles to reach new areas below. You will need candles to light dark places, find empty bottles that can be filled with potions and get access to several magic spells after you obtain the orbs.
However, 3D Dot Game Heroes stands out because of the aesthetic and the crazy giant swords. Yes, it is possible to upgrade your sword in such areas as Power, Length and Width and some of them can get special attacks like a spin attack and beams. If you have a full health bar the sword will stretch out all over the screen and if you add Pierce it will even go through objects. There are many swords to collect: some can be found in hidden places and others need to be acquired by trading Small Blocks to a specific character. Some of them are even gifts from people. Most of them look alike, but some of the more unique “swords” include a baseball bat and a huge fish!
The graphics also set the game apart. Everything looks like it was made of Lego or “dots”, which is why the game is called 3D DOT Game Heroes in the first place. But why dots? Because in the days of 2D sprites if you zoomed in dramatically you will see everything in “pixels” that looked like dots. So in order to keep the “old-school” tradition, everything is made of dots. I have to say that it is both a blessing and a curse. Although the aesthetic is charming and looks good there is no doubt in my mind that the game would have looked much better with polygons. It is not an ugly game by any means, just different. The game even allows you to create your very own hero in a simple editor program that allows you to put dots together in a 3D plane. So you are not stuck with the dozens of pre-made heroes (raging from warriors to dwarfs to samurais) and you can easily play as a giant tree, a tank or a simple stick figure that looks like it came out of Game & Watch. Better yet, you can switch heroes every time you load the game up so you can always play with someone different.
The sound is a solid collection of old-school, 2D-ish sound effects with music that seems like it was ripped out of Zelda. I swear that if I closed my eyes and just listened to the music I would picture myself walking in Hyrule. Keeping the old-school tradition also means zero voice acting….everything is in text.
The difficulty is a mixed bag. Sure, the game is easier than The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, but it is also harder than most of today’s games. It can be pretty inconsistent as well. For example, traversing one area with full health and giant sword can be easy, but lose even half an apple (and thus, lose the giant sword) and that same area can be hell. The same applies to the bosses, since some of the earlier bosses can be quite hard and the second-to-last boss was a complete joke. Still, I found the game to be an adequate challenge: not as punishing as some of yesterday’s games, but not as easy as some of today’s games. Giant sword or not, 3D Dot Game Heroes does nothing to hold your hand: sure, there is always a flashing dot on the map that indicates where is the next dungeon you need to tackle, but how you get there (or even how to get there!) is all up to you to find out. Plus, there are so many side quests and hidden areas that it is easy to get sidetracked.
The game also has a bunch of funny references to other games, including Zelda, Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Pokemon and even Demon’s Souls, which is also an Atlus game. I won’t spoil them here but there are so many of them that I guarantee that some of them will go over your heads and you will scramble to the internet to seek out what game they are referencing. The trophies are going to be hard to get since you need to beat the game 3 times to get 100%, including once on From Difficulty (harder) and one in Spelunker Mode (you die after one hit!) that are sure to frustrate players. You also need to ace each mini-game in order to get enough Small Blocks to get every sword and these mini-games are insanely hard. They range from a racing competition (using the dash boots) to a tower defense game, but the times you need to beat are sometimes absurd and only the most dedicated and hardcore players will endure the frustration.
If you are an old-school gamer, someone itching for a challenge or someone looking for something that resembles Zelda on the PS3, 3D Dot Game Heroes is the game for you. The game can be challenging and sometimes frustrating, but there is no doubt that it is fun, charming and a great experience. 3D Dot Game Heroes is a prime example that you don’t need a budget in the dozens of millions of dollars to put together a great game.
– Captures old-school Zelda to perfection
– Character editor is easy to use
– Plenty of replay value
– Tons of references to old-school games
– Challenging difficulty without being extreme
– Dot-based graphics are not for everyone
– Inconsistent boss difficulty
– Difficulty can frustrate players that like games to hold your hand
– Absurdly hard mini-games
– No voice acting