3D Dot Game Heroes (PS3) Review

Game: 3D Dot Game Heroes
Developer: Sillicon Studio
Publisher: Atlus
Players: 1
Genre: Action/RPG
Rated E10+

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.

148535-dotgamev.jpg

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!

3d-dot-main.jpg

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.

3ddot1

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.

3d_dot_game_heroes_editor.jpg

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.

PROS:

– 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

CONS:

– 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

 

 

Final Score: 8.1/10

Batman: Arkham City (PS3) Review

Game: Batman: Arkham City
Developer: Rocksteady
Publisher: Warner Bros.
Players: 1
Genre: Action/Adventure
Rated T for Teen

 Batman: Arkham Asylum was one of the biggest surprises in recent memory. It was a great game that offered a fine mix of engaging combat, exploration, puzzle solving and storytelling, neatly wrapped under a fantastic comic book plot and the best characterization of the Dark Knight ever captured in video game format. When the sequel was announced I felt mixed emotions; excitement of course, but also fear that the game wouldn’t live up to the hype or the standard set by the original. Well, Arkham City is here and not only does it live up to the hype, it shatters them and sets a higher bar for future titles.

While the original game felt more like a Metroid or Castlevania title (a confined space in which you opened up new areas by backtracking after acquiring certain gadgets and skills) the sequel is much more open. From the beginning pretty much every area is accessible and the size of it is tremendous. Flying around from rooftop to rooftop using your cape and batclaw is a breeze and there is always something around the next corner to catch your attention, whether that’s a group of thugs in need of a beating or a riddler trophy begging to be captured.

batman-arkham-city-achievements-and-trophies-guide-screenshot-640x325.jpg

Without going into lots of spoilers, the plot follows the events of the first game. Quincy Sharp is now the mayor and he decides to build a super prison in North Gotham to house all the inmates under deplorable conditions. Basically they are allowed to do as they please, food is scarce and none other than Hugo Strange is in charge. Strange knows Batman’s secret identity. Bruce Wayne is arrested after speaking against the prison and that’s how the adventure begins. Of course, there is a lot going on, some of it hinted at by trailers (such as the Joker being sick after his experience with Titan) and a lot more that will surprise fans. Major characters like Penguin and Two-Face show up for the first time while others like Bane and Poison Ivy return from the original. Oh yeah and Catwoman has her own (rather short) story and is a fully developed playable character, complete with unique moves and gadgets.

The combat is as satisfying as it was on the original, with several added wrinkles, including new quick fire gadgets, the ability to counter two or three enemies at once and several new takedowns. Just like in the first game, combat is both fast and beautiful, as you move from area to area delivering hits and escaping certain doom. It’s a violent ballet of movement and bone-crunching hits and mastering it makes you feel invincible. Nothing says “superhero” like flawlessly disposing of a dozen goons.

6-batman-arkham-city-screenshots.jpg

The other “action” portion involves the “Predator” areas in which you need to stealthily dispose of armed thugs. Combining silent takedowns, glide kicks and gadgets to terrorize the armed goons and make THEM feel like they are the unarmed ones is satisfying, although later sections are challenging with thugs that can use a special gadget to jam your predator vision or see you even in darkened areas.

Talking about Predator-vision, it is as useful as it has always been, but thankfully not as necessary as it was in the first game, allowing you to truly enjoy the environments

Once you are done with the main story there is still plenty left to do. There are half a dozen side missions that feature apperances by classic villains and a whooping 400 “Riddler Challenges” that are a mix of trophies, combat/predator feats and destroying certain environmental objects. The trophies range from easy to challenging and they are mostly very clever, requiring puzzle solving skills, exploration and practice. Contrary to the first game’s trophies, the ones in Arkham City are fun to get and became a favorite part of mine. Besides these goals you also unlock a New Game+ that allows you to keep the gadgets and trophies you have already acquired over the course of the original playthrough. New Game+ ramps up the challenge and even makes some changes to the game’s ending, making it worth playing.

Then we have the challenge maps that come in both, combat and predator variants. They come accompanied by medals to unlock, usually by disposing of thugs in a certain way (predator maps) or meeting certain scores (combat maps). They are a nice diversion and can become addictive.

b02.jpg

The graphics are fantastic, with detail character models and well-designed environments. The animations (especially the bone crunching takedowns) are a treat. Sure, the game relies a lot on dark colors, but nobody in their right mind expects Batman to be colorful. The sound fits the mood perfectly with a lot of spoken dialogue (all of it good or great), the discharge of guns and the wails of pain of the “thugs” you manhandle. Important characters like Batman and Joker stand out over lesser ones, but they all sound great.

But no game is perfect and neither is this one. I have spotted graphical deficiencies like slow-down and jerky animations, but they are not frequent. The story also felt a little convoluted, with the appearance of certain characters nothing more than a cameo, but in a game filled with so many characters that was bound to happen.

batman-arkham-city-new-screens.jpg

Despite a few mishaps, Batman is as close to perfect a game I have played in years. Even when other big hitters like Uncharted 3 and Battlefield 3 came out I have been unable to put the Dark Knight’s game down. If you are even remotely interested in the fiction, give this game a try and prepare to have your mind blown!

 

Final Score: 9.5/10