No joke: there has been, on average, at least one rerelease of a retro title (Lunar, Final Fight, Perfect Dark) or release of an '80s throwback (Mega Man 10, Cave Story on WiiWare) each week for the past two months. Retro is starting to get pretty… dare we say it? Old. And even though it’s been proven time and again that gamers in their mid-20s are far more nostalgic than they should be, we’re starting to get worn out by the constant deluge of rehashes and knowing winks that get thrown at us. But just when we thought we’d had enough, 3D Dot Game Heroes reminded us that even something as seemingly worn out as NES nostalgia can still be fun and even fresh from the right perspective.
Nintendo should be proud (or perhaps planning to sue)
OK, we’ll start with the obvious: this game is very nearly a remake of the first Legend of Zelda. It has all the core parts of a Zelda, starting with the plot. You walk across the realm of Dotina (which recently shifted from 2d to 3d in an attempt to be more popular with tourists) at the behest of the King to find the lost princess and seal away the evil master once more. You have to explore six dungeons, each trickier than the last, and collect magical orbs in preparation for a final, climactic boss fight.
Above: There's "not-Ganon" wickedly plotting
Above: They got the HUD perfect
Above: Even the menu was spot on
True, lots of games follow comparable plotlines, but it plays like Zelda, too. The main character moves the same way as Link, many of the enemies operate the same – octopus-looking enemies pop out of the water and spit things at you, just like Octoroks - you get secondary items in the same order (boomerang always comes first) and the camera scrolls around one “screen” at a time, too. It’s all so familiar, but in a really good way, because as much as it feels like a classic Nintendo game, it’s the kind of game that Nintendo wouldn’t make now. Instead, it takes a band of outsiders to revisit that classic structure and reconstruct it using their obvious love for the Zelda series, particularly for the first game.
Above: The Water... sorry, Aqua Temple is a bitch in this game too
Playing the game, for those familiar with the source, is like hearing one of your favorite current bands covering a hit from two decades ago with new style and energy. The game has tons of appeal to the millions of gamers out there that grew up with the NES and played the shit out of the first Zelda. There are a lot of moments during which you’ll catch yourself saying, “here’s the forest puzzle, just like in Zelda,” or, “oh man, as I climb the mountain to get to this dungeon, rocks are falling at me, just like in Zelda!” It’s like playing a lost Zelda sequel, but with a few bits added to make it more interesting.
So old, nostalgic losers like the staff of GR are guaranteed to love the gameplay. But what else has it got?
Building on the foundation
Why play 3D Dot Game Heroes instead of warming up your NES or downloading the original Zelda on Wii’s virtual console? First of all, despite the 8-bit look of the graphics, there’s real, visible effort that went into to making the world and people in Dotina. It’s pretty funny to see the developer, From Software, using the power of the PS3 to make what’s essentially an NES game, while Nintendo pushes the underpowered Wii with all its might just to have the newest Zelda games keep up with current-gen productions.
Above: When you look this close you can see all the work on display
Also, don’t be fooled by the simplicity of the gameplay; as familiar as it is, it brings a lot of welcome additions. In case you don’t recall, the original Zelda wasn’t very clear on what you needed to do and where you needed to go. That opaqueness was part of the fun and is quaint now, but thankfully, 3D Dot takes it a little easier on players of today. There’s a much clearer map, and the NPCs give much better directions, as they aren’t hampered by message-size limits and shoddy translations. Plus, very early on, you have access to a warping item that can easily move you from town to town and cuts down on what would otherwise be a lot of boring backtracking.
There’s also a great leveling system for your primary weapon, a ginormous extending sword. The blacksmith can increase its damage, length and width (among other things) for a fee. But you’ll find a lot of other swords later on, and each one has only so much potential for growth, so be careful not to spend all your money on your starter sword. The only real problem with the sword leveling is that the power-ups are only available when you’re at full health; take even half an apple of damage (apples replace hearts in 3D Dot) and your sword is back to normal size. The difference that makes is huge, especially in later dungeons where health-replenishing drops are infrequent, and oftentimes, if we took damage real early in a monster pit, it was faster to just commit suicide and start over with full health rather than waste potions or keep going with our weakened sword.
Above: Girth and length - a dangerous combo
Even with all these changes, 3D Dot can get nearly as unforgiving as the classic it’s based on. Die in a dungeon, and you go back to its beginning, though at least you get to keep the progress you made before death. And woe be to those who don’t stock up on healing potions before diving in; if you run out, you’re left with the tough decision of either toughing out the dungeon with a powered-down sword or warping to the nearest town, buying potions and walking all the way back to the dungeon.
Playing to the crowd
That’s perhaps the biggest difference between this and the original Zelda: 3D Dot Game Heroes is pretty self-aware, and knows what audience it’s directed at. The game is filled with winks, nods and references to classic NES games aside from Zelda. We could fill a whole feature listing them (now there’s an idea), but let’s just say that the Dragon Quest/Warrior references alone in this game were everywhere, and always got a chuckle from the DQ-fanboy reviewer.
Above: Could you tell this was the Dragon Warrior box art? Congrats, you're nerdy enough to play this game
There are tons of jokes scattered around, both visually and through dialogue, and these come so fast and frequently that if you miss one, another will be coming soon enough. And fortunately, the localization team for publisher Atlus knows their stuff when it comes to classic lines from NES titles of yore. Whether it’s “a secret to everyone,” or “dangerous to go alone,” lots of care was taken on our side of the pacific to translate the retro flavor for the US player.
But just like the rest of the game, what you get out of these references is determined by how much love you feel for classic games. If you’re a huge NES fanboy and know the path through the Lost Woods like the back of your hand, then this game is perfect for you. Conversely, if you have no nostalgia or respect for old games, all the clever jokes will be lost on you, and 3D Dot will only come off as a kind-of-fun game that is needlessly archaic.
That’s the heart of it, really. Any type player will probably have fun with 3D Dot, but at the very least you’ll need to be familiar with the source material, or else so much of what the game does so well will be completely lost on you. Otherwise, you probably don’t have the time or inclination to play through thousands of hours of ancient games just to understand what’s awesome about this one.
Above: Does this image make you feel nothing? You probably shouldn't buy this game then
If you’ve read this far, however, odds are you knew if this was your type of game just by looking at the first screens, and are extremely happy that this title found a US publisher. If so, this game is perfect for you and you should get it right now, especially considering it launches at the “value” price of $40. (Remember when that was the normal price?) But if you’re a crusty old gamer, , 3D Dot would totally be worth it even without the retro price tag.
Is it better than…
Retro Game Challenge? Yeah, but it’s pretty close. RGC was a broader celebration of NES love, but the games included ranged from amazing to repetitive. 3D Dot has a more specific direction, and it hits those beats perfectly.
Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks? Depends on whether you want a Zelda that’s purposely stuck in the past and filled with jokes, or one that plays similarly to the classics, but reflects all the changes gaming has gone through since. Also, if you’re a Zelda fanboy, you’ve probably already finished Spirit Tracks game anyway and are ready for something new/old.
Legend of Zelda? What? Of course not! It’s hard to beat the original with a copy, but if you’ve played the first one into the ground, or would like to play it again but filled with new twists and surprises, why not buy this instead of downloading it on the Wii and playing it for the 15th time?
Just for you, Metacritic!
Though 3D Dot Game Heroes is a fun game on its own, it’s impossible to divorce it from the games it parodies. Your overall enjoyment will depend on whether you’re in on the joke or not. But if you do “get it,” then it’s the perfect game for the nostalgic fan looking for another taste of their childhood while getting a few good laughs at the same time.
Apr 19, 2010