There is a question that has been plaguing our minds ever since we started playing 3D Dot Game Heroes: what constitutes as homage and what is actually theft? As harsh as this may sound, after playing through the game, we cannot whole-heartedly say whether it stole all its ideas from the games of our youth, or it’s cutely playing homage to the classics. The good news is that even if the game is ripping-off the likes of Zelda, it’s a heck of a lot of fun to play. It’s simplistic, adorable, and full of retro-goodness that’s all wrapped up in a swanky HD package on PlayStation 3.
3D Dot Game Heroes is a PlayStation 3 exclusive action-adventure game heading to North America and Europe in May. Developed by Silicon Studio, the game was originally released in Japan in November of 2009. This joins games like Half-Minute Hero in pursuit of appearing retro with modern comforts like easily accessible save points, lush graphics, and fast load times. At its core 3D Dot Game Heroes is a feast for retro fans, both those who lived and gamed in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and those who wish they had experienced the awesomeness of playing NES games in their parent’s basements as kids.
If you’ve followed our coverage of 3D Dot Game Heroes, then you will not be shocked when we say this game is a lot like The Legend of Zelda. When we say a lot, we mean it feels like an HD version of Link’s epic tale. But, there is so much more to this game than its Zelda-like appearance, gameplay, music, weaponry, enemies, themes, and characters. The game never takes itself too seriously, making no bones about its clear love affair with all things retro. In particular, there are lines of text taken directly from Zelda.
The story is quite basic. You play as a hero (of course) who is on a mission to stop an evil bishop from causing all sorts of problems in the kingdom. The hero must venture through the kingdom to find magical orbs that have the powers to defeat the evil bishop. The world was once flat, in 2D, but the king decided to revamp its style and made it 3D. You’ll learn quickly that you are the grandkid of a warrior who defeated the evil bishop, and capsulated said evil bishop into a magical orb.
Venturing through the kingdom in pursuit of magical orbs, you’ll find seven temples filled with all sorts of baddies. The land is also home to healing fairy fountains, hidden caves, and towns. The map is pretty big, but not overwhelming. You can buy special items that allow you to travel quickly to previously visited areas, but in the beginning you’ll have to trek it by foot.
Inside the temples and scattered through the kingdom are an assortment of very recognizable items. You’ll quickly find yourself in possession of a boomerang, a bow and arrow, candles, potions, bombs, a grappling hook, and dash boots. You can also stumble upon health boosts, represented by red apples; or you can find bottles of green magic.
All of this so far should sound quite familiar to anyone who has spent any time with Zelda. But, it should be remembered that many games take from earlier titles. Games are constantly taking what others have done, and building upon them with a unique (and hopefully improved) take on basic principles. Think of relatively modern mechanics like the ability to duck ‘n cover in action games, or cut scenes that run on the in game engine. Do we look at games like God of War III or Uncharted 2 and say they ripped of other games? No. But, that’s because these games built upon already existing principles, added their own twist, and successfully pushed the envelope forward.
The problem is that 3D Dot Game Heroes doesn’t really have its own identity, and it certainly doesn’t push gaming forward. It’s full of old ideas, but these are presented in a charming and effective manner. The gameplay is as simple as it gets, but that’s virtually unnoticeable because the overall experience is so uplifting and entertaining that you quickly ignore the simple and single X attack theme. The point is, 3D Dot Game Heroes has virtually nothing new to offer, yet it’s a joy to play and welcome relief from the overly dramatic and heavy games made in the past few years. This is good old-fashioned fun.
As an action-adventure game, the core gameplay is combat. The hero is in possession of a giant sword (emphasis on the word giant, as the weapon is so big it fills up the entire screen). You can only get the sword to its full size by having full health, so you’ll be constantly looking around for apples of health, and it’s also upgradable through a blacksmith.
Strolling through the first few temples is a lot of fun, and features the classic “push this block” or “stand on this tile” style of puzzle solving. It’s all so familiar that you won’t really get lost (you’ll even find a temple map, keys, and the necessary boss key). Speaking of bosses, the battles themselves on the whole prove decidedly slow repetitive. Some bosses will require you to hit them in their legs, or swat away buzzing bees to access their inner vulnerability, though overall they are pretty tiresome. Elsewhere, while on the surface the temples are relatively simplistic, there are some occasions where you’ll have to re-enter previous levels to find loot you’ll need to further your progress.
A standout feature of 3D Dot Game Heroes is the graphics and overall visual style. Of course, it has that retro flare, but with modern HD twist. For instance, distant objects are blurred by sunlight and the water shimmers, beautifully reflecting the area near the water. Everything has the Lego block look and feel. We absolutely loved destroying enemies and watching them explode into little blocks. It’s features like this that help propel this game past basic theft of the classics.
As for the audio, it’s full of 8-bit songs that at first are entertaining and completely fitting for the overall retro experience. Inevitably, however, after a while it gets a little old and repetitive. Elsewhere, there is no voice acting as you would expect,. but the sound effects work perfectly, comprised of that wonderful “ding” or “whomp” sound popularized when games came on cartridges and not Blu-ray discs.
Other highlights include a tool that allows you to create your own character, providing a simplistic way to build your own 3D blocky toon and important it into your game. Furthermore, you can swap out your playable character at any time, even switching genders at the press of a few buttons. There are benefits to this, as some NPCs will react differently to a girl than they will a guy. You’ll have tons of different characters to choose from if you choose not to build your own; there’s even a Santa Clause.
It should be noted there are some mini games scattered through the kingdom’s many inns. These mini games are throwbacks to Block Defense and Arkanoid. While at their core they are not required to further the storyline, they are a pretty entertaining break from the rest of the charming main campaign.
The storyline can last about 20 hours, depending on how fast you explore the kingdom and dungeons. If you are obsessed with creating characters, you can spend a lot of time popping pixels as you wish. Once you win the game, you can start the second quest, which allows you to keep your loot from your first run through the game.
3D Dot Game Heroes is well worth the $39.99 USD, even if you are not a retro-enthusiast. If you are anything like us, and miss the 8-bit days, you are going to love this game and want to share it with all of your friends. The graphics are a delight, the gameplay is simplistic and easy enough not to distract from the relatively dull story and the level creator is pretty interesting. The problems we ran into with 3D Dot Game Heroes is that it doesn’t add much to gaming’s history. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. While it lacks its own identity, we found ourselves giggling with amusement at how it brought us back to simpler days of gaming.