Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Game Review: 3D Dot Game Heroes

Ah, nostalgia... remember that? I've often spent a sunny afternoon reminiscing with friends about childhood memories, games and shows, the excited chatter punctuated by gasps of remembrance over some forgotten delight. 3D Dot Game Heroes is the virtual equivalent of taking a walk down memory lane, more specifically a walk down Legend-of-Zelda boulevard, just off Link-to-the-Past avenue. But can Southpeak's latest offering stand up to closer scrutiny, even if viewed through rose-tinted 3D glasses?

The first thing that strikes you when playing 3D Dot Game Heroes is the game's stunning presentation. Combining hyper-realistic lighting, shading and depth-of-field effects with an old-school pixellated aesthetic, 3DGH juxtaposes the real with the virtual, making it look as though someone has rebuilt your favourite 8-bit game out of Lego pieces. The overall effect is very convincing, as if the blocky characters and environments were really there in front of you.

After a while however, the initial impact wears off and what remains is the solid, if not entirely derivative gameplay. 3DGH sells itself as a homage to classic games such as Zelda and... erm I suppose that's it. Right down to the kinds of items you accumulate and use, the skills that become available and enemies you encounter, 3DGH repeats verbatim what it learnt in Zelda History 101.

In case you skipped that class, I'll go over it again. You control a pixellated hero as you explore a expansive kingdom (albeit separated into set manageable screens) from a top-down perspective. As you discover and complete puzzle-infested dungeons, you acquire items which allow you access to more parts of the world and thusly more dungeons, and so on until your quest is complete.

Now I wouldn't mind if 3D Dot Game Heroes was a mild Zelda clone, with its tongue burrowing through its own cheek. Unfortunately, 'clone' is the operative word, and I just didn't find it amusing. I was looking forward to a rip-roaring parody of 8-bit games, a good-natured lampooning of some of my favourite memories, all bundled together with classic Zelda gameplay. The jokes I encountered were rather dry, and while some were interesting comments on RPG conventions (for example, after bombing a conspicuous crack in a wall, I was promptly instructed by the woman I found inside to pay for destroying her house), the gags are simply too few and far between.

The gameplay, while solid and fairly enjoyable (due mostly to its source material) brings with it the same problems that the originals had: a difficult to navigate labyrinthine overworld (a tiny and indistinct map doesn't help), confusing objectives and character controls that are literally decades out of date. The few innovations in gameplay that are introduced, namely the upgradable screen-filling sword, seem ill thought out. While amusing at first, once you suffer a single hit your sword shrinks down to normal size, while your enemies (who are balanced to offer a challenge even with your mammoth weapon) can easily overwhelm you. It becomes a losing battle once you take a little damage, often being easier to reload your save rather than scavenge for health. A frustrating experience indeed.

3D Dot Game Heroes is a competent game, and the in-built character editor and uploader may give you a few more hours of Lego-building fun. If you have never played a Zelda game, or reeeaally fancy repeating the experience with HD graphics, then you could do worse than giving this a try. However, if I wanted to poke fun out of the Zelda franchise, I'd go watch the Legend of Zelda 80's cartoon. Excuuuuuuse me Princess!

Lukao gives 3D Dot Game Heroes 5 Lego bricks out of 10.

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