The Legend of Zelda was released in 1986, and yet according to 3D Dot Game Heroes, nothing has changed in the last twenty-four years of console gaming. Indeed, fortunate time travellers from the NES era might now be gazing upon more fuel efficient motor vehicles, bigger fridges and movies that come on shiny disks, but in terms of our favourite hobby Silicon Studio’s love letter to the golden era looks so longingly towards the past that the similarities go well beyond the outwardly obvious aesthetics.
A roll call of the guilty elements probably isn’t necessary, not least because this author’s a particularly staunch fan of Nintendo’s classic series and distilling such gaming nirvana down into a set of bulletpoints doesn’t endear me; but also because we’ve already done it. 3D Dot Game Heroes’ structure, controls, weapons, enemies and even storyline is all so Zelda that I’m genuinely surprised the game even exists. Let’s put it this way: I’m fairly certain it wouldn’t have passed through Nintendo’s Seal of Approval.
And therein sits the issue. Should a game that so helplessly apes another so closely be considered in its own merit? After all, the reason 3D Dot Game Heroes is so deliciously playable is because it’s mirroring tried and tested gameplay crafted by the hands of two of the legends of gaming, Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka. The Zelda series works because the games follow prescribed patterns of overworld, power-up, dungeon, power-up, overworld and it’s a prescription Silicon Studios have followed to the letter.
There are no surprises here, safe for a couple of cute minigames and some wry (and successful) attempts at humour – this is 8-bit exploring without a single concern for the present and the game’s ever-present blinkers result in nothing more than a pure, intelligent and utterly captivating romp across fields, deserts and rock and through several enemy infested temples in search of six orbs to put an end to a dastardly Dark Bishop and a hokum, exaggerated plot you wouldn’t be shocked to see Link running around in.
The twist, of course, is that whilst 3D Dot Game Heroes is absolutely respectful of its flesh and bones (and, indeed, beating heart) it’s also not beyond taking itself too seriously. The small pop-up text boxes are there for completeness but pull from an often laugh-out-loud funny script and a few sideswipes at current gaming hits, not least from stablemates From Software’s Demon’s Souls. It’s all good natured, albeit occasionally lost amongst the game’s exposition, and is well placed and timed.
And then there’s the visual style: imagine a 2D, flat world extrapolated vertically and drawn in HD but all the while keeping the lo-res, lo-fi pixels at the forefront. 3D Dot Game Heroes sums up the graphics more than anything – yes, it’s in 3D but everything is built from Lego-like cubes that convey a pleasing sense of physicality (it’s possible to stack monsters on top of each other, for example), played against some over-stylised current gen flair like sparkly water effects and a ridiculously amped depth of field.
There’s a hidden depth to the game, too – weaponry can be upgraded and tuned, rather than just purchased from shops (although you can of course do this too) and there’s more emphasis on ensuring you’re loaded up for each challenge via the shops instead of relying on downed enemies and freshly chopped grass providing your provisions. Likewise, the various temples explain and pre-empt little, meaning thought is required rather than just rushing in swinging your sword. It’s still held back by 8-bit ropes, but they’re slacker than you’d think.
Crucially, where it counts, 3D Dot Game Heroes sports some cunning level design, especially in the dungeons. Sure, they’re not up to the same levels of brilliance that the latter Zelda games can boast, but – annoying vague shifting sands aside – they’re great fun. Again, the rules are adhered to throughout, especially with regards to the temple maps, keys, boss keys and mid-level weapon discovery, but two hours in and you’re so into the groove the notion that you’ve played this game decades before really doesn’t matter anymore.
And I think that’s the point. There’s so much here to enjoy, to savour, to experience that really the things the game does right stand tall and proud. The joyful side missions, the perfect difficulty curve, the wickedly funny loading screens and the option to design your own hero in-game with the editor: all facets that deserve to be respected and upheld. The fact that the rest of the game plays like one of my all-time favourite videogames, then, is just the backbone to one charming, hugely entertaining slice of fun – you can’t ask for any more.
- Charming homage to old-school action RPGs
- Lovely graphic style
- Has just enough of its own ideas
- Dungeon design isn’t quite up to Zelda standards
Fans of The Legend of Zelda that wish the series to go back to its roots will find plenty to fall in love with here – 3D Dot Game Heroes is an unashamed cribbing of classic 8-bit action role playing games, with stacks of adventure, some decent level design and a surprisingly solid sense of humour and irony. It might not be original, but it’s certainly good fun, and all credit to Southpeak for picking up the slightly esoteric title for a European release – spread the word, 3D Dot Game Heroes deserves a place in your PS3 this Spring.