Nostalgia is nearing its own genre in video gaming. While we let a Tarantino slide with constant homage filmmaking, it’s not nearly so subtle when ambushed by pixels over polygons on an HDTV. This isn’t a plea for help, not at all. Some games, like Retro Game Challenge and Half-Minute Hero used throwbacks effectively while also supplying unique brands of fun. 3D Dot Game Heroes is Silicon Studio’s new PS3 exclusive, though it plays much closer to a particular classic Nintendo franchise. Do these dots amass to more than a speck on the glorious pixelated past?
The kingdom of Dotnia was a happy joyous place, enjoying their lives in 2D harmony, until the king noticed that no one wanted to visit an outdated world. Updating into 3D, the kingdom now experience new dimensions, as well as new evils. The Dark King Onyx once brought misery to Dotnia using six mystical orbs until stopped by one legendary hero. Generations later, the Dark King has returned, leaving it up to you, descendant of the hero, to wield a magical sword, find the orbs (each located in six differently themed dungeons, of course) and bring peace back to the virtual land.
To say 3D Dot Game Heroes plays like The Legend of Zelda would be underplaying it. The game is Zelda, essentially, and the developers went great lengths to ensure it resembled the classic adventures as closely as possible. You move along a series of square grids on a map, slashing at spear tossing goblins and charging beasts with your sword. Like in Zelda, with full health and the legendary sword, you are given a great advantage, only now instead of firing light beams, the sword is enlarged. To like, the size of the entire screen. You get boomerangs, shields, context specific runes, lanterns and plenty more familiar tools. Even each dungeon just banks on the textbook elements with a thesaurus. There are nonsensical strands of dialog inspired in lieu of “I AM ERROR” encountered in inn after inn. And yeah, chickens totally don’t dig it when you hit them. While Zelda is a perfectly fine model to be inspired by, it’s a little boring to be just that and nothing greater. The puzzles and dungeons are a little flat, the bosses slightly generic and overworld confusing to navigate. Mind you there are some differences, scattered amongst the bits.
Unlike Zelda, you are not limited to venture forward as a boy in a green tunic. Beyond optional blue/red variations, you can play as a princess, Santa, skeleton, shark, mecha US President from Metal Wolf Chaos and something called a ‘red dog’. In fact you aren’t even limited to that. Since everything in the game is made up of tiny cubes, the game comes with a custom character creator that lets you whip up any genital or even non-genital based protagonist to play through the game with. The tools you work with can be a little tiresome, and take some time to properly role with, but given the satisfying end results you’ll end up appreciating your efforts.
It sort of juxtaposes the thought of it, but the graphics are wonderful. Yes, everything is made up of glorified pixels, but on top of that very clever camera angles and filters flush in a very charming feel. The water shimmers, plants sway, enemies burst into rolling bits, text hovers about even leaving a shadow and focus tricks add a captivating sense of depth. Many moments feel like you are at witness of a stop motion doll instead of something churned out of a computer. It’s all very neat…
… But not a lot of fun. Zelda moved on, even the 2D ones that came after the NES had very memorable splashes of innovation that carried the series into our heart. Dot Heroes doesn’t really try to be much other than a tribute, banking almost everything on the depth of your personal nostalgia. If you can’t sit still without something Zelda-like in your hands, you can certainly use 3D Dot Game Heroes to satisfy that need, but only for so long. It isn’t very long. There are six dungeons but it doesn’t take long to get from one to another. To illustrate, no matter where you save in the game, you always start in front of the main castle, still managing to make haste to the next challenge. If the charm was applied to something with more flesh to it, something that could even rival an installation of The Legend of Zelda, I’d throw a parade for this game. Until then it’s all for the memories.