While many games try to be their own special thing, you'll occasionally get the rare game that attempts to copy another. Games like Dante's Inferno or Dead Space are clearly inspired by God of War and Resident Evil 4, respectively. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Sometimes games will go a little further and serve as an homage to an old title that they loved. The recent Shadow Complex was basically a love letter to Super Metroid. Atlus' new title, 3D Dot Heroes goes a little further. While Shadow Complex was extremely similar to a Metroid title, 3D Dot Heroes is a classic 2-D Legend of Zelda game. Don't mistake that to mean that 3D Dot Heroes is a cheap rip-off, though; every inch of the game, from the graphics to the soundtrack and the gameplay, has been lovingly crafted in homage to The Legend of Zelda. It's just that 3D Dot Heroes is perhaps the most undeniable clone of a game that has ever existed. It's arguably more of a Zelda title than some of Nintendo's recent efforts!
3D Dot Heroes is set in a world trapped in the past. Long ago, in the days of 8-bit gaming, a young hero wielding a magical sword sealed away the Dark King Onyx and saved the Kingdom of Dotania. Since then, the world has been at peace, but it has also been left behind. The world of video games has gotten more and more advanced, and people stopped playing 2-D games. Worried about being forgotten, the King of Dotania issued an order: The Kingdom should advance into 3-D! However, this advancement came at a cost, as the change to 3-D made everything more advanced, including the power of the Dark King Onyx, whose evil could no longer be contained by simple 2-D seals. Onyx's power tempted the Dark Bishop Fulle, who now seeks to retrieve the Dark Orb used to seal away Onyx and rule Dotania. It's been many years since the last hero adventured, and his magical sword is lost to the ages. Fortunately for Dotania, the rise of 3-D brings with it the rise of new heroes, one of whom has the power to stop the Dark King once and for all.
3D Dot Heroes varies a bit from The Legend of Zelda in that the main character is not a green-clad pseudo-elf named Link ... if you don't want him to be. Your main character is completely player-created. Using a surprisingly robust character creation engine, you get to build your character block by block. You can make a dashing hero, a bizarre robot, or yes, a green-clad pseudo-elf. You create each of the character's few frames of animation, allowing you to alter exactly how they look when they attack, find an item, or walk around the world. If you're not feeling particularly creative, the game also comes with a ton of pre-created heroes for you to use. Some of these are references to classic games like Dragon Warrior or Final Fantasy, including some very familiar-looking knights. Others are a bit more wacky, like an office manager or a race car. There are even references to some of From Software's other titles, like Armored Core, Tenchu and Metal Wolf Chaos. Your imagination is the only thing that limits who can save the day.
Something really must be said about Atlus' excellent translation. 3D Dot Heroes is made to play on nostalgia, but English-speaking gamers have a lot of nostalgia for things that never occurred in the original Japanese releases, such as silly badly translated Engrish or wacky name changes. The Atlus translation manages to work this in surprisingly masterfully way, sticking great humor and silly in-jokes everywhere. You may find an inventor who tells you to get "Get Equipped with Dash Boots," or a wise sage who claims that "A Winner is You." Not all the translation jokes are quite so obvious, of course, and some are simply the result of a clever translation that makes character quotes seem like they belong in an 8-bit world without ever being incoherent. There are also a ton of references to From Software's other titles, including an entire mini-dungeon referencing Demon's Souls and an extended parody of the Japanese-only mecha game Metal Wolf Chaos.
The basic gameplay in 3D Dot Heroes is identical to The Legend of Zelda. You begin in the small Kingdom of Dotania, and the king orders you to find the magical sword, which is conveniently located in a familiar-looking pedestal in a nearby grove. Once you've found it, you adventure begins. Movement is done using the d-pad. The X button swings your sword, and the R1 button raises your shield to block against attacks. The O button is bound to your subweapon, which can be used at the push of a button. In a nice change from the older Zelda titles, you can switch your subweapon at will, Mega Man-style, by using R2 and L2. This allows you to scroll through every available subweapon you have. You can even remove subweapons from the quick scroll to make it easier to access items quickly. If you prefer to keep things old school, you can always pick your subweapon from the menu.
Almost every aspect of 3D Dot Heroes resembles something you'd find in a Zelda title, just slightly altered. Instead of Triforce pieces, you're looking for orbs. You have apples instead of hearts, and rupees have become gold. Even the enemies are borderline identical. You'll face spear-chucking centaurs, rock-shooting octopi and various other enemies who are so close to being actual Zelda foes that it is uncanny. To be honest, I'm hard-pressed to think of a foe who doesn't have a nearly identical Zelda counterpart, and a few of the bosses also resemble certain infamous Zelda foes. To be fair, those similarities are mostly skin-deep. While the bosses may look familiar, the 3-D world means that you'll be fighting them in different ways, and the same goes for the gameplay. If you need to heal, you put a red potion into your bottle; if you find a cracked wall, you know to bomb it; and smashing pots gets you valuable jewels, but there are some variations. For one thing, you no longer have designated respawn points after you save and quit the game. Instead, you can specify where your character respawns. This can be done either by sleeping at an inn in a town or using a sleeping bag or tent on the world map. Regardless of where you sleep, you'll always start there the next time you play the game.
As in any good Zelda title, the goal is simple. The six elemental orbs that sealed the Dark King Onyx have been scattered to six dungeons around the world. You have to find a way into that dungeon, defeat the monster who guards the orb, and bring it out safely. If you've ever seen a Zelda title before, you know exactly what to expect. Each of the game's six dungeons houses a boss monster and a new subweapon for you to collect. They also house a ton of puzzles and monsters so you have to traverse the dungeon, find the subweapon, and beat the living tar out of the boss monster to collect the orb. The puzzles in 3D Dot Heroes are pretty straightforward. You may have to push some blocks, find a hidden key, or use your new subweapon to get past a dangerous area. None are particularly taxing on the brain, but each is fun in the simple way of a Legend of Zelda puzzle.
The one area where 3D Dot Heroes actually varies from Zelda is how your sword functions, but to be fair, it's still an homage to another game. If you've ever heard of a popular Flash title called Ginormo Sword, you have a pretty good idea of what to expect. Your character's sword in 3D Dot Heroes is ridiculously large and many times the length and width of the character, but it's the weakest sword. As the game progresses, you'll find more swords of all shapes and sizes, ranging from legendary blades such as Excalibur to bizarre joke weapons, like a giant fish. Fish or sword, your weapon will be hilariously oversized, and you can upgrade the weapon at a local blacksmith. Some weapons can be modified to shoot lasers, others allow you to perform a spin attack, and still others can pierce through walls. Best of all is the ability to upgrade the length or width of your weapon. The more powerful weapons can swing across the entire screen, allowing you to wipe out entire rooms of enemies in a single slash.
However, all of these upgrades come with a catch. Much like the ability to shoot a beam from your blade in Zelda, the full power of your sword in 3D Dot Heroes is only available when your character has full health. Take even a half an apple of damage, and your sword shrinks in size and power, and it loses any upgrades it had. This may not sound too bad, but the actual decrease in power is fairly massive, and the side effects can be painful. Losing the Pierce ability means that your oversized sword can't go through walls or obstacles, so it's much harder to fight in enclosed areas. Furthermore, while your sword is substantially longer than Link's blade, it's a lot harder to fight certain enemies when you have to get up close, particularly some of the bosses. The game becomes a balancing act: If you want to keep your ridiculously powerful upgraded sword, you have to be careful and avoid taking damage from enemy attacks as often as possible. It's easy enough when you're clearing the entire room of enemies with a single slash, but one accidental step into a trap, and you're suddenly helpless and weak.
As you'd expect, 3D Dot Heroes keeps all of the traditional Zelda subweapons. There isn't much that you wouldn't recognize from the classic NES and SNES Zelda titles. You get a boomerang, bow and arrow, bombs, a flame rod and a wire shot, all of which function almost identically to their Zelda counterparts. There are some slight variations, such as the bow and arrow, which take advantage of the 3-D nature of the world by firing in a slight arc — a necessary solution for some puzzles.
Similar to Link to the Past, you'll also find a series of Shader Magic items, which take their power from the various orbs you have to collect and allow you to alter the world using fancy graphical techniques. The Normal Map item causes the ground to ripple and bend, effectively mimicking an earthquake. The Parallax magic will cause invisible messages on certain surfaces to become visible. As with any of the magical items in a Zelda game, these take some of your magic bar to cast. In a rare variation from Nintendo's franchise, your magic takes the form of green apples instead of a bar, with every spell taking a certain number of apples to cast. Compared to most Zelda games, magic is a substantially bigger deal in 3D Dot Heroes. There are a number of puzzles and enemies that can't be overcome without the use of certain magics, and using magic against tough foes makes it easier to maintain your health.
3D Dot Heroes also keeps the classic Zelda tradition of hidden side-quests that you can undertake to get new items and valuable life shards. There are a ridiculous amount of quests you can undertake because almost every townsperson is looking for something, and figuring out exactly what they want and where to get it earns you valuable prizes. You can explore hidden caves, which often house healing fountains, item upgrades, and an occasional creature who gives you free cash. Even if you're not doing that, you can try to find hidden faeries who are scattered around the lands or track down small blocks to have the Block King forge new and more powerful swords. There is an insane amount of extra stuff to do outside of the main quest in 3D Dot Heroes, and this is certain to keep players busy for a very long time. In addition to the side-quests, 3D Dot Heroes also features a number of neat minigames, including a full-on Breakout clone and a surprisingly in-depth game of Tower Defense.
The visuals in 3D Dot Heroes are ridiculously charming. As mentioned above, the Kingdom of Dotania used to be in 2-D, but the king ordered a change to 3-D. That didn't mean that the kingdom got a new design, though, so all of the tiny pixels that used to make up the 8-bit characters became giant 3-D blocks. This gives the world the impression of being comprised of Lego bricks, and the end result is a game that, while 3-D, retains a lot of the 2-D charm and goofiness that nostalgic gamers love. All the characters still have simple two- or three-frame animations, the world still has a basic color pallet, and everything still looks like an 8-bit game. The visual style is so distinctive and charming that anyone who grew up with 8-bit games is going to be hard-pressed to not be smiling the entire time. To put it bluntly, the soundtrack is very familiar, but in a very clever way. A lot of the songs in 3D Dot Heroes, especially the default overworld song, are incredibly similar to tunes from Legend of Zelda or Link to the Past, but they're not identical. The tunes are just different enough to not be exact clones, but they'll instantly remind players of their favorite Nintendo songs.
3D Dot Heroes is a Zelda game. There are a few variations here and there, but it's impossible to call it anything else. Thanks to the built-in character creator, you can't even say that the main character is different, since there are destined to be a swarm of green-clad pseudo-elves named Link wandering around Dotania. At every opportunity, the world map, enemies, items, plot and music reference Legend of Zelda. Like Shadow Complex, 3D Dot Heroes is a love letter to Zelda in every way. Fortunately, Silicon Studio captured a lot of what made Zelda fun, and Atlus' excellent translation assured that a much-needed sense of humor is prevalent throughout the entire game. Being released at the budget price of $40, 3D Dot Heroes is an absolute must-have for any PS3 owner who's a fan of The Legend of Zelda. If, for some reason, you haven't ever played Nintendo's classic title, 3D Dot Heroes is worth looking into; Zelda games are classic for a reason.
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