Today’s video game retail landscape is laden with powerful graphic engines and faster gameplay that focus on the bigger, better, and stronger. With that in mind, From Software and Atlus took a chance with 3D Dot Game Heroes (DGH).
It openly defies the industry majority by *almost* perfectly recreating the gameplay of The Legend of Zelda; while adopting the visual style of Patrick Jean’s “Pixels;” combining them into a stylistic and charming 3D adventure that inoculates players with wonderful nostalgia, but teeters on the fine line between flattery – and plagiarism.
DGH opens with the king of Dotnia decreeing that his nation changed from 2D to 3D. The world inflates in an adorable pop-up sequence, but the pixels forgo the evolution into polygons (the king pressed B, of course). The end result is a surprisingly prodigious world built entirely of giant pixels; a visual style that channels the humor and charisma of the 8-bit era, but fits comfortably in the HD scene.
It’s impossible to describe, verbally, so just take a look at the pictures included in this review. It’s beautiful retro-loving, and it looks even better in motion.
If it wasn’t for this disgustingly charming presentation, DGH would go down in history as purely a LoZ clone. Everything from the music – which sounds like rearranged LoZ tracks - item acquisition order, dungeons, and health and mana bars, cry copyright infringement. However, DGH implements a few changes, and flexes its modern muscle, to try and find its own place in its mentor’s established legacy.
A full life bar will grant the hero an extremely large sword, and access to abilities like spinning (activated by turning your hero while attacking), wider and longer blades, and more damage. This displaces the healthy hero cavalier attitude with caution as you must keep the health bar full for maximum power. This is easy to accomplish during the first half of the game, but the later dungeons and monsters are fierce competitors that will vehemently consume your health apples.
Included is an intuitive and elegant editor that lets players create heroes for their dangerous quest. It consists of a large box that lets you build the character pixel by pixel. Players customize their characters’ standing pose, walking pose (consisting of two different frames), hurrying animation, and two attack animations; building a fully functional character to use in the game.
However, its simplicity doesn’t limit its capabilities. The models are built from single pixels; players can create almost anything. The best example out of the box is the shark. It moves around the map as a dorsal fin, but attacking causes the shark to leap out of the ground and spew…well a sword.
The robust editor continues Sony’s Play, Create, Share motto they started with LittleBigPlanet; players can upload their best creations, and download their favorites from other players. It offers little more than personal customization, but running around as Ekans, or any other zany creation, goes a long way to lengthen your experience with the 8-9 hours of gameplay.
Players can also customize their experience with changes to the camera angle, or by smoothing the pixelation. The camera angles offered are limited, but they help gamers that might find the default camera a little too close or far. Let’s just say, the smoothing option makes the game look more like a glorified NES title: small changes, but options nonetheless.
DGH does its best to inject a bit of its own personality into the tried-and-true gameplay of LoZ; unfortunately, the wonderful motif and self-aware humor aren’t enough to keep it from feeling like the game you played 24 years ago.
DGH knows this, and embraces it, but experienced gamers will find that the nostalgia wears off quickly, and newcomers may be put off by the limited – however well-aged – gameplay. It’s a good alternative for Sony-lovers that never played the original masterpiece, or players looking to save a few dollars.
The pixelated world of Dotnia is all sorts of flattering adjectives. It's hard to describe, yet even harder to look away from.
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It's intentionally a Legend of Zelda clone, and while it has aged well, we've been playing variations of it for almost 24 years.
The tracks fit well within the game, but because they are so similar to LoZ, they sometimes feel stolen.
A character editor and extra difficulty mode provide extra incentive to play past the 8-9 hour mark.
3D Dot Game Heroes is fun for a while, but its nostalgia factor wears off too soon, and gamers are left with a title that is more fun to look at than it is to play.