First Impressions: 3D Dot Game Heroes

May 23, 2010

Three hours in and I can make two sweeping assertions about 3D Dot Game Heroes: 1. It has the Worst Game Title In The World… Ever and 2. It is the Most Meticulous The Legend Of Zelda (NES) Clone… Ever. You might think that these are both undesirable monikers, and in the case of the first, it is. Seriously, who came up with ‘3D Dot Game Heroes’? It sounds like a lazily-scribbled line for the game’s basic premise right back in its concepting phase – how it stuck is anybody’s guess. Of course, it could be a brutal translation from an awesome Japanese title that has no equivalent in the English language. Plausible, but unlikely. With regards to the second claim, however; it may be a meticulous clone, but that’s some source material. As T.S. Elliott once said, “Talent imitates, but genius steals.”

The plot is the usual adventure fantasy fare; i.e. completely forgettable. There is some Dark Bishop, trapped inside an orb or some such. As the Hero, a descendant of an even more legendary one, of course, it is your task to seek out six Sages (sound familiar) and pick up their corresponding orbs, whose purpose to the story escapes me even after only three hours in. Meanwhile the 2D kingdom you start in is lacking tourists, so the presiding monarch magically transforms it into 3D, thus giving a flimsy pretext to the game’s admittedly wonderful aesthetic. The narrative became a complete mystery to me very quickly as I just started criss-crossing that overworld in order to reach the temples; essentially self-contained dungeons in which the Sages dwell and end bosses need to be vanquished.

One early joy is the sheer tactility of the standard combat. A quick stab of the ‘X’ button sends out your sword (which, inevitably came from a plinth in the middle of a forest) which varies in width and length depending on whether you are at full health or not. If all of your life containers are filled, the blade is enormous and has tremendous reach, making short work of enemies which bear more than a passing resemblance to those that pester Link in the original NES game. Once defeated, each enemy explodes into it’s constituent blocks, which explode and scatter in pleasing arcs. It’s a visual flourish that brings real satisfaction to even these basic encounters, and I have a feeling that I’ll still be enjoying it throughout the latter stages of the game.

Another huge string to 3D Dot Game Heroes bow is the character editor. Any player is able to create their own heroes from scratch, block by block, from an option on the title screen, or pick from a huge range of characters created by the developer. The game gives you the option of changing your pixellated avatar every time you start a game or continue a save, which is a nice touch should you tire of the rather staid appearance of the default hero. I’m rather partial to running around as the skeleton myself; I lack the patience to create my own hero, but the character editor certainly adds another facet to what could have otherwise been a very one-dimensional game. I’d even go so far as saying that it fits in rather neatly with the ‘Play. Create. Share.’ ethos of other PS3-exclusives LittleBigPlanet and ModNation Racers, even though it’s not officially billed as such.

Despite 3D Dot Game Heroes’ wholesale plundering of the 2D adventures of Link on both the NES and the SNES (the Dash Boots in particular are an early homage to A Link To The Past), so far it has struggled to match the ingenuity of either title. Predictable new items such as the boomerang, bombs and bow and arrow aren’t used in enough creative ways, and instead become just another means of eliminating enemies. The game really needs to inject a few ideas of its own over the rest of my playthrough – other than the enormous sword length and unique character creator – in order to even be mentioned in the same breath as its inspirations when looking back in the future.

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