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CONSOLE: PlayStation 3 DEVELOPER: From Software PUBLISHER: Atlus
RELEASE DATE (NA): May 11, 2010 GENRE: Action/Adventure
// review by SoyBomb

A blast to the past... and to the max... and to the extreme... and it's, like, totally rad.

So I'm sitting around, playing the original Legend of Zelda for the NES, and I'm feeling pretty darn good. I'm skulking around hidden dungeons all over the place, slicing up creepy monsters, and bombing walls like I'm Dr. Demolition himself. I'm slashing my sword frantically and doing my best to fend off the nasty knights who shield themselves from the front only. I'm whipping out my quiver of arrows and firing off at everything that moves, along with everything that doesn't. I'm taking my fair share of injuries and chugging red and blue potions like the stuff was on sale for $19.99. I'm exploring every nook and cranny of the empire I walk upon, listening to the incessant ramblings of the local cave-dwellers about things that are a secret to everybody. And then I look over, and I notice something rather unusual.

My NES is not plugged in.

And I am not holding an NES controller, but a PlayStation 3 wireless beast instead.

What is happening? Has my world suddenly become surrealist? Nay, this cannot be the case! I hadn't moved from my beloved brown couch, the room hasn't spun lately, and my mind is clear as a glass of purified non-local water! So why do I feel like I am playing Legend of Zelda, and yet there is no Legend of Zelda game present? And then the thought is evoked...

Is this a Zelda doppelganger? Yes, it must be!

And I rush to my PlayStation 3 console to see what is inside, making certain to quit my game properly, lest I wish for all my questing to perish in vain to the perils of truly random data disappearing acts. That happened once, only about two weeks after I had purchased the darn thing. Lost a fair amount of progress in "Castlevania: Curse of Darkness" too. And so I eject the disc inside.

What's this? "3D Dot Game Heroes"? What is this?

Suddenly, I fall out of the realm of idiocy, and I realize that I just bought the game for the very reason of nostalgia! And what a nostalgic trip this has been. Immediately when you begin playing, you are slapped across the face with a blast from the past. Once you get past the story (if you can make out the tiny fuzzy text -- I really need to get a high-definition television someday), dictating how the 2D Kingdom of Dotnia has gone 3D to keep up with technology and gaming tourism, you are immediately thrust into very familiar territory, where you must scoot your way around in a region surrounded by three-dimensional round pixelated trees and waving shrubberies that can be cut down. And if you're lucky, money will pop out. Purchasing items is important, and you need that money to live. Nasty little critters are getting in your way, so it's time to whip out your little sword and start swinging.

And you swing. And you are quite surprised.

How did my sword end up getting so LENGTHY? Where did that girth come from? I did not intend this to sound so dirty, but indeed, I have a lengthy sword in this game. Heck, it stretches halfway across the screen to start with. As I progress, I was able to pick up many different swords and upgrade their power, length, width, and even their abilities to shoot off beams, not unlike those of the Legend of Zelda series. And just like Zelda, you must have full life to use it. How about that, I wonder! But it certainly has its advantages. You can hit enemies all the way across the screen without worrying about accidentally running into them, as is a common situation in which a flightily-handled hero may suffer.

And I look around at my environment, my surroundings, the lands that engulf my very being.

Very blocky, no? Yet pixeled, yes. The formerly two-dimensional Dotnia is now in 3D, but elements of its former self remain. Although the world is in 3D, everything is still made up of tiny pixel-style cubes, and many of the sights, animated or otherwise, remind me of the original Legend of Zelda game. The trees? Big puffy emerald spheres. The caves? Black, gaping holes chiseled from rocky cliffs. And even the enemies remind me of classic foes, be they the nasty Zolas that emerge from the lakes to spout unpleasant orbs my way, hopping Tektites desiring my flesh below their springy legs, and the feline pouncers themselves, the Lionels. Many enemies are still differentiated in difficulty by the colours red and blue! And the single-screen dungeon rooms also reflect its gaming heritage, just like the dungeons of Zelda. You will find special treasures within that will also not be surprising, including bombs, boomerangs, a grappling hook (perhaps more aligned with that of Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past for the SNES), and a fire wand. As you navigate through many darkened rooms which require illumination, not unlike a certain game which I have mentioned adequately thus far.

So I AM playing the Legend of Zelda, correct?

No way! The eventuality sinks in: this is not Legend of Zelda. The game must have its own flair and its own style, and indeed, there MUST be differences. And certainly they are here. 3D Dot Game Heroes is its own game, and although it borrows more than generously from ideas already perfectly implemented in the 1980s, the game acts as more as a simplistic reminder of what was great from that era than merely a mimicry act. It is a sharp contrast to the complexity of modern gaming with excessive button combinations and seemingly infinite moves and strategies. But the game bears a few unique aspects of its own that the original Legend of Zelda did not include (although for most of these cases, other games DO possess these qualities). First of all, your hero will, over time, learn different types of magic, such as the ability to reflect enemy magic attacks (very useful) and a reveal spell for showing off necessary secrets in certain situations. A magic bar slowly decreases unless you snag refilling decanters along your travels (or use potions -- where have I seen this before?). Secondly, the whole "really really really long sword" deal. I'm not sure why they opted to allow a sword of almost a screen's length, but now I don't think I could live without that amenity! Thirdly, the puzzles in this game are just as unique as older dungeons, perhaps even a bit nastier for me considering that I could not see something crucial on the far right side of the screen due to my TV's non-widescreen ratio and the game's inability to give me good screen options. But they will definitely make your brain work hard. Additionally, in the dungeons, the bosses are BIG and will gladly chase you around, as opposed to many of the old ones in Zelda which couldn't care less about your current location. Lastly, the soundtrack is far superior and rather charming, just as much so as classic 8-bit tunes. 3D Dot Game Heroes tries to sound a bit classic, but the instrumentation is more advanced than your dusty non-functional NES could ever produce. And the fact that you get a plethora of hero "sprites" to choose from at the beginning, plus the ability to design your own hero using an in-game graphics editor (if you have that kind of time), simply sweetens the icing on the cake. Heck, there are even contests online for creating the "coolest" new sprite. Neat. Yet overall, it doesn't feel like Zelda; it has its own aura and its own brand of humour. Developer From Software knows how a retrospective should be done.

But the bottom line, as you likely determined by now, is that this is a game primarily made for nostalgics by nostalgics. With simple, crazily responsive controls and a relatively shorter playing time of about 15-20 hours, this is a dead-on reflection of what games were like way back when. It's not quite as difficult as they were, but the spirit is there. Plus, the frequent references to Zelda games, Dragon Warrior, Mega Man, and even Bionic Commando, indicate that the designers clearly had an affinity for games of past generations. And I do, too, as I am not a child of this new Xboxing and Wii-ing generation. In an era of shooting anything and everything, it's good to have a breather every now and again, just to honour where video gaming fun came from.

And now I turn back to my television screen and lift my controller from the ground.

And I continue to play this "3D Dot Game Heroes", imagining the days of old and being thankful that those days are not quite over yet.

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