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CONSOLE: TurboGrafx-16 DEVELOPER: Hudson Soft PUBLISHER: NEC
RELEASE DATE (NA): 1990 GENRE: Action/Adventure
// review by Jeff

Not quite so new-topia.

In July 1987, The Legend of Zelda was released for the NES. Needless to say, it created a bit of a frenzy that continues to this day. It was the first million-seller for the console and was heavily praised for its use of open exploration while giving the player the opportunity to improve the main character, Link, with health upgrades and a slew of wickedly neat items for his arsenal. Its musical score has become synonymous with Zelda, with Nintendo, and with video gaming in general, and its simple yet addictive gameplay has survived the test of time. The Legend of Zelda helped secure Nintendo's rightful place on the throne of video game gods for years to come, as well as the NES' place in millions upon millions of living rooms.

The TurboGrafx-16, a console co-developed by NEC Electronics and Hudson Soft, was meant to tackle the monopoly Nintendo had over the video game industry at the time. Sporting more colourful and more detailed graphics, alongside improved sound quality, they thought they had a true contender for the crown. In Japan, the console was released in October 1987 as the "PC Engine"; it achieved commendable success, sometimes even outselling the Famicom (the Japanese name for the NES). But outside of its native land, it was a flop. Taking two years to reach American shores due to a re-design meant to appeal more to American tastes, it was quickly outmatched by the blast processing power of the Sega Genesis and even the boxy charm of the NES. Similar results were achieved in Europe. But it was ultimately doomed; not even the Turbo CD, the first CD-ROM accessory for a home console, could have revived the TurboGrafx-16 from the ashes, and the machine was quietly tucked back into its hidey-hole by 1994. (It wasn't all hard cheese: NEC later provided the CPU for the Nintendo 64!)

It wasn't for lack of trying, though. The TurboGrafx-16 did have some quality titles in its library, though it was more limited in scope. Three games starring Bonk, the lovable caveboy with the gigantic head, graced the system, as did several acclaimed Bomberman titles. The console also boasted an abundance of space shooters, including Lords of Thunder, Star Parodier, and, according to some sources, the definitive home port of the original R-Type.

But Bomberman and some young lad with gigantism wasn't enough for the TurboGrafx. I'm certain some executive at Hudson Soft was looking at the fame and fortune of The Legend of Zelda, thinking, "Me too." And so it was: Neutopia for the TurboGrafx-16. In a nutshell, this game is a Zelda clone down to a tee. It's also a darn fine game in its own right.

Neutopia is set in... well, Neutopia, a land that probably no longer exists but was a rather pleasant place to live. Instead of having just one large landmass, the world is divided into four spheres (land, subterranean, sea, and sky). Governed by the righteous Princess Aurora from her "Climactic Castle" and the power of eight Triforce pieces... no, wait, spiritual medallions... it truly was a Neutopian society. Neutopia's not enemy-proof, however, as the evil demon Dirth arrives, capturing both the princess and the eight medallions. Flash forward to the beginning of the game, and a young man named Jazeta appears upon the steps of the Sacred Shrine, where he alone is entasked with rescuing the princess and the medallions in order to bring peace back to Neutopia.

With a magical compass in one hand and a sword in the other, Jazeta is basically thrust into the land sphere, where he has to find two dungeons, defeat the monsters within, and rescue the medallions. Okay. This very much reminds me of Zelda. Yeah, it's very Zelda. They might as well have called him "Jazelda". Heck, maybe they did, but the localization team couldn't fit all those characters in the code.


Look out, Ganon's coming! Oh, wait...

Jazeta starts out on an overworld very similar to that of Hyrule. The land is now infested with enemies, but Jazeta's sword will make quick work of that. When Jazeta's at full health, swinging his sword will do... absolutely nothing special. What, you thought it would shoot a projectile just Link's sword? Come on, give Hudson Soft a LITTLE credit! They had to do something different! But, if you're a big fan of projectiles — and in this game, you will be — one of your items is the beloved Fire Wand, a mish-mash of the candle and the Magical Rod from the Zelda game of lore. You get it early on, and it will quickly become your most used item because of its ability to reach enemies at a distance, as opposed to your sword. You never run out of "magic" (whatever THAT is), so the wand is easily your new best friend. The only caveat is that its offensive power is linked directly to your health meter; the weaker you are, the weaker your attack is.

That's not all Jazeta can carry. Is it dark in the room? Well, you COULD turn on the light switch, but if you have the jar of moonbeam moss (which never spoils or disappears), you can easily illuminate even the most dingy of environs. Actually, it's more of a pain, just as it was in Zelda. Falcon shoes make you scoot about a bit more quickly; the Rainbow Drop can instantly create small bridges across gaps, similar to the ladder in Zelda; and, of course, you MUST carry medicine with you! It's not cheap, but you can hold up to two specialty potions for when you get smacked around a bit too much.

Ultimately, though, it's Zelda reskinned. In both the overworld and underworld, Jazeta travels one screen at a time in a labyrinthine manner. He is always searching for hidden doors and passages, dropping bombs in places where he could blast walls open (and, especially in the overworld, this is incredibly frequent). He's looking for eight special items that, when put altogether, will reveal the way to the ultimate villain, Dirth, who disappears and reappears during the final battle while firing off trajectiles as his main attack. He buys two potions to take with him. In the dungeons, he pushes blocks to open doors, or finds keys should they be locked. The Fire Wand burns bushes. Elderly citizens have little to say when you bust into their cavernous domiciles. When Jazeta gets an item, he holds it above his head in triumph. Shield, sword, and armor upgrades arrive to make your life easier, provided you actually find them. Every dungeon has one particular treasure to find. Jazeta can reveal stairs downward into secret passageways that lead to other parts of a dungeon. Bats, jelly creatures, and fish that pop their heads out of the water to throw rocks all make incessant appearances.

Wake up, people: you're playing Zelda all over again!!

What makes Neutopia actually different, aside from the rare but interesting Star Wars reference? Frankly, not much. The graphics are an impressive improvement, boasting a far richer colour palette and a much more exquisite attention to detail. The audio, meanwhile, though certainly not the earworm of the Legend of Zelda overworld theme song, does its best to keep the player motivated. The slightly depressing dungeon labyrinth theme is particularly enticing.

The question remains, then: is Neutopia fun? The answer is still a resounding yes. I love the original Legend of Zelda, and Neutopia feels like a deluxe remixed edition. Its difficulty level is a bit more balanced, even if I suffered more than my fair share of what I called "cheap" injuries. The dungeons are challenging but not so confusing as to make me throw my controller in anger. Frankly, the overworld was my bigger gripe, as just GETTING to dungeons can be quite lethal if you're not careful. Those sun-baked enemies really have a vendetta against Jazeta! Still, the game's controls are rock-solid, and it is indeed a pleasure to play.

If there are any other major gripes I have, aside from its derivativeness, is in its save function.If you had a Turbo CD or a "TurboBooster-Plus", you could save your game using the "File Cabinet", sliding your progress right next to the Johnson report. Without these marvelous accessories, you'd be forced to scrawl a 24-character mess of a password. Aren't you glad passwords are a thing of the past? Aren't you glad you no longer have to squint and determine whether than one letter is a capital O or a zero? Aren't you glad we live in an age where we can be so lazy as to entrust our progress to a piece of plastic that wouldn't care one iota if it forgot all about that last armor upgrade we picked up, hmmm? (Full Disclosure: Having played this on the Wii U Virtual Console, it wasn't a major issue, what with save states being available, but for TurboGrafx owners, they may have frowned at the ancient technology that lay before them.)

I've spent a good amount of time talking about how Zelda-like this is, and it very much is the case. But as a game on its own, Neutopia is a generally well-crafted adventure that acts as a boon to the TurboGrafx-16 library. If you have the opportunity (and can't wait until Nintendo's follow-up to Breath of the Wild), Neutopia just might be what you're looking for.


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