3D Dot Game Heroes


3D Dot Game Heroes is a blocky trip down memory lane.
Author: Guy Kelly
Published: May 21, 2010
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There’s usually only one rational response to being handed a game to review and finding that it has choppy two-frame animation, blocky graphics, crudely palette-swapped enemies and gameplay from nearly twenty years ago: foaming with incoherent rage. Paragraphs lie waiting to be written; long, furious diatribes about how horrible and poisonous the industry must be in order to allow such lazy and derivative titles.

In a sane and just world you’d now be reading page upon page of dreadful wrath at the blatant lack of innovation and ceaseless production of shovelware which are leading games into a dead-end and games journalists into an early grave.

Thankfully, Justice and Sanity are no longer friends. Rational thought has scampered off to live as a dancer while nerdy old Nostalgia has taken off her glasses, let her hair down and revealed herself to be a paragon of beauty and charm.

Let me be absolutely clear: 3D Dot Game Heroes is one of the best looking games I have ever played. Silicon Studios have outdone themselves - as a 3D recreation of a 2D game the graphics are flawless. Tiny cubes make up every villager, structure and beast, while the camera is cleverly blurred to give the impression that these are little physical objects that you can reach out and touch. If you’ve even seen a tilt-shift photograph you’ll know how striking this effect can be; I’ve never before played a game where the characters looked quite so tangible. While the player will doubtless spend the most time using the camera angle that gives the widest view of the area, the closest angle to the player’s character makes the game look like a little stop-motion puppet show. Trundling around like this is a genuinely surreal experience – the relatively simple graphics are so well polished it’s jaw-dropping.

Every now and again there are little graphical flourishes that provide a wonderful contrast to the type of games being imitated. Leaving a dungeon and being almost blinded by light reflecting off an expanse of water is an unexpected treat in a game with ‘basic’ artwork. These little touches abound – from the reflection of a floor in a palace to vanquished foes that explode in a colourful shower of blocks – there’s always something, some little reminder that it’s 2010 and you’ve not fallen back through time and into the body of your ten-year-old self.

These reminders are important. Anyone with even the slimmest knowledge of this game will be aware that it is an ‘affectionate nod’ to the Legend of Zelda series – ‘affectionate nod’ in the same sense that a forger spending thirty hours painstakingly painting a £50 note is producing an ‘affectionate nod’ to currency.

Of course, Zelda games that aren’t Zelda games have become fairly common of late - out of my four favourite Zelda titles only one actually contains Link; the other games star a billionaire with horrendous PTSD, a magical wolf and a pinheaded harbinger of the apocalypse, in no particular order.

The dungeon-crawling, item-finding, jar-smashing gameplay of Zelda is rich with possibility. By using the mechanics of the Zelda games these releases have built upon and varied what made the original series so popular and in doing so have developed styles and personalities all of their own. 3D Dot Game Heroes takes a slightly different approach. No attempt is made to produce a crumbling, gothic mansion. There’s no sprawling, interweaving narrative based around Japanese legend. There’s certainly no awesome explosive gun that you can pick up from the sticky, mangled remains of an angel and use to blast a zombie in a top hat. What there is is an overworld full of beasts, dungeons to trawl through and, if you look carefully enough, a princess to rescue. This is without question the Zelda series stripped back to its roots.
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