There is a specific breed of veteran gamer for whom 3D Dot Game Heroes is going to be far and away their favourite release of the year. It’s both a love letter to (and, surprisingly, a continuation of) the very first rendition of an epic quest undertaken by one of gaming’s most endearing and revered heroes, but this is one million miles away from being a condensed, coarse rip-off. Nintendo’s evergreen Legend Of Zelda series may have moved on from its charmingly threadbare 8-bit substructure, but 3D Dot Game Heroes begins from where Link’s very first adventure left off, and were it not for the HD visuals and the expertly-produced sound, you’d have a mighty hard time seeing the join.
In-line with Nintendo’s imperishable classics, the game has an absolutely wonderful sense of humour, and there is an abundance of razor-sharp gags (as well as a continual stream of clever-clever gaming references) that’ll be rabidly received by the game’s primary demographic. The story is entirely familiar (you’re the descendant of a great historical hero, and you’ve got some impending evil to vanquish) but that is sort of the point. The retro games that have inspired this one were never particularly heavy on plot, and thus there is nothing here to prevent you from getting stuck right into the action at the earliest available opportunity.
Certainly, the land of Dotnia doesn’t compare to the enchanting and wholly immersive land of Hyrule (even in its 8-bit depiction) but the personalities of its townsfolk, who speak only in text, shine every bit as brightly. The quality of the dungeon-set puzzling isn’t quite at the same level either – that is something that Nintendo have had over two decades to perfect, after all – but you’ll probably be shocked at how close they come to matching some of Link’s finest moments. The game’s final dungeon in particular, whilst fiendish in its difficulty, is a bit of a masterclass of game design.
The character design tool is a surprisingly uncomplicated and robust piece of apparatus, and though there are a handful of charming character presets, a sizable number of players will want to make their avatar look like a certain pixie-ish lad who is prone to wearing a green tunic – no prizes. The combat is taut and consistently amusing (when you’re at full health your sword is laughably gigantic, and can be further tinkered with by visiting each town’s blacksmith) and getting lost in Dotnia in order to complete enjoyable side-missions never feels cursory; largely thanks to the game’s “Warp Wings” which enable you to instantaneously travel to any part of the land that you’ve already traversed.
The visual style of 3D Dot Game Heroes is unusual, and striking. It’s great to see a developer taking such an unorthodox gamble in the aesthetics department, and perhaps the team’s biggest achievement – and arguably the game’s single biggest success – is that it’s capable of jubilantly displaying to a younger audience, spoiled by high definition visuals and recorded dialogue, that alluring characters who you’ll fully empathise with are feasibly created with the most elementary of tool sets. All that is required is a bit of wit, a bit of tact, and some impassioned storytelling smarts.
3D Dot Game Heroes may not be the most original game in the world (in fact, there is a very strong case to be made in favour of it being regarded as the exact opposite) but it feels strangely fresh, and despite being a shameless homage to you-know-what, it does bring an undue amount of bona fide ingenuity to the table. This is so much more than just a twee novelty. Whether you’re in the mood for a solid retro throwback, or just want to witness a diverse team of creatives collectively firing on all cylinders, then 3D Dot Game Heroes really is just the ticket.
Watch the 3D Dot Game Heroes trailer…