As an art medium evolves, it gradually shifts over time – in a sense it will eventually become something entirely different from what it used to be. Take black and white films for example; Casablanca is undoubtedly a classic, but films have transformed in such a way that there will never be another like it. Sure, there’s still the occasional black and white film these days, but the style and tone of films have irrevocably changed since then; the acting, music, and classic feel – these things have changed and will never be the same ever again.
It’s odd then, that a new retro 8-bit style game like Mega Man 9 would appear on all three current major consoles, styled in such a fashion that hasn’t been seen since the age of the original Nintendo Entertainment System. What’s even more surprising is that we’d see a game like this appear in the midst of an age dominated by HD remakes, especially when classic 8-bit gaming seems to have been all but dead, as it has been for nearly two decades.
That’s where 3D Dot Game Heroes comes into the fray, it’s sort of like a blast from the past and while it’s definitely not a blatant NES-style game like the newest iterations of Mega Man, its heart is definitely in the right place. 3D Dot Game Heroes is essentially a NES game in… yep you guessed it, 3D, kind of a “what if” in terms of what a NES game would look like if 3D technology existed at the time. In fact, 3D Dot Game Heroes actually begins in the opening introduction as a 2D world that quickly finds itself changed forever as it enters the realm of 3D.
One of the key draws is how it combines Retro-Gaming with the 21st Century.
One thing that’s readily apparent in 3D Dot Game Heroes is that it never really takes itself very seriously, and while it does make a legitimate attempt at telling a classic tale of a hero standing up to save the world against a terrible evil, there are comical undertones throughout the entire game. The game frequently makes references to other games such as Demon’s Souls and Dragon Quest, and the opening sequence even pokes fun at 2D games. It’s explained that the King had changed the kingdom to 3D because sprites were becoming too outdated. Amusingly, the world retains its pixilated look, which is ultimately what gives 3D Dot Game Heroes most of its charm.
While it’s quite evident that 3D Dot Game Heroes was intended to be a massive homage to the original Legend of Zelda, dubbing it as a cheap imitator would be a grand mistake – this game has been lovingly crafted not only as a 2D Zelda clone, but as a love letter to anyone who holds fond memories of a bygone era. Nostalgia is a huge factor here.
It’d be an unfortunate error to claim that nostalgia is the only way to enjoy a game like this though – 3D Dot Game Heroes is a legitimately fun game, and despite its intentional old school aesthetic and design, it hasn’t been designed in such a way to include the limitations and frustrations that often plagued games from years gone by, such as insane difficulty and ridiculous expectations of skill from the player. It does go a long way though to include a ridiculous amount of side-quests and hidden items with nary a clue to point you in the direction or existence of such things. If you want to find all of the secrets this game has to offer, you’re going to have to discover them for yourself. Nothing is spoon-fed to you in 3D Dot Game Heroes.
At its core 3D Dot Game Heroes is a very traditional dungeon crawler, complete with an overworld leading to all of the available locations. You’re tasked with retrieving the six orbs from six different dungeons, and upon retrieving all of them you’ll be able to take on the evil Dark King, once sealed away in ages past by your ancestor. The story design is simple, but it gets the job done. With a lack of focus on epic story telling it allows 3D Dot Game Heroes to focus on what it does best: interesting and challenging dungeon design with a nostalgic flair.
Along your journey not only will you gain powerful magic sealed from within the orbs, but you’ll also collect a variety of indispensable items that will assist you in completing puzzles and exploring the game world. You’ll have pretty much all of the standard items you’d expect if you’ve played a classic Zelda game, such as the hookshot, dash boots, and so on.
Perhaps the biggest feature of 3D Dot Game Heroes is that when you’re at full health your sword appears as this gargantuan blade that can span across nearly the entirety of the screen. Each sword has a maximum potential to be upgraded, and with your hard-earned cash you can use these upgrades to improve various attributes such as strength, length, and width, and you can even add additional properties such as piercing and sword beam. Piecing is especially useful as it allows you to clear an entire room in one fell swoop, even passing through solid objects. The drawback to this system is that at full health you can be an unstoppable killing machine, but the moment you take damage your fearsome blade is reduced to a much more feeble variation without all of the fancy bells and whistles. You’ll prosper by the fearsome blade wielded at full health and likewise suffer at the hands of the piddly one you have when damaged.
3D Dot Game Hero is a very charming title – both visually and audibly.
3D Dot Game Heroes’ nostalgic presentation does not end at its charming visual design and old school gameplay though, it also comes with a wonderfully unique musical score that’s a perfect blend of 8-bit styled music with modern sound design. It’s absolutely lovely and very pleasing on the ears, however it’s intentionally repetitive and thus at times can grate slightly in the more annoying areas such as the desert.
As such, 3D Dot Game Heroes is not perfect and does have the occasional flaw. The desert area is extremely annoying until you figure out the trick to get through it, and as such led to some long instances of hair-pulling frustration. Thankfully you’ll rarely have to visit one area more than once, and side-quests are relatively easy to complete since you can use warp wings to instantly travel to the towns and inns that you’ve already visited
3D Dot Game Heroes makes a bold move by offering an intentional old school game in both presentation and design, but it’s safe to say that the final product is nothing short of a glowing success. In an age dominated by games approaching photo-realistic quality graphics and having a heavy focus on a dramatic narrative, it’s a bold move indeed, but it’s a wonderfully refreshing game that was created for a very specific audience. If you have a soft spot for classic gaming you’d be wise to pick up 3D Dot Game Heroes before it goes out of print. It’s easily one of the most unique games released this generation and is a perfect example of a truly unique, hidden gem.