For whatever reason, it seems like 2012 has been a drought when it comes to awesome new videogames. There just really hasn’t been much that’s caught my eye. Maybe there are newer titles coming out that I’d be into but I’m simply unaware of them. In any event, I’m using this stretch to go backwards in time and play some of the sweet titles that got glossed over. One of these gems worth experiencing is 3D Dot Game Heroes.
Basically it’s Zelda in 3D, built using very retro 8-bit looking blocks called voxels. This blatent homage is a continual theme throughout the game and all the classic tropes are here; boomerang, bombs, bows & arrows, empty bottles & potions, temples with small keys & boss keys, maddening puzzles, harsh punishments for mid-dungeon screw-ups, and yes, chickens…… when my buddy Vincent saw the game he quipped “man, these guys don’t mess around when they rip off Zelda, do they?” No they do not.
This game came out in 2010 and despite the fact that I bought it immediately upon release, I never completed it, thanks to a series of other awesome games which came out right around the same time. That, and this game is, in every single sense, unabashedly old-school; like those retro Nintendo games, when you hit a wall, the game’s not going to hold your hand until you figure it out. You’re on your own to solve the puzzle, or retrace your steps through a massive dungeon in order to find that one key you just didn’t notice. I originally got stuck somewhere in the aqua temple and as there were no walkthroughs at the time, I hit the wall, got frustrated, and said screw this, I’ve got twenty other awesome games to play right now. As much as I am harping on this thing for its occasional opacity, there is a lot to love here. Especially now that you can just look up the answer online if you get really stuck.
Most obvious, the art style is super duper hip. There is a super cool effect anytime you defeat an enemy where they disintegrate into a bunch of little 3D pixels; that never gets old. The game also uses simulated depth of field extensively and shamelessly, to great effect I think. I would love to see more titles that used this same retro/8-bit graphical approach. 3D Dot Game Heroes is a fascinating manifestation of that style. It’s fun to simply traverse the map, fighting minor baddies and scooping up coins from the bushes. Just like the Zeldas of yore, there’s a whole huge inventory to fill and many dungeons to conquer. Some of them are no joke. If you want to dig even deeper into it, there’s a fair amount of collectibles and side quests too. The game has a grueling 24 different swords in it. I think I might make an effort to gather up some of the oddities although going for 100% completion here is out of the question for me.
One immediately noticeable thing about 3DDGH is that it features comically oversize swords, parodied to hilarious extent in their pre-release trailer for the game called natural sword enhancement. Pfffff. A unique game mechanic that goes along with this, is the fact that your sword is only huge (and only has it’s unique abilities) when you have 100% health. That strongly encourages the player to aggressively seek health (apples) and try to use the shield a lot, even when fighting minor enemies.
In brief, it’s like a trip down memory lane, only with some 3-dimensional twist to it that breathes in a new life to the retro mileu. It’s also sprinkled liberally with old school gaming references and intentional bad translations which add to the quirky humor of it all. Definitely an experience worth the investment of several evenings’ worth of free time, and one that probably got glossed over in a sea of AAA releases. If you’ve got fond memories of Zelda, pick this one up, you will not be disappointed!