3D Dot Game Heroes does well as a charming homage to 2D games of yore. The game starts out in 2D, sprites and all, until the king of Dotnia — ho ho! — decrees that they should modernize. And they do, at least halfway. The sprites turn into 3D versions of themselves, made up of various cubes instead of dots, so instead of flat abstractions walking around you now have bulging, angular squatty people walking around. And the effect works nicely.
The graphics and overall style are great. The music sounds like classic 8-bit bloops and bleeps, and it loops endlessly, just like it used to during the NES’s heyday. Your character — whom you can customize or pick from a large series of pre-made avatars — can wield a giant sword large enough to fill the entire screen. Since this is a Zelda-inspired adventure game the sword only appears for a fraction of a second when you attack. So, a humongous blade popping in and out of existence, decimating everything in its path? Pretty novel.
The Zelda influence permeates every corner of the game’s world from the combat, to the very similar world map to A Link to the Past (castle in the middle, Lost Woods to the west, desert, bay. etc.) to the way you level up (find heart containers after you beat a boss) to the items and weapons you find throughout the very Zelda-like towns and dungeons.
And that’s the tiring thing about 3D Dot Game Heroes. It’s so dependent on Nintendo’s landmark franchise it doesn’t bother, on a gameplay level, to set itself apart all that much. Self-mockery, cute references and industry jokes (there’s a room dedicated to Atlus’ Demon’s Souls) are nice, but aside from the unique graphics style that’s really all there is that sets this game apart. Yet at the same time it doesn’t do enough copying to be as good as a Zelda game. It should have borrowed the sense of awe or pacing from the best entries in that series — it already took the world map from A Link to the Past, so why not the sense of urgency or danger? I never once felt as though I had to hurry to the next dungeon in Dotnia, or that I even had to explore that much. Dotnia’s no Hyrule, and 3D Dot Games Heroes is Zelda through the motions.
Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. These types of top-down adventure games are extinct on today’s consoles, so it’s great Atlus even tried to marry old-school gameplay with HD visuals. Anyone looking for nostalgia through a polygonal lens will find a lot to like in 3D Dot Game Heroes, and there is plenty of stuff to do and find dotted around the world — secret caves and easter eggs and whatnot. Obsessive completionists ought to be satisfied. Anyone else looking for a more substantial experience that doesn’t rely entirely on dusty gameplay mechanics may want to pass.
You can buy 3D Dot Game Heroes at Amazon for $16.58.