There's no denying that 3D Dot Game Heroes panders to the nostalgic needs of the 8-bit gamer with great success, but has From Software added enough to the Zelda formula to make it its own? The short answer is no; if you've played The Legend of Zelda before, you'll know exactly what to expect. In case the use of italics there didn't emphasise things enough, I'll reiterate: 3D Dot Game Heroes is the exact Zelda gameplay from the NES in the late 80s repackaged with shiny new graphics. Of course, this is no bad thing depending on your perspective, but be aware that there is nothing 'next-generation' about the gameplay on offer here.
Before getting stuck into an appropriately generic plot to prevent the revival of the Dark King Onyx, players can choose from an impressive selection of preset character designs. These include ancestors of great heroes, warriors, ninjas, dragons, mages, kings and even an Ex-Soldier (no prizes for guessing the reference here). Not only this, the game features an in depth editor mode, allowing players to create their very own Dot Heroes. Those with enough time and patience can create characters from just about any game they care to conjure up. I created a reasonably impressive Ryu (Breath of Fire style, not Street Fighter), who – if I could ever be bothered – can be shared with other players via USB.
With your hero sorted out, it's off to save the world. An expansive overworld can be explored at your leisure, with plenty of rewards for those that stray from the path of the plot. These include new swords and shields, and life fragments that increase the number of apples (that's hearts to you Zelda fans) on your health bar. Should you tire of aimless exploration, there are six orbs to be rescued, each of which is tucked away in one of six dungeons. Each dungeon has its own theme and boss battle, and - as is the way with Zelda games - introduces a new weapon or item. The first dungeon, the Grass Temple, rewards players with the quintessential boomerang, with bombs, bow and arrows and a grappling hook to look forward to in the dungeons that follow.
Of course it's your sword which you'll be relying on more than anything else, which does offer something slightly different to that of the Zelda norm. As well as being able to swing the blade in a circular motion using the analogue stick, you can find and equip more powerful blades scattered around the overworld. Particularly powerful swords will fill the whole screen with a single jab, but unfortunately, this ability will disappear unless you're sporting a full health bar. For those who think that a screen-filling sword will make the game too easy; thing again. 3D Dot Game Heroes is tough as iron boots in places, but those accustomed to the Zelda formula will relish the challenge.
Fancy visuals and retro role-playing mechanics alone wouldn't make for much of a game, so From Software has lavished a fantastic script upon the title, tying together all the retro-charm with glorious in-jokes and a comical self-referential tone. A complete disregard for the fourth wall supplies plenty of laugh-out-loud moments and hilarious one-liners that will have the geek inside you smiling from ear to ear. A personal favourite of mine came after selecting 'no' when asked to save the world. My apathy was rewarded with the reply; "I understand how you feel Jamin, but that answer doesn't advance the story, you could have guessed that!" Genius.
For those that have grown up with video games, 3D Dot Game Heroes is a celebration of everything that encapsulates the concept of retro. It wraps you up in a blanket of nostalgia and whisks you off to a world that just isn't seen in video games today. Emulating the success of a franchise as significant as Zelda is risky business, but through humour, attention to detail and buckets of charm, 3D Dot Game Heroes just about manages to pull it off. Those who base their critique of the game around the word 'ripoff' have clearly missed the point here, and should take their superficial analysis elsewhere. 3D Dot Game Heroes is a game for gamers; a game for those who love the industry and embrace the geekery that comes with it. If you fall into that category, don't think twice about picking it up.