3D Dot Game Heroes Review

By Patrick Klepek - Posted Apr 22, 2010

3D Dot Game Heroes is an adventure worth taking, especially for Zelda fans. But it's not one without faults, including strange difficulty spikes and opportunities to accidentally miss key game items. Despite these problems, it's is a lavishly pretty and entertaining virtual worship at the altar of Shigeru Miyamoto, resulting in a video game Nintendo themselves would likely make, so it's a good thing someone else did.

The Pros
  • It's a pixelated 2D world come to life in high-definition 3D.
  • Zelda fans will fall head-over-heels for the similar design, look and feel.
  • It's not a short adventure, full of side quests requiring multiple playthroughs.
The Cons
  • The difficulty is inconsistent, sometimes punishing players out of nowhere.
  • It's possible to miss key game items without even realizing it.
  • If you don't have a nostalgia for old school Zelda, it might not make sense.

How much do you love The Legend of Zelda? I mean, really love it? Not The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks or The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, but the original NES Shigeru Miyamoto classic, the game that helped birth a genre. Nostalgia is a powerful thing. Your appreciation for 3D Dot Game Heroes is contingent on a deep personal nostalgia for a style of game and an approach to game design that's long since passed. 3D Dot Game Heroes was crafted with an eye towards a kind of game that, with some exceptions, no longer exists.

3D Dot Game Heroes

“Homage” Doesn’t Really Apply

3D Dot Game Heroes rips off The Legend of Zelda, but it does so in the most complimentary way possible. 3D Dot Game Heroes is an attempt to develop a video game we all wish Nintendo would create but know in our hearts likely never will: a brand-new old school Zelda. If Nintendo won't do it, Japanese developer Silicon Studios must have thought to themselves: “Okay, then. We will.”

The end product of high-definition nostalgia is one filled of mixed results, and it's had me circling back to the biggest question I've asked about 3D Dot Game Heroes: so, is it any good? That's a loaded question that requires a complicated answer. It’s a yes...and a no.

No doubt, Silicon Studios has crafted an absolutely gorgeous-looking game. There's a reason the response to 3D Dot Game Heroes was so viscerally ecstatic when the first screen shots started making the rounds; the game truly comes across as a classic 2D game brought into high-definition 3D without losing the classic stylization (and nostalgic emotions) that come associated with pixels. The way enemies tumble into a scattering of broken pixels is terrific, a graphical gimmick that never gets old, and it’s especially impressive when the bigger enemies crumble. Allowing users to draw their own characters is especially ingenius, opening the doors to bringing Link, Mega Man and whoever else from the realms of 8-bit into Silicon Studios’ pseudo-3D world.

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It's damn funny, too, with equal credit to both Silicon Studios and Atlus’ localization team for leveraging a litany of insider jokes that will only play to a specific audience with a deep appreciation and knowledge for the RPG genre (i.e. blasting open a cave door can reveal an angry person on the inside demanding 100 gold for repairs and offering nothing in return). And I laughed for a solid minute or so at the game's inspired response to siding with the game's main central villain during a conversation which just so happened to give me the option to do so. If there are two welcome constants to the otherwise unwieldy 3D Dot Game Heroes, it's the visuals and humor.

If only the same could be said about the gameplay. 3D Dot Game Heroes embraces its old school approach to design in every facet -- an overworld with limited direction on what to do and where to go, monsters with cheap attack tactics, mazes that sometimes require the player to write paths on a notebook -- and more often than not, it makes you smile because it just feels right. You accept these quirks of game design because the game demands you do. One wouldn't be so cheerful with these same tactics applied to a modern action game because game design has fundamentally changed since, but like our acceptance for extreme difficulty in Mega Man 9, this is how these games are supposed to be, so it's less about overlooking what would normally frustrated us insomuch as, well, this is how these games are meant to be played.

3D Dot Game Heroes


Some problems, unfortunately, are unforgivable flaws, including nearly game-destroying oversights that have far less to do with an adherence to old school approach and more to do with simply bad design. 3D Dot Game Heroes's main quest involves something very familiar to Zelda fans, trekking through a several dungeons -- in this case, six dungeons plus a final area -- to defeat a boss who holds an orb needed to give power to a series of magical sages. Each dungeon holds an item that unlocks new abilities for the player and 3D Dot Game Heroes follows the same progression as a Zelda game, granting access to boomerangs, arrows, grapple hooks and magical rods. But imagine if you managed to finish a Zelda dungeon without finding that key item. Imagine if that item was required to unlock the next dungeon and the game provided no indication that item was missing from your inventory. Imagine having to scour Japanese message boards to find out you'd somehow missed the Flame Rod in the Flame Temple, the very same Flame Rod that's needed to destroy the tree that's blocking access to the next temple. That happened to me -- but it shouldn't have. Discovering the Flame Rod wasn't crucial to finishing the dungeon. I beat the boss at the end of the dungeon, collected the sage magic but didn't have the Flame Rod. How?

This speaks to 3D Dot Game Heroes's all-over-the-place difficulty. Most bosses in the game are a cakewalk, but the creature at the end of the Flame Temple (can you tell I disliked that one?) required more than an hour of trial-and-error simply because I'd run out of red potions to refill my health mid-battle and running back to the nearest inn -- an annoying task if you’ve run out of fast travel items -- seemed unnecessary. There's also Silicon Studios' decision to make the final dungeon as painful as possible by having you fight every dungeon boss again, except this time they're, uh, faster. Thus, any tactics you'd learned from previous encounters -- a Zelda design staple -- are meaningless.

You'll never run out of things to do, though. Just finishing the main quest in 3D Dot Game Heroes with minor side quest flirtations will take you well over 12 hours, albeit a large chunk of those are swallowed up by the last two dungeons of the game. There are dozens of side quests I never found time to explore and even more with time-sensitive requirements that demand conspiring with friends over how to trigger different actions or sulking over to an online FAQ.

3D Dot Game Heroes


Despite its big faults -- badly designed quest challenges and very inconsistent structure -- 3D Dot Game Heroes is an adventure worth taking, but especially for Zelda fans. Others unfamiliar with the trappings of 8-bit gaming might want to be wary that it’s inherently demanding in a way that modern games aren’t. Ultimately, it's a lavish, pretty, and entertaining kneel at the altar of Miyamoto and as we all know, a game that's hard to imagine Nintendo ever making. Since Nintendo probably won't, I'm glad Silicon Studios tried.