May 13, 2010

Review – 3D Dot Game Heroes

Filed under: Reviews — Tags: , , , , , , — Jamie Love @ 9:21 am

3D Dot Game Heroes
The Kingdom of Dotnia was once a tourist magnet, a place where visitors flocked to following the heroics of one brave and mythical figure who overcame evil in the classical tradition society is structured by. Unfortunately for Dotnia, the tourism industry began to suffer as people became less interested in 2D heroics, forcing the King to issue a decree that would push the Kingdom into the 3D frontier.

That decision provides the space for 3D Dot Game Heroes to unleash its block based world of nostalgia on gamers, but also severely depresses the hell out of me.

Rather than a 2D game that attempts to bring audiences back to a realm abandoned by the industry more than gamers, 3D Dot Game Heroes replicates one of the most cherished 2D legends in 3D. It’s one of those ideas you’d have in the shower and chuckle about for awhile after – and then as you realized there was little else to bring to the table you’d probably drop the idea.

Bits of Dragon Warrior drip in at times, but traveling across the overworld of Dotnia to locate dungeons, defeat the boss monsters, and collect the orbs needed to prevent evil from returning is the order of the day for this blocky link to the past.

3D Dot Game Heroes

It’s a glib and humorous summation of the gaming industry that attempts to utilize nostalgia and a lowered price point to turn an interesting experiment and conversation starter into a full retail release.

The problem with powering your engine with pure nostalgia is that you can actually buy quite a bit of the classic stuff that spawns it for less than retail pricing as well.

While the general consensus and marketing is that 3D Dot Game Heroes is a love letter to the game that owned so much of my NES flavored childhood, I don’t quite see it that way. Nostalgia is a funny thing, I mean it’s amazing to me at times what objects or sights can bring back memories and spark emotions.

Remove the rose colored optimism glasses and 3D Dot Game Heroes is a parody of those memories rather than a love letter. Again the core humor is undeniable as the game slips on Link’s boots and mixes giant swords with Atlus’ endless supply of the type of jokes your dad would tell if he were a game designer.

3D Dot Game Heroes
Dungeon 2 from The Legend of Zelda – The Moon

As a videogame however, humor can only sustain a player for so long, with no assurance of broad success. The more I thought about the primary game being parodied, the more I wanted to be playing it instead, which made everything less funny and at times rather sad.

It’s hard to put a finger on the spark that Miyamoto brought to his original creations that built the foundation Nintendo still finds success with today. In trying to put a word to it, I actually went back to the dungeon maps from The Legend of Zelda. Each one has a symbol connected to it, which for the most part require little assistance to make the meaning apparent.

Curious, I returned to the maps of 3D Dot Game Heroes and was surprised to find that I may be the only one to notice that the very first dungeon of the Grass Roots Temple is giving gamers the finger.

Maybe I’m reading a little too deeply into the layout of that dungeon, but that’s the connection I made when looking at the fully revealed map, reflecting how I felt while playing through large portions of the game.

3D Dot Game Heroes
Dungeon 1 from 3D Dot Game Heroes

It wasn’t just that the controls are often awkward, which they are, but rather that when you strip away the parody, or when it begins to wear thin, the entire affair quickly becomes tedious and lacks the emphasis needed to make me want to move forward, let alone save anything.

The game does have the advantage of offering space players can jump into quickly, but the draw to be pulled in deeper as the game progresses is skating on that thin nostalgia ice at all times.

Some continue referencing a mystical power the game possesses to make everything old feel new again, though I haven’t found anyone able to name this magic elixir, which seems to be little more than nostalgia flavored Kool-Aid.

My feelings found some sympathy and shelter within the first conversation with the King of Dotnia. When he asks that I accept the quest to save the Kingdom, the game provides space to say yes or no. Selecting no causes the King to advise the player that things are going to go easier if they just agree, and despite the throwback humor, that is the core of 3D Dot Game Heroes – it’s just going to go better if you submit to it’s agenda and move through the paces. But like sex in a loveless marriage, submission doesn’t make the obligatory romp through the painfully familiar fun. Aside from an endless slew of puns, the game has no plan for achieving a connection of its own.

3D Dot Game Heroes

3D Dot Game Heroes is like a comedy roast, a shallow reflection of more creative materials. The game offers players little more than a conversation piece, the type of title to be shown to friends before getting back to the games that demand our time.

When I was much younger, my parents bought me a box of Korean Transformers from the flea market, which were painted and named differently from the real toys of course, but had the advantage of being slightly cheaper – most of them also broke after only a few days.

It’s not that they weren’t any fun to play with, but there was always something lacking, an unmistakable void they created despite their not-wholly-unsuccessful attempt at mimicry.

Even with all the retro-sexy love letter business, I pretty much feel the same way about 3D Dot Game Heroes as I did about those toys.

Calling either an homage changes little.

3D Dot Game Heroes
Developer – Silicon Studios
System – PlayStation 3
Release Date – May 11, 2010

*A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review


  1. Well Jamie if you don’t want your copy of the game anymore I’ll be sure to take it from you hahaha.

    The game is priced accordingly since it’s definitely not for everyone and at $39.99 it seems like a good slice of nostalgia with the added benefit of extra game modes (I’m a sucker for Tower Defense games so having one of those in the disc helps).

    Trying to copy Zelda won’t give you a game that actually “feels” Zelda, but the effort itself gets at least a B+.

    Comment by EdEN — May 13, 2010 @ 12:46 pm

  2. Oh Eden, always trying to clean me out of games :)

    I’m glad to hear your digging it, I just wrote up my earnest reactions and at the end realized I wouldn’t be super upset if it wasn’t in my collection.

    Comment by Jamie Love — May 13, 2010 @ 12:52 pm

  3. Santa bought me knock-off Muscle Men one year for X-mas. I remember telling my parents that Santa messed up… now I feel bad for telling them that. ::sniff::

    I don’t have my copy of 3D Dot Game Heroes yet… but I’m glad that the “Heroes” you can download from Atlus’ website, and doesn’t require PSN, phew!

    P.S. I’m sooo glad you didn’t say “From Software” like EVERY other website out there. It bugs me.

    Comment by Ujn Hunter — May 13, 2010 @ 1:05 pm

  4. That was bugging me too, so here’s an interesting note going back through emails and press assets, Atlus’ marketing materials all reference From Software constantly, I believe leading to so many sites listing them as the sole developer.

    Comment by Jamie Love — May 13, 2010 @ 1:14 pm

  5. I’ve actually only played the game for an hour or two at my cousins place since at the moment my gaming budget is a big good old zero. It’s on my end of the year list in hope of a great bonus from work that can allow me to purchase the 20+ games already in the list plus those that we know nothing about at the moment. Enjoyed the game so far and the extra modes, while being extra, provide a great experience as well.

    Hey, I have to try every now and then to reduce your gaming collection and increase mine. Who knows, you might at one point be drunk enough to say yes and ship a game or two my way hahaha.

    Comment by EdEN — May 13, 2010 @ 1:15 pm

  6. Huh, I just noticed that the screen on the gameboy at the top left actually changes every time you click on to another screen. Small details that make the experience over here better.

    I once got a knock off famicom pre-loaded with 300 games (actually 30 copied over and over with “variants” that included invisible characters, garbage sprites or the background being red instead of blue) from an aunt. Had some fun with it until it died a couple of months later at which point I continued to increase my NES collection. I was having fun for free, no need to spend my allowance on new games. I was young and didn’t know about piracy.

    Comment by EdEN — May 13, 2010 @ 1:18 pm

  7. You just noticed that now? Aw. Now I’m wondering how many people don’t notice it at all, haha.

    Comment by Brad Johnson — May 24, 2010 @ 3:52 pm

  8. So I just now started playing this game this weekend (actually it was a very productive video game playing weekend!) and I was actually cracking up at a lot of the jokes… I’m only at the second dungeon… but I’ve enjoyed it so far! I can see how this game would be pretty pointless though to someone who didn’t grow up in the NES era…

    Comment by Ujn Hunter — June 7, 2010 @ 9:51 am

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