Once upon a time in gaming history, players were able to enjoy basic gameplay with a basic story, basic audio and basic visuals. Despite the fact that most studios nowadays are pushing for photo-realism and engaging narratives, some of you may feel the need to take one more trip down nostalgia avenue. That's where 3D Dot Game Heroes comes in, but don't get too excited just yet. Those who are familiar with a little known franchise called The Legend of Zelda will know exactly what to expect; dungeons, swords and boomerangs. Instead of pushing boundaries and attempting to reach new heights, Silicon Studios has chosen to go back in time and create what is possibly the most unoriginal game of 2010. Depending on your past experiences with video games, 3D Dot Game Heroes could be exactly the type of adventure you want, or an outdated and repetitive journey that should have been left in the 1980s.
3D Dot Game Heroes gets off to a promising start which sees your home, Dotnia Kingdom, make the switch from two dimensions into three. There's plenty of humour and the retro feel will cause many gamers to shed a tear. After choosing a character (or creating one from scratch using the comprehensive editor), the game begins by introducing you to a little bit of back-story. Dotnia was a peaceful place after your grandfather managed to defeat the Dark King Onyx, a terrible foe who brought darkness upon the land. Most people know that all good things come to an end, and it's no different here. Onyx had been trapped inside a special orb for years until the Dark Bishop Fuelle decided to take matters into his own hands, leaving the people of Dotnia to live in fear and social unrest. This is when the player becomes involved. You're given the task of following in your grandfathers footsteps and saving the Kingdom of Dotnia. How does one do this? By entering caves with a giant sword of course! It's all very traditional and admirable, but frankly, this type of adventure was executed better twenty years ago.
It doesn't take long to get settled, controls involve little more than the push of a direction or the swing of your sword, occasionally browsing through your inventory or checking a map. Selecting weapons and equipping extra items is a simple matter because you're working off a tried and tested menu system. The camera stays in a fixed position, an effective tool in helping to create a 2D experience in a 3D world. While this may sound like a charming return to the simplicity of earlier Zelda titles, repetition quickly sets in. The main hook of 3D Dot Game Heroes is the apparent recreation of 8-bit classics, but it's also the biggest flaw. Maybe it's a problem with the current state of the video game industry, maybe it's the community, or maybe it's the fact that we've become so familiar with gameplay that demands more than the use of a sword and a boomerang. Pinpointing the problem can be a tricky affair, but after experiencing a brief moment where memories pour in, 3D Dot Game Heroes takes a turn for the worse. The first dungeon is the perfect example to show just how frustrating and unrewarding the game can be. The dungeon consists of various square rooms with uninteresting puzzles and equally boring enemies who spawn every time you re-enter the area. Again and again... and again.
You're never given any hints so backtracking is an essential part of progression. The lack of help isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's actually a welcome break to the constant arrows and prompted suggestions thrown at you in games like BioShock. The concept should work, but when you've walked through the same empty square room only to see four more enemies appear, there's a good chance that your hand will be reaching for the plug. If you decide to continue playing, then pray that you don't die. Losing the last little apple on your health bar will mean going back to the dungeon's entrance. The game automatically saves the puzzles that you solved, but you'll need to find your way back to the room where you fell victim to some sort of irritating enemy. Do you know what that means? All of those respawning enemies will return to give you even more grief. After trudging along and reaching the final room, you'll encounter one of the various boss battles which pay homage to the glory days of video gaming. The first battle involves a giant snake who can only turn at right angles, you mightn't see the reference immediately, but the battle is a reference to something that everyone played on their Nokia mobile phones. It's a nice touch, but unfortunately for 3D Dot Game Heroes, it's never enough to compensate for such banal gameplay.
It's not all doom and gloom however, you're probably interested to hear about the graphics. The initial switch between dimensions works well, and while the game is fully 3D, it always manages to retain the look and feel of the golden age. The game is awash with pixels, characters are irritating but adorable and the world generally oozes cute. Nostalgia really is the key word and even the most minute details like the pause menu are an effective way of portraying a 1986 game in 2010. At the same time, you need to consider the power of Sony's mammoth machine. Seeing a game like Uncharted 2 in full high definition is inspiring, proof that the PlayStation 3 holds some real power behind that ugly black exterior. 3D Dot Game Heroes was never designed to be a great looking game, but that prompts the question of whether or not it would be better suited to the PlayStation Portable. There's no doubting that the technology is available to make this game go portable, albeit with a slight sacrifice in the visual department. 3D Dot Game Heroes has the potential to be enjoyable in small bursts, maybe it's just a case of Silicon Studios choosing the wrong platform.
The developers have continued the retro feel with the audio in 3D Dot Game Heroes, but it doesn't maintain the decent standard set by the visuals. In keeping with the 8-bit influences, music is largely forgettable and becomes just as repetitive as the gameplay. The direction taken here makes sense, but that's not always the best option. Realistically, you're better off playing 3D Dot Game Heroes with the volume muted; that's presuming you can get past some of the least enjoyable gameplay on home consoles. Saying that feels strange, because it's not as if 3D Dot Game Heroes is broken, but it's a far cry from what gamers have become so familiar with. Sticking with the audio, there's no dialogue which again, makes sense. You're going to be skipping most of the mumbo jumbo that's aimed towards you, and the infrequent funny moments are probably going to be skimmed over because of our trigger happy fingers. It's a case of muting the dire music, skipping the dialogue and running through six dungeons in an effort to stomp out some of 3D Dot Game Heroes' less positive attributes. If you can manage to do all of the above, then you may find something of value hidden behind a wave of respawning enemies.
That leaves us to judge the amount of content available for you to play around with. In comparison to big budget games like Splinter Cell: Conviction and Modern Warfare which last between five and six hours, 3D Dot Game Heroes blows that short lived nonsense out the window. Trophy collectors, or players who enjoy finding every hidden item will soon realise that 3D Dot Game Heroes isn't something that can be rushed through in one weekend. One glance at the list of unlockables suggests that anywhere between fifty to eighty hours can be lost when trying to complete everything. Even though it's a single player game first and foremost, you can also share your pixel creations with friends. Falling victim to younger relatives stealing precious pieces of Lego can be a traumatic experience, so 3D Dot Game Heroes bravely tries to bring back our childhood creations. Without any multiplayer and the inability to create dungeons means that Littlebigplanet is still the master of creativity, but it's better than nothing. There's plenty to do in Dotnia, much more so than the blockbuster games of late, it's just a shame that there's no real encouragement to continue outside of trophy hunting.
3D Dot Game Heroes was made for a niche audience, and you'll either love it or hate it depending on your situation. Video game newcomers would be advised to stay well away from this because there's a good chance it will kill any motivation you once had for reliving classics like The Legend of Zelda, but retro connoisseurs will probably fall in love all over again. From a critical point of view; 3D Dot Game Heroes is potentially the most outdated, repetitive, frustrating and boring game of the year. It's also one of the most adorable in its quest to relive a forgotten style of gaming. Retro games are a precious entity that need to be preserved, Zelda was groundbreaking and inventive in 1986. That doesn't mean that the same rules apply over two decades later and in the end, 3D Dot Game Heroes will never be able to understand the importance of why the golden age is held in such high esteem.