3D Dot Game Heroes is a love letter to oldschool RPGs. Specifically, every oldschool RPG. There are throwbacks from everything to Final Fantasy to Zelda to Dragon Quest, and probably a bunch of obscure Japanish stuff I don’t know about.
Gameplay-wise, it is The Legend of Zelda. I mean right down to the grid-based dungeon maps, choppable grass and boomerang/bomb/hookshot toybox. You have monsters who charge at you when you cross their line-of-sight, monsters that lob spears, slow lumbering monsters that take eight hits to kill. You have spike traps that try to ram you, arrow traps that shoot at you, statues that fire magic homing missiles, and blocks you can push exactly one tile in every direction.
When playing retro-style games, my first question is often “what concessions have they made for modern gamers?” This is a valid line of inquiry! Games have learned a lot in the past twenty years; for example, they’ve learned that systematically bombing every rock on-screen searching for bombable walls is boring. In Dot Heroes bombable walls are cracked and crumbling. Games have learned that starting a new life with half your health doesn’t do you any good. In Dot Heroes you start over with full health and magic — and if you’d died on a boss, you start a few steps away from a teleporter that takes you right back to him.
There are some slight issues. There are rocks you can explode, and rocks you cannot, and they are slightly different colors. I believe the colors are consistent, and in a tile-based sprite game you’d be able to see that. In a 3D game with lighting and shading effects, it can be tricky to tell if the rock in question is light-grey or dark-grey. You kind of have to throw a bomb down and check. Not a big deal, really, it’s just interesting that they solved the “bomb everywhere” problem on one front just to create it on another.
I’m finding the game to be very, very difficult. I want to say borderline unfair-style difficult. Which is apt — those oldschool games were pretty unfair too. I still have scars from those rooms full of blue wizzrobes and darknuts. I think it kind of works for Dot Heroes though because, as I’ve said, getting killed by darknuts means respawning with three hearts and no potion. Getting killed in Dot Heroes means trying the dungeon again with full life, just as if you’d entered it that way.
Two things I wish the game had: 1) Controller configuration. The dash and item buttons are backwards compared to Zelda on SNES, and it keeps getting me in trouble. 2) A screen keeping track of all my fetch quests. At this moment I know a dude who wants a ring, another who wants special water, someone who lost a merchant, someone who wants to meet a dancer, and a few other miscellaneous odds and ends. By the time I fire the game up tomorrow I will have forgotten all of this. As a kid I’d just jot it all down in a notebook to keep track, but let’s face it: there are things about retro gaming I don’t miss.
I also played the Rocket Knight demo. I… won’t be buying that one. On the plus side, I can take that $15 and put it towards Mario Galaxy later in the month! Huzzah!