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Silicon Studio’s first entry into game development spun all night in my PlayStation 3’s disc drive. My thumbs are still sore, but I loved every minute of the controller-induced pain. I haven't experienced a late-night game session quite like this since Nintendo's The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.
I’ll admit that I’ve been following this game closely — with much anticipation — during the last several months. I’m one of those anomalies who were greatly disappointed with The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, and I’m not interested in the least with Shigeru Miyamoto’s upcoming Zelda title, either. Wii Motion Plus and Vitality Sensor support? Count this crotchety old man out.
But along comes 3D Dot Game Heroes with its charmingly retro aesthetic and classic gameplay, obviously inspired by the Zelda games that graced Nintendo’s 8- and 16-bit systems.
And I’m not at all worried that it'll just be a stale Zelda clone.
First and foremost, 3D Dot Game Heroes sports striking visuals. Players will navigate a vibrant, colorful world populated by three-dimensional pixel blocks. The end result is an aesthetic that feels simultaneously modern and retro. This sharp departure from the realistic direction of most new games is a welcome change of pace.
The thin, light-hearted narrative wonderfully complements the game’s graphical charm. The gist is that in the Dotnia Kingdom, a legend says a great hero vanquished evil from the land long ago. During the subsequent period of peace, the King decides to spice up life with a transformation into the third dimension. As a result, monsters inexplicitly invade, and chaos ensues.
You, of course, are the descendant of the legend’s hero. The King tasks you with reclaiming six orbs that will rid Dotnia of its monster plague. Sound familiar?
That’s partly the point, since the narrative and dialogue in 3D Dot Game Heroes are all about poking fun at games. Many of my favorites are Demon’s Souls references — likely included because From Software is the game’s publisher in Japan.
Many of the basic components of any Zelda title are present: various swords and shields to equip, familiar items (such as the boomerang, bomb, bow, and lantern) to use, and puzzle-solving magic spells.
You explore an open-world map, look for secrets, and come across numerous inaccessible areas that obviously hint at a missing item to continue forward. Dungeons have locked doors, boss keys, and floor maps and are designed in the style of the original Zelda.
But Silicon Studio has added a few twists. When at full health, your weapons are extra-powerful, just like in other Zelda games; in 3D Dot Game Heroes, however, that extra power goes beyond added range — swords grow to ridiculous sizes.
You can customize your sword’s length and girth at the blacksmith shop. Other upgrade options include a piercing quality (which allows your sword to cut through certain pieces of terrain) and a spin attack.
The latter combat mechanic, which is another inspiration from Zelda, also gets a minor update. Instead of a preset spin, players manually control the move with the left analog stick. This, in addition to a gigantic sword, makes clearing an area of enemies immensely satisfying.
The dash is back and — again — with a minor twist: You can change directions during the move. So far, this hasn’t been particularly helpful because the hugeness of your sword means you won’t go very far (you still bounce back when you hit an obstacle, just like in the Zelda games), but I imagine that this might be useful when you’re not at full health and your sword is regularly sized.
Your onscreen avatar isn’t necessarily a preset design — 3D Dot Game Heroes gives players the ability to build their own custom character, in addition to more than four dozen provided models. The robust editor allows players to make their own heroes pixel by pixel.
And in that spirit, I’ve decided to build one specifically for Bitmob — our very own Bitmob Hero! You can download the character file here and load it on your PS3 when the game hits the street May 11.
Visit U.S. publisher Atlus's 3D Dot Game Heroes website for more information, or jump to the second page for additional screenshots.