Sunday, 23 May 2010

3D Dot Game Heroes: The Little Game That Could

What do you get when you mix, classic RPG gaming, retro graphics, a 3D engine and Lego? 3D Dot Game Heroes! Join us as we sally fourth on a quest to explore Silicon Studio's re-imagining of a classic RPG franchise and get our hands dirty building sprites! 

How can I describe 3D Dot Game Heroes? For anyone who caught the games' teaser web page, in August 2009, that featured simply a cube with a countdown timer the game could have appeared to be little more then an interesting curiosity amidst the catalog of games becoming available that month. Bearing in mind that August 2009 gave us the sublime Batman: Arkham Asylum, it's easy to see how Dot Heroes has perhaps not been bathed in the limelight it deserves. But for those of us who have waited for Dot Heroes to arrive there has been a feeling that we are about to be treated to something special.

Chicken cruelty will be punished 
The first thing you notice about Dot Heroes is the unique presentation of it's graphics. The game is basically a 2D RPG presented with 3D graphics with sprites built out of 3D "pixel" blocks. These are enhanced by more advanced lighting effects that are applied to water, fires and lighting within temples and so on. The style oozes charisma and instantly reminds the player of both a nostalgia ridden trip through games of old and the classic toy that is Lego. This means that even the coldest hearted player will find it hard to not be drawn into the fun and playful atmosphere that Dot Heroes possess.   

The second thing many gamers will recognize is the games obvious similarity to Nintendo's classic Zelda titles featured on the NES. This has divided gamers and reviewers alike across the gaming world as some see it as a fun homage to Nintendo's classic adventure while others have been quick to label the game as "ripped off" and unoriginal. It's fair to say that the opening sections of the game do feel like a screen for screen clone of the Zelda franchise with the first upgrades you find being the sword dash and the boomerang but these similarities are countered with the inclusion of a upgradeable sword, a slightly more advanced fighting system and the inclusion of several mini-games.

Unlike in Zelda, players can now "swing" their sword in combat by holding the attack button and turning with left stick or directional buttons. While not the most innovative control system of all time, this does expand on simply pressing an attack button for a quick stab at enemies who you manage to get close enough to. Although a little clunky at times, this style of attack does prove particularly useful when your sword has been upgraded to fill impressive amounts of the screen. One inescapable observation of Dot Heroes is that the sword really is massive which, once you get used to the idea, actually highlights the games' fun approach and further expands of the games unique visual style.

The inclusion of Dot Heroes' mini-games adds further enjoyment to the games fun style and is  a further nod to gaming history with the inclusion of Blockout -the obvious reference to Breakout, Dash Race where players are invited to test their running skills and Block Defense, which you will receive no prizes for guessing is a tower defense game. None of these games will win awards for changing the world of gaming but as a homage to classic games you would not expect them to. They do play well however, which is what counts.     
Blocks away!
However, with all these tweaks Dot Heroes is still inescapably heavily influenced by Nintendo's Zelda games. It draws on Zelda's basic game-play system with life shards and magic being used in more or less the same way and Dot Heroes' story is more then a little close to that of Zelda, although with the added genius twist that the Dot Heroes universe has been changed from 2D to 3D in an attempt to encourage tourism! It should be noted that the similarity to Nintendo's creation is not really a bad thing. The cynical out there argue that it is shameless cashing in on the Zelda franchise and you can bet the last of your younger siblings pocket money that there will be fan-boys out there who consider Dot Heroes to be sacrilege, but honestly I see it as more of a homage to Nintendo's games. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery right? The only time that this works against Dot Heroes is with it's music, which while usually as charming as the visual element of the game, can sometimes sound a little flat or like a less catchy Zelda sound a-like.

The final selling point for Dot Heroes are it's creation tools which allow players to create their own character sprites. The systems is simple enough to get to grips with and allows the user to build "sprites" out of single "pixel" blocks, which gives Dot Heroes a certain "toy" feel. At a glance you could forgive the casual observer for asking if where playing the latest Lego game. However, despite the coolness of this idea there is fairly little to say about it. It is well implemented but disappointingly only allows the player to create his own sprite and not that of the monsters. However, what is impressive to see is that Silicon Studies have implemented a system where you can change your sprite each time you return to the game without affecting the games progress. this clever touch means that you can make the most of the creation tools without having to restart the game but may limit the games re-play value after you complete it.

Over all, Dot Heroes is well worth looking into. It's true to say that it's not a hugely innovative game, but it is a lot of fun which is what really counts. Everything about Dot Heroes is a joy to experience and it's charm definitely extends to more then it's presentation. To match it's playful image, Dot Heroes is driven by a witty and occasionally silly sense of humor that consistently invites the play to play more. It's only a shame that Dot Heroes is likely to not get the return it deserves as it becomes over shadowed by other more high-profile releases. I'm going to give Dot Heroes a rugged 8 out of 10 dinosaurs and beseech you give a chance to 3D Dot Game Heroes, the little game that could.

"A rugged 8 out of 10 dinosaurs."







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