We've seen enough to know that this Legend Of Zelda-invoking parody is going to be worth every penny of your money. Delivered with a wink and a nod, everything about 3D Dot Game Heroes invokes nostalgia, and it does so intentionally. This is not subtle retro-homage, this is the real deal.
The game's set in the Dotnia Kingdom. Here, legend tells of an evil king known as the Dark King Onyx, and how a hero brought prosperity to the land by finding six magical orbs. Business is booming in the Dotnia Kingdom due to the tale. But as the years pass, tourism drops. Change is needed. That's when the king declares a fresh look is needed, and the world becomes three-dimensional.
It's tongue in cheek and it's supposed to be. The plot is delivered with a telling wink and some extraneous charicatures. The key thing to note is that at the start of the game the world is once again in turmoil. Time to play.
The game's switch from two dimensions to three gives it a very distinct look. All of the objects are built up from coloured squares, and the animation maintains the simplistic transitions of an 8-bit game. In essence, what you get is something akin to a very pretty stop-motion animation. The game has a fantastic oily-sheen that only enhances the almost-plasticine effect. It's certainly one of the most striking and visually pleasing games on the Playstation 3.
Upon starting a new game you'll be asked to select a character. There are numerous presets ranging from a shark's fin to a ninja. One of the biggest aspects of the game is the sprite editor. Here players will be able to create their own protagonists using a variety of block building tools. Given the game's "sprite-turned-3D" style, characters are assembled like LEGO. It's a simplistic but time-consuming practice, that results in your own playable creations. Unfortunately there's no online hub within the game for sharing creations. Players will be able to copy creations to a USB stick and send the super-tiny files around by e-mail - but a ModNation Racers-esque creation store-front seems like a missed opportunity.
With your character selected, and the story out of the way, 3D Dot Game Heroes places you centrally in a large map and gives you the freedom to explore. Just like a Zelda game, nowhere feels off limits, but you will eventually reach brick walls as you realise you don't have the relevant equipment to proceed. The first port of calling for our hero is to find a new sword in the forest. Excalibur-style, the sword is destined for our hand and thus we take it on our journey to the first dungeon, where we'll hopefully lay our hands on the first of the six orbs.
Monsters scatter the game world, and can be executed with a simple tap of the X button. This causes the sword to stretch-out pretty much length-wise across the screen, allowing you to attack from range. 3D Dot Game Heroes is broken down into specific screens, and thus retains that old-school Nintendo Entertainment System presentation of having screens scroll as you pass through them. This is of particular notice in the first dungeon, as we explore the typically grey underworld, hitting switches and collecting keys.
As you'd expect, the first dungeon culminates in a boss fight - a giant lizard like dragon with a flashing tail. Three guesses for what we have to hit with our sword.
The thing about 3D Dot Game Heroes is that it's beautifully inviting. The world looks great, the gameplay's wonderfully evocative and the whole affair's just, for want of a better word, nice. It's truly the type of game you can just sit down with on a Sunday afternoon and soak up the atmosphere.
We'll deliver the final verdict on 3D Dot Game Heroes next month, but we'll say right here, right now: you're safe to go and preorder the game now if you like. In fact, we insist you do so.