Neutopia (TurboGrafx-16) review
"Neutopia may be the darkest of all action-RPGs I've come across, as if a layer of the brightest colour was stripped away. Even the colour of the sunlit outdoors is subdued. Similarly, the trumpeting fanfare that sounds games of this ilk is not so evident here. Instead, the music of the spheres seems wistful, and is easily overpowered for thematic presence by the somber sweetness of the Labyrinths' tunes."
Neutopia is a Legend of Zelda clone and it doesn't try to hide it. It doesn't bring to the table any revolutionary viewpoint like a Landstalker, any mind-bending puzzles one would find in Brainlord, any of the depth of gameplay that Zelda's third and fourth instalments annexed to the simple overhead format. Neutopia is a bare bones copy, and that makes it a clone.
But that's not necessarily a bad thing. Zelda was a great game, now adorned with the 'classic' mantle, and it's as good a game as any to emulate. For those somehow not in the know, Zelda championed a new genre of video games in the 8-bit era that carried on into 16-bit times, and has more recently been radically altered by the new wave of 3D to such a degree that it can't be called the same thing anymore. That genre was the action-RPG. A role-playing quest where you do your own active fighting (almost always from an overhead viewpoint), rather than picking and clicking through them in turn-based fashion. Zelda brought this type of adventure to us with a certain charm, and though Neutopia changes almost nothing about the way its adventure is fought, it manages to imbue the gamer with a subdued, subtle charm of its own.
Jazeta is no Link. But nonetheless, he's got his own worries, of equally pressing importance as Ganon's transgressions. Meet Dirth, the personification of evil (he's working on getting his friends to call him that). But as evil and demon-like as he professes to be, he is lacking in the creativity department. You see, he wants to do something terrible, as well as profound and creative, to set him apart from the demons (and various other shadowy oppressors) who have come before him.
He didn't do his homework. Kidnapping the Princess and stealing the eight Medallions that hold the spirits of the land's fathers? I can hear the other demons mocking the rookie's effort as Neutopia was released: ''Grobbos did that years ago!'' Dirth could only shrug his ethereal shoulders, ''Okay, so it's nothing new. But at least it plunged the land into darkness, did it not?''
He was right about that. As Jazeta, the little hero with the slicked back hair, you must travel the four spheres - Land, Subterranean, Sea and Sky - scouring each area for the two Medallions they hold. Success will grant him a trip to the North Pole to confront the dullard Dirth for a chance at exacting forced attrition upon the ruler, and at putting a smile on the face of the captured Princess should you succeed. The task won't be difficult, though it's not a complete cakewalk. There are enough enemies and simplistic puzzles and terrain to cover to keep you busy for a few days of hacking and slashing action. But it's the latter - the length of the game - that is your main obstacle; realistically, you won't be stuck by any brain-blasting conundrum or near-invincible boss. It's all very straightforward.
How much so? Consider this. You travel the colourful lands swiping at blobs, moths, grasshoppers and horned soldiers uncovering secret staircases by pushing rocks, or revealing secret rooms in mountainsides by bombing suspicious wall drawings with Boom Bombs. Confident that you've gleaned a given sphere of all its useful treasures? Take a deep breath and enter a Labyrinth. It's not so much a maze, as it is a dungeon area, something that every action-RPG seems to require. Developers Hudson Soft simply decided to give Neutopia's dungeons a name that doesn't quite fit. In any case, the Labyrinths are much darker visually than the great outdoors, and the music offers extremely melancholic beauty. Bats and ghosts and cow skeletons will assail you as you quest for the crystal ball that will fill out your map, and the key that will unlock the way to the boss, be it typical marching Golem, or even more typical shuffling, fire-breathing Dragon. Puzzles in the Labyrinths include using the Rainbow Drop to fill out gaps in the floor beneath your feet, and the Moonbeam Moss to light your darkest hour (you would have found these items in the daylight of the above ground).
Neutopia may be the darkest of all action-RPGs I've come across, as if a layer of the brightest colour was stripped away. Even the colour of the sunlit outdoors is subdued. Similarly, the trumpeting fanfare that sounds games of this ilk is not so evident here. Instead, the music of the spheres seems wistful, and is easily overpowered for thematic presence by the somber sweetness of the Labyrinths' tunes. The quiet graphics (though crisp and detailed for their size), and the melancholy music (even when spirited), tell the tale for Neutopia. It seems content with being Zelda for people who either want more of Zelda, or for Turbografx-16 owners who simply want their own version. It doesn't seem to want to be innovative or boisterous. It aches to be a quaint, quiet, crisper copy of a louder classic, and it manages to do so with a charm and beauty all its own.
Something More: Make sure you transcribe your passwords exactly as they appear. They are horribly long and it's easy to make a mistake that will compromise all your progress. If you have the Turbo Booster or Turbo CD unit, you're in luck; you can simply save your game.
Something Else: Neutopia 2 features a completely different cast of characters from this first game and though it's much harder, it doesn't have Neutopia's charm.
Staff review by Marc Golding (December 06, 2003)
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