Neutopia (TurboGrafx-16) review
"After I completed the Turbografx-16ís Neutopia, I half-expected to find that the roles of Jazeta, the princess heís trying to rescue and the evil villain Dirth were played by Link, Zelda and Ganon, respectively. But maybe that was what Hudson was trying to accomplish. After all, Link and his Hyrulian exploits were the hottest thing this side of Mario in Nintendo-land ó and success definitely breeds imitation in the world of gaming. "
After I completed the Turbografx-16ís Neutopia, I half-expected to find that the roles of Jazeta, the princess heís trying to rescue and the evil villain Dirth were played by Link, Zelda and Ganon, respectively. But maybe that was what Hudson was trying to accomplish. After all, Link and his Hyrulian exploits were the hottest thing this side of Mario in Nintendo-land ó and success definitely breeds imitation in the world of gaming.
At least Hudson knew how to do it right, succeeding where games like Monkey Hero and Faria failed. Neutopia proves to be faithful to The Legend of Zelda in most aspects, but takes a few minor liberties with the tried-and-true template set by Link.
In one aspect, Neutopia is a bit smaller than The Legend of Zelda. Here, you only have eight dungeons and a final boss fight, as opposed to the NES classicís nine lairs. Donít be fooled, though ó Jazetaís adventure is far larger in scope than Linkís.
Those eight dungeons are scattered over four different worlds, all connected by a magical shrine (much like the one present in the SNESí Soul Blazer). By conquering the two dungeons on one world, youíll obtain access to the next ó a process that continues until youíve grabbed all eight of the medallions necessary to grant you an audience with Dirth.
There is a lot more to see on each world besides its two dungeons, though. Virtually every screen in each game holds some sort of doorway. While some are out in the open, others can only be accessed by either slaying that areaís allotment of enemies or using one of Jazetaís tools (mainly bombs and fire). By doing so, youíll get to meet a wide range of people who apparently are hiding from Dirth and doing a good job of it (hey, if I was an evil overlord, I doubt Iíd think to burn down trees to see if any ďsubjectsĒ had relocated to houses under them).
While the vast majority of these people are blabbering idiots incapable of doing more than mindlessly flattering you and begging for you to kill Dirth, a few of these folk are useful. Some sell bombs and medicine, offer to transport you back to the shrine or simply heal your wounds. Others clue you in on where to find important people, dungeons and key items. Others possess those key items. In some ways, itís actually more fun to meander through the overworld seeking out each person to see if they can help you than it is to actually explore the dungeons ó and thatís something I NEVER say about games of this nature.
Thatís not to say the dungeons are poorly designed, by any means. While they are kind of drab in appearance, they are effective little mazes. And, as you get farther into the game, they can get to be pretty tricky. Much like the original Zelda, bombable walls donít have markings that all but scream, ďWhat are you waiting for, fool!?Ē. As you make it to the final dungeons, youíll find that not only are they roughly twice the size of some of the earlier ones, but also full of hidden rooms that only can be found by persistently bombing any wall that doesnít have a door attached to it.
And make no mistake about it, all this bombing is completely mandatory. While some dungeons hold key items, most hold a piece of equipment that will strengthen Jazeta against future opponents. The farther you play in the game, the more important finding these swords, armors and shields becomes. If you donít believe me, just try taking on Dirth without finding the gameís best sword. It will be a humiliating experience, as your pitiful blows fail to even dent the cursed armor of the diabolical overlord.
But it doesnít truly become tricky to find these hidden treasures until youíve reached the final couple of dungeons. Until that point, finding the dungeons is the hard part. Sure things are pretty easy in the first world, but both the second and third worlds have their ways of making things a wee bit difficult for poor olí Jazeta. To have any chance of advancing through the two lairs in the fiery second world, youíll have to scour the overworld for a pair of well-hidden items. In the water-drenched third world, simply getting your bearings is a task, as the overworld is a convoluted maze in which an adventurer could wander aimlessly for hours, never realizing how close they are to finding the next dungeon. Fortunately, the sky world is far simpler to navigate, but Hudson saves its toughest two dungeons for this place.
Fortunately, Jazeta will be well-equipped for all these challenges ó and Iím not talking about his collection of swords, either. While theyíre nice, it doesnít take you long to obtain a far superior weapon. In the first world, youíll be handed a flame rod that gets more powerful as you gain more life bars. Not only does this device work on all but a few monsters, but also has far more range than your sword jab, making it a far more useful weapon for the majority of the game. Youíll really grow to appreciate it by the time you get to the fourth world, as you should have enough life to utilize the flame rodís ultimate attack ó a long-reaching stream of fire that does everything but mass-produce the caskets necessary for all the enemies it will slay.
Itís good the flame rod is so useful, as Jazeta doesnít have much else of use in his limited inventory. As the game goes on, he gets bombs, wings to teleport him back to the shrine, a light source for dungeons, medicine and a couple other things, but you wonít have quite as large of an inventory here as in The Legend of Zelda.
Still, trifling concerns such as that OR enemies not seeming to drop items as often as they should (you tend to rarely get healing items) didnít really bother me that much while playing this game. What did bother me was that I just never felt that much excitement while playing this game. In my opinion, Neutopia copied so many elements from The Legend of Zelda that it really doesnít have its own identity. Regardless of the minor differences Iíve mentioned, youíre still essentially playing a slightly enhanced version of that game. Itís still good, but it just isnít the same experience because, odds are, youíve done it all before.
Neutopia does an admirable job of following Nintendoís old formula and Hudson deserves praise for the fine job they did in making one of the best clones of The Legend of Zelda on any system. Still, that doesnít make this game an enduring classic. I know I finished this game just wishing there had been some sort of major deviation from the tried-and-true script. Neutopia is a very good game ó it just isnít anything that will reach out and DEMAND your attention.
Community review by overdrive (February 17, 2005)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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