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Neutopia II (TurboGrafx-16) artwork

Neutopia II (TurboGrafx-16) review

"Less of a legend and more of a rumor."

Occasionally, I get this weird craving where I want to play a certain game or franchise, but not that exact game or franchise. For instance, I might pine for something akin to Metroid or Mega Man, and ultimately chase down one of their clones of dubious quality. Situations like these lead me to products that either succeed in the utmost (such as the excellent Axiom Verge) or leave me wishing I had just stuck with the more popular option (see also: the disappointing Shatterhand). Then you have games like Neutopia II, which pleasantly while away the hours but still leave you longing for their inspirations.

Yes, developer Hudson Soft's The Legend of Zelda ape sits somewhere in the middle of the previously described spectrum, offering just enough action and exploration to tick the right boxes, though it sports enough flaws that hold it back. I'm not going to lay into this game for wearing its inspiration on its sleeve, because that's what I was looking for. I wanted a game that imitated Nintendo's action-adventure hit. And if you think about it, unabashedly cloning that title made sense in 1991. Back then, people typically bought one console. If you purchased Turbografx-16 and decided to forgo Super Nintendo, you missed out on top-down dungeon exploring greatness that was A Link to the Past. Not to worry, though, because Hudson had those players covered.

With Neutopia II, you venture through a 16-bit overworld, chat with NPCs for clues regarding your quest, and voyage to a nearby labyrinth teeming with familiar monsters. Everywhere you go, you hack up a bunch of slimes, orcs, lizardmen, skeletons and other bizarre beasts that can't be easily dropped into a category. As with its predecessor, you stab them all to death (and can even do so diagonally) while trying to take care not to get too close to them, lest you suffer collision damage. As you advance through the campaign, this feat becomes trickier because your foes do more than merely wander. They hop about randomly, float all over the place, breath fire, charge at you or pull any number of dangerous maneuvers to keep you on your toes.

At times, your sword proves to be inadequate because you have to get within handshake range to deal damage. At such times, your foe might pounce or turn sharply in your direction, swiftly stripping off a heart or two from your HUD. That's when you should brandish one of the three elemental staves you acquire during your quest. Though most of these weapons aren't absolutely necessary for completing the campaign (you only need the fire staff, if I'm not mistaken), they're all so invaluable in combat that they may as well be required goods. Some bosses especially either move so quickly or wildly that you can't even hope to stab them without sustaining an injury, and thus ranged battle becomes the preferable option.

You might notice that the campaign is a bit more linear than before. Don't worry, because there's still plenty of real estate to explore and hidden goodies to find. For instance, you might burn a bush and find a monk who permanently increases your hit points, or blast a wall and locate on of the aforementioned staves. Regardless, the area you search tends to limited to a certain section of the map. You don't get free reign over the rest of the land, as further regions require special items that you can only nab by entering the next dungeon.

That setup might sound like a letdown to some Zelda diehards, but I honestly found it relieving. I didn't have to stumble around all over the world trying to locate the next dungeon, only to accidentally access one of the later stages. Brief bits of dialogue and short cutscenes constantly pointed me in the right direction, plus well-disguised borders told me when I was headed in the wrong direction. True, I didn't have the freedom this game's inspiration brought, but I also avoided the exhausting process of creeping over every single bit of land before entering the next challenge.

Titles of this nature revolve around finding and completing mazes, and that's where the wheels start to come off the Neutopia II bus. Don't get me wrong, these levels showcase terrific design and planning. Every room exists to throw you off, house one of the items you need or wear you down before you reach the boss. However, some of these dungeons are incredibly overwhelming and drawn out. The sixth one, The Twin Towers, is the worst offender, as it's basically five dungeons glued together. The voyage to the boss takes ages, especially when you consider that you're also searching for a golden shield, a crystal ball (which serves as the dungeon's map) and a key to unlock the boss' chamber.

Sometimes you battle through lengthy gauntlets where damage is nearly unavoidable, only to get wrecked by the boss. Death sends you back to the most recently used save point, which means you need to travel back to the dungeon itself. Since there are no shortcuts or unlockable portals that skip you ahead, you'll need to take the already exhausting process from the top. Thankfully, any items you find are yours forever.

To make matters worse, you need to bomb through a lot of walls to discover the actual path to a level's finish line. I know Zelda does this a bit, but this title overuses the concept to the point that you end up bombing just about every wall you find, eventually running out of explosives many times over. Sure, you can farm bombs by killing foes, but that only serves to drag out an already taxing affair. Your only recourse would be to hit the internet and check out some maps, but any well-designed dungeon-based offering shouldn't have you doing that as often as this one does.

At last, you reach the boss and decide to give it the thrashing of its life for dwelling in such a confusing dump. Most of these encounters prove to be every bit as action-packed and desperate as they should be, rarely pairing you with a pushover. However, the game also occasionally stoops to underhanded tactics in order to secure a win. Mainly, some bosses move so erratically and unpredictably that victory at times feels more like winning the lottery than solving a problem. For instance, the first boss arbitrarily pops up out of the ground. Sometimes it bursts through the dirt on the opposite side of the chamber, but now and then it does so right where you're standing and you cannot avoid taking damage. You have to hope this doesn't happen too often in order to fell the beast, and boss encounters shouldn't play out that way. You should always have an escape on offer.

Ultimately, I enjoyed Neutopia II more than detested it. I'll admit that it grows tiresome at some points, but not enough to fully drag the experience down. The exploration and combat offered enough solid entertainment to hold my attention, and some of the boss encounters were actually fun and challenging. However, the game's cheaper bits and drawn out dungeons that require way too much bombing prevent this title from being one of the great Zelda clones, rather than a merely acceptable one.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (October 16, 2020)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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overdrive posted October 16, 2020:

I remember emulating this one partway through on an older computer before that machine broke down. It was a while ago and, as of now, I've never tried starting it up again, but I remember the bombs paragraph stuff very vividly. So many walls you had to bomb and the game didn't ape SNES-and-future Zeldas by letting you know which walls could be bombed, so it was this annoying-as-hell game of trial and error. It's weird how one small misstep can turn into a huge annoyance, but lo and behold, that's what happened to me playing it. Hell, I remember that before the computer died, I had gotten into the habit of keeping a window open on my computer to have a map of whatever dungeon I was in up so I could see where to go. And that's never a good sign as far as the "am I having fun?" factor with a game goes.

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