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Neutopia II (TurboGrafx-16) artwork

Neutopia II (TurboGrafx-16) review

"Off-brand Zelda."

One thing a person must give Nintendo credit for with its Legend of Zelda franchise is how they avoided stagnation in the early years. After the first NES game in the series, they completely changed things for the second game, relying on side-scrolling dungeons, instead of the original’s overhead view. When the series moved to the Super Nintendo, while A Link to the Past returned to the overhead view and took a lot of inspiration from the original, so much was added to the equation that it would be difficult for even the most jaded and cynical gamer to toss around words like “derivative” to describe it.

The same can’t be said for Hudson Soft’s Neutopia series on the Turbo-Grafx 16. The first of its two games was a dollar store rip-off of those classic Zelda games that mirrored its inspiration so much that it’s honestly a bit of a shock that cease and desist letters were not showing up in the mail on a daily basis. And the second game could only be described as more of the same.

This time, you control the son of original hero Jazeta. Well, after a short intro in which Jazeta gets taken to the woodshed by a big squid-like foe, that is. As so many young heroes of this era, your new protagonist gets introduced via his mom waking him up and blurting out that trouble is afoot and as the son of a hero, you’re now needed to take up arms and take care of business.

So, after getting the boot from your house, you’ll talk to people in your little town and then make your way to a dungeon to traverse its many rooms, find an important item and perhaps an upgrade or two and defeat its boss. That important item will be used to cross a cavern leading to another land, with its own town and dungeon, in which you’ll get the necessary goods to reach the next. And the next. And so on until you’ve walked the entire world and shown every evildoer the business end of your sword.

Neutopia II screenshot Neutopia II screenshot

I suppose Neutopia II isn’t the exact same as the first one. While the first game sent you to four different worlds, each with a pair of dungeons, you just have one large world here that’s essentially a long and linear jaunt where each key item obtained from dungeons allows you to access a bit more real estate. You also get a few additional items, such as a flail that has far greater range than your sword at the expense of costing you a bit of cash with every swing of it. And you might not want to be spending your money on it, as the cost of certain goods such as medicine goes up as you progress farther into the game.

But at its heart, one Neutopia is pretty much the same as the other, which leads to diminishing returns when one might have been expecting, I don’t know, actual improvements? When outside of dungeons, you’ll be doing the exact same stuff as in the first game — walking from screen to screen while burning trees and pushing rocks to find all sorts of well-hidden residents of the world willing to offer advice, give upgrades or sell stuff.

Then, you’ll go into dungeons and find the fun of exploring those places blunted by a number of small annoyances. Just like the first game, there are no markings on wall that you can bomb. With many of these, that isn’t a huge issue, as you can collect crystal balls to give you a map of those places which allows you to at least have a good guess as to where you should place bombs. However, there are secret rooms not on the map and those places occasionally contain very necessary goods. If you’re not using the Internet to find maps for some of these places, well, I hope you like painstakingly bombing wall after wall after wall until you actually get results.

Also, the dungeon “puzzles” really haven’t evolved. When you enter many rooms, all the doors will lock until you’ve either killed all the monsters present or pushed the appropriate block to re-open them. A whole lot of block-pushing in these places, as you’ll regularly find yourself needing to bump into a dozen or more blocks in room after room in searching for the one that actually can be interacted with. This task gets more and more fun as you get farther into the game and start frequently encountering trapped blocks that emit swords when you draw near and special traps that cause either spikes to rise from the ground or spears to shoot out of the walls.

Neutopia II screenshot Neutopia II screenshot

All things considered, I could simply refer to this game as being a near copy of the first Neutopia — a discount Zelda that’s a decent experience even if it can’t approach the standard set by its inspiration. Unfortunately, there is this one insanely annoying dungeon that really mucks things up as far as simply saying “good, not great” goes.

The sixth one of these places you visit is designed as a pair of twin towers and it is HUGE. There are five floors with each one consisting of two nine-room squares connected by a walkway. Now, you can hold two medicines that fully restore your life when used and you can fight one or two more in this dungeon. Despite this, it is way too easy to burn through your health and medicines in this massive dungeon. Due to the short range of your sword, odds are you’ve gotten accustomed to relying on one of your magic staffs in combat, as you can strike foes from a distance with them. Well, two commonly-appearing opponents in this place are immune to those attacks and also move erratically, so it’s easy to absorb a lot of pain whenever you get stuck in a room with those guys. There also are all the traps that make moving around and pushing blocks more dangerous than one would hope. Oh, and there also is a secret room not appearing (or even hinted at) on the map that contains a shield you need for when you fight the final boss.

The difficulty of Neutopia II peaks here. The final two dungeons are smaller and easier to navigate — partly because in the next one, you’ll get an armor upgrade that makes enemies notably less dangerous and partly because they contain fewer than 91 rooms loaded with monsters and traps. Take that dungeon out of the equation and the only truly annoying aspect to this game is how several boss fights get extended due to how they’re only vulnerable at certain moments — typically when they’re attacking you.

But I guess one should expect these issure when playing dollar store Zelda. Neutopia II isn’t a bad game and can provide a reasonable amount of enjoyment for fans of those old-school Zelda games who are looking for more stuff utilizing that template. It just isn’t the same and you’ll likely be thinking that for virtually your entire time in its world.

overdrive's avatar
Community review by overdrive (April 25, 2024)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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