Hey peeps, back to words this week. I wanna discuss Zeldalikes today, that odd sub-genre begot by some game from the olde timey days called The Legend of Zelda for the NES. Yeah, that one. The Zelda series has a very specific formula that it sticks to religiously, which makes non-Zelda games that attempt to do their own thing with the same formula stick out as copycats and are subsequently relatively rare occurrences. Contrast this to Metroid or Mario - two equally popular NES games that went on to produce not only several sequels and spinoffs of their own, but dozens of imitators that vary from audacious knock-offs to highly inventive proteges.
So here's my three favorite Zelda games that don't actually have anything to do with Link, Hyrule or giant pig demon wizards. As always, feel free to add your own in the comments. Neutopia seems to be the big one I've not included.
DarksidersPossibly the most well-known Zeldalike in recent memory, Darksiders follows the adventures of a Mr War as he rectifies his premature annihilation of Earth by attacking Warhammer 40k characters and creatures inspired by middle-school textbook doodles. While it contains many trappings of the contemporary "action-adventure" game, which generally features a lot of tearing things apart with QTEs and growling, it also borrows a lot from the Zelda franchise with its themed dungeons.
Each dungeon, true to the core values of any Zelda game, are a slightly maze-like series of areas where the goal is to first collect the map and compass for navigation; the dungeon "item", which generally opens up other parts of the dungeon; the boss key, which opens the way to the dungeon boss and then defeating the boss itself and claiming whatever McGuffin it was guarding. Darksiders cheerfully (or as cheerful as a broody manifestation of carnage can get) conforms to this dungeon formula for the whole game, giving the players ample areas to explore on the overworld too as their powers expand. It's not a game that has a lot of ideas of its own, but at least it steals them with style.
Sticking with the "stolen game form" system the Death game will be a metroidvania (so ironic, considering he dies in half of those), the Pestilence game will be one of those "infection" zombie flash games and Famine will be based on Cooking Mama. My uncle works for Nintendo, so he knows this stuff.
3D Dot Game Heroes 3D Dot Game Heroes is unrepentant with its Zeldalike status. A deliberate attempt to elicit nostalgia from a huge fanbase of Zelda worshipers, it adheres strictly to the many tropes and fixtures of the original NES Zelda. It has the boomerang, the bow, the bombs, the annoying Wizzrobes, the Moblins and a series of elemental "Sages" that the player must assist. Even the Boss Key has the same little devil horns.
Where 3D Dot Game Heroes sets itself apart is how gleefully it lampoons all these age-old tropes, eviscerating not only Zelda but similarly po-faced medieval fantasy games like Dragon Quest (especially the fourth one), Final Fantasy and the Dragon Slayer series. The blocky NPCs that populate the world freak out about the inexplicably high value placed on empty bottles, signposts, creating a 3D Mech game and curses that turn people into animals for often dubious reasons. The (admittedly slight) Zelda shenanigans are really just the framework for a good-natured pastiche of the 8-bit era that depends on an audience that is super familiar with its subject matter. It joins hilarious but flawed games like Cthulhu Saves The World, Anachronox and Psychonauts which really work best as vessels for comedy and parody than they do as games.
Also, for some reason, the music for the otherwise aggravating "Dash Circuit" mini-game is amazing, whereas the rest of the soundtrack is merely competent. I don't know why this is. Why are you so random with your level of quality, From Software?
Alundra Alundra, now available on PSN from what I'm hearing though I'm not going to check because the Europe PSN store is godawful, is a Zelda game in all but name. The main hero is an elfin youth, there's a village of superstitious but otherwise regular dudes and the villain is a nebulously evil spirit of some kind.
However, Alundra goes to a much darker place as its narrative arc progresses, as each dungeon means another NPC death in the hub village. Most dungeons actually take place in the dreams of these NPCs, and you're constantly discovering the dark secrets behind the town, its occupants and especially its ominous church. It's also difficult as hell, with the usual Zelda traps like spinning saws, zig-zagging blades and collapsing platforms turned up to eleven and unremitting in their brutality, with equally difficult Zeldalike puzzles to figure out too. I'm not sure if it was ever promoted as a more mature Zelda, but that's clearly what Alundra creators Matrix Software were aiming for.
Bonus ComicsWith my Chantelise blog gaining some notice for featuring a bunch of stickmen doodles doing stuff (I guess?) I've decided to add a feature to this and future blogs where I create an observational comic for every game I've played this week. This should be fun, probably.
3D Dot Game Heroes