Thursday, May 14, 2009

Neutopia II

Hudson Soft / NEC

I liked Neutopia a lot when I was a kid, but recent revisits left me unimpressed. I was told by quite a few sources that Neutopia II is superior to the original, but sadly, that isn't the case. Improvements and additions here are modest: you can maneuver diagonally; you have a few more items to play around with; some of the dungeons have many more rooms than those in the first game (making matters feel even more repetitive... wonderful); and you get a couple of "fancy" visual effects, like gratuitous "swirly" nonsense at the beginning and wavy underwater stuff. Otherwise, this is the same crap as before.

Actually, I think the bosses in the first episode are much cooler than the boring jackasses here. The music is still generic chip fare (though I should note that if you love Super Star Soldier's soundtrack, which I don't, there's a very good chance you'll adore this one as well). Some tunes from the first game come jingling back for more, but I didn't care much for them to begin with. I did like the dungeon tune here at first, but it's very repetitive and quickly got on my nerves. And as far as gameplay goes, you get the same weak, archaic combat and the same kindergarten-level push-the-blocks-to-see-if-a-staircase-appears "puzzle solving."

Fans of the Neutopia games always claim that there's something to be said for simplicity. Sure there is. But I think there's a difference between appealing, well-designed simplicity and redundant, uninspired simplicity. Neutopia II repeatedly asks that you clear a room of enemies and push on each block in said room to see if anything "happens." You do this about seven thousand times during the brief adventure. There's nothing interesting or challenging or thought provoking about any of it. The puzzle solving never really goes beyond that, either. And since you don't get a great story or cool combat or even a good soundtrack to accompany the monotony, the whole experience falls flat.

For people who still adore the first Neutopia, this game will probably be lots of fun. If they don't mind the rudimentary design in that game, they should be satisfied here as well. If you are like me and don't view Neutopia as a "classic" but as little more than a decent, if outdated, action-RPG, then I highly recommend you look for the cheapest deal possible on this sequel and avoid the relatively high-priced US version. I sure am glad I didn't spend much money on the game. Quite frankly, I think it sucks, and I got more and more annoyed with its suckiness as it went on.

Snow-land and underwater scenes add a little variety to the overworld experience...

...which is still largely routine Zelda-copy fare.

You get some new items to mess around with this time. Like a boomerang. Don't know how they ever thought of that one. The staves unleash mighty elemental attacks... that often cause your enemies to crash right into you.

Let's look at the wonderful Neutopia II "puzzle" design: Kill all the enemies and push on all the blocks...

...avoid the "boobytraps" and push on all the blocks... the spinning razors and push on all the blocks...

...or just... push on all the blocks.

Among the bosses, only the kraken really stands out. Most of the others are kinda lame.

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