GAME REVIEWS

Monday, May 11, 2009

Neutopia

~ NEUTOPIA ~
Hudson Soft / NEC
HuCard
1990

This was no mere case of complimentary emulation or innocuous mimicking. With Neutopia, Hudson pulled off one of the most blatant and egregious acts of conceptual appropriation in the history of gaming. Of course, being that the patterned-after object is an undeniable classic and that the copycats did their work quite well, Turbo players have never felt any need to decry the remarkably conspicuous theft. I myself liked The Legend of Zelda a whole lot when I was a kid, so I certainly had no gripes with being served an additional helping of vast overworld and spooky labyrinths.

Well, after many, many years and a couple of recent playthroughs, I still like Neutopia, but my experiences with it back in the day were much more enjoyable, and I'm afraid I must presently downgrade it from "great" to merely "pleasant." Mechanically, this one-screen-at-a-time adventure game seems obsolete compared to Crystalis for the NES, let alone the many mighty action-RPGs that were eventually released for the Duo. There are very few true secrets and puzzles to speak of. Practically all of the "secret spots" are marked, and the "puzzles" largely consist of pushing every block in every room. It's still pretty fun to explore the environments and hack things up, especially since the graphics are quite nice and the controls are adequate (if rudimentary). However, when considering not only the superior 16-bit action-RPGs that were released subsequent to Neutopia's prime but also the mighty Alundra--which took basic ideas from Zelda and augmented them with an amazing story, brain-busting puzzles, and refined controls--well, Neutopia starts to seem a bit lacking.

Neutopia imitates Zelda well as far as basic gameplay aspects go, but it can't match the elements that make Zelda truly special. As primitive as it is, Zelda is incredibly atmospheric, thanks in large part to its eternally memorable soundtrack. Exploring its overworld feels like a grand, epic experience. Navigating its labyrinths is eerie and suspenseful. The enemies are interesting and oftentimes powerful. And playing it now produces a sweet bit of nostalgia thanks to those qualities. Neutopia, on the other hand, has never felt like anything more than a short, cartoony adventure. And now, there's no nostalgia. No atmosphere. No tunes that stay with me after I turn the game off. No brutal enemies that could stand up to the Darknuts of Zelda fame. Just decent, appealing questing.

I don't want to sound too negative; Neutopia is still fun, and there isn't a single moment during the adventure when I'm not enjoying myself to an extent. But sadly, the game simply hasn't aged all that well.


Exploring the overworld while battling cartoony fiends is a pleasant-enough activity...


...but uncovering the land's ill-concealed "secrets" isn't hard enough to be rewarding.


Similarly, circumventing the underworld's "defense systems" is seldom difficult.


When you're not avoiding (obvious) traps and pushing blocks, you'll be "brawling" with small Zelda-foe rip-offs.


Actually, Zelda gives you more neat stuff to mess around with.


And Ganon doesn't waste any time babbling in cliche.


I do give Neutopia credit for its cool cartoony bosses... though, like most other aspects of the game, they seemed larger and cooler back when I was a kid.

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