Traditional Zelda is a style of gameplay that is near and dear to many people. The top-down adventure makes for some creative puzzle situations and hugely detailed maps. After many years of tinkering with the formula, Nintendo is finally returning to their heritage with The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds.
What are gamers to do in the meantime, though? If one is not a fan of the 3D games or the DS titles, what kind of game will fill the void? Enter Ittle Dew, a top-down adventure game from indie developer Ludosity. What the game lacks in innovative puzzle and world design, it more than makes up for with charm and game feel.
The plotline for Ittle Dew is incredibly simple. Your character washes up on the shore of an island and wants to get off. The caretaker of a shop will build you a raft as long as you go through some dungeons he has set up. You also need to pay him for the items he sells, so there is a main hub dungeon that will let you accrue some cash.
This is probably the weakest element of the game. While the original Zelda game did not really possess a story of any kind, forgoing a narrative in today’s age is a curious decision. One can personally believe that gameplay speaks above all else, but without a strong desire to continue, some gamers may not even be bothered to check Ittle Dew out.
Thankfully, the puzzle designs in Ittle Dew are fairly strong. Stripping down the Zelda formula to its basics, Ittle Dew gives players very limited commands to deal with. Controls are essentially walking with the joystick, the four face buttons used for specific items, and two shoulders buttons for a map and hint screen.
The hint screen is very nicely done, too. Instead of spelling out solutions or talking in cryptic riddles, the game uses the humorous character of Tippsie to lightly insult the player while giving some key hints. Things like, “You’ll only need your fire sword for this room,” are better tests of skill than detailing exactly where to swing your item.
The specific items collected are a teleport rod, a fire sword, and an ice rod. In an interesting twist, there is no proper order of progression in the game. The best aspect is how non-linear the design is. Upon completing the journey, I was under the belief that any player would have to acquire all three of the weapons to finish their quest. That actually isn’t the case. Some of the dungeons even have shortcuts direct to the boss rooms.
Along with shortcuts and paths for skipping items, the game also has hidden dungeons for collecting extra health and cards. The cards don’t really offer any purpose to the game, but their rooms have some insidiously obtuse puzzle designs. I was stumped in one room for a solid 20 minutes before stumbling upon the answer.
When you are transported to any dungeon for a specific item, you only need your wits to get through. No puzzles require another object or skill you do not possess. This alleviates a lot of frustration from the proceedings.
There really isn’t much in the way of challenge, however. If you die, the game simply restarts you in the exact same room with full health. Other than how the sword’s arc doesn’t fully surround your character, the only time one will get annoyed is when they cannot solve a puzzle quickly.
A good mention must go to the writing behind Ittle Dew. Everything is very self-referential and parody-laden. Genre tropes like collecting hearts and destroying pots all make some kind of appearance. Even the nonsensical nature of enemy placement gets mentioned for being so pointless.
Your main character revels in eating hearts and even wishes to just smack things around. The bosses utter some ridiculously incomprehensible catch phrases and then admit to not even knowing what they were talking about. One cannot help but crack a smile while playing. Even the ending is funny. While a rather obvious plot twist occurs, when the final battle comes to a close, the game pokes fun at how most final bosses just kind of give up or don’t take a more obvious approach.
Sadly, while Ittle Dew might be great at questioning why adventure games follow specific mechanics, the game really does nothing to spice them up. One shouldn’t be displeased with a fairly high quality Zelda-like game, but a lack of innovation really does hurt the final product.
There are some texture designs on the world map that are misleading, as well. For the most part, you cannot walk behind any of the trees in the game. Some of the hidden dungeons are behind them, though. Enemies also disappear behind the trees and are completely invisible to the player.
For that matter, the world map doesn’t really serve any purpose other than to move you from point A to point B. Hiding extraneous items behind puzzles is a great incentive for replay value, but giving players some other reason to explore would go a long way to creating a believable world.
There is a bonus dungeon hidden in the fields. This acts as the penultimate test of your skills, requiring every item in the game to fully complete. There are 12 rooms, and each one gets progressively more challenging in skill. This serves as a nice little bonus to an otherwise very short game.
To sum everything up, while Ittle Dew might not be the second coming of adventure gaming or a masterpiece of epic proportions, the game provides plenty of wit and humor along with some decently mind-bending puzzles. The game also controls nicely.
For $14, one could do much worse. Ludosity certainly does not get points for creativity, but their craftsmanship is noble. This game may not be Zelda, but it certainly is Ittle Dew.
This review is based on a retail copy of the PC version of Ittle Dew developed by Ludosity.
The game is available from their website with a DRM free copy or a Steam code for PC/Mac/Linux. The game can also be purchased for the Ouya and will launch later this year for Android, iOS and Wii U.