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Summary"Neutopia II": A 16-bit "Dystopia"!
The GoodThe obvious reference this game is continually making is to the 2D "Legend of Zelda" games, (apart from "The Adventure of Link", of course). The similarities are obvious from the first moment of playing. You take control of a young boy who has the free-roam of a vast 2D environment. The world is broken up into screen-lengths, and the quest you undertake is somewhat at your discretion.
You are armed with a sword that has limited range, and you are able to move in eight discreet directions, battling various enemies throughout the "overworld" of the game. It is the player's goal to collect various new items and tools, while solving numerous dungeon-style levels, (referred to as "Labyrinths" in this game).
The first impression that I got about this title's game-play is that the story or quest progresses much faster than in the Zelda titles. Having played many of the latter games, I found it quite refreshing that good progress could be made in single sittings, whereas in Zelda games, I have often been limited as to the progress I can make in short play periods. This, I find, was a nice addition to Neutopia II's charm.
Musically this game is not too bad. Although I find the Overworld theme much too upbeat (you feel like rushing through everything because of it), the dungeon and interior themes are well composed and quite tasteful, maybe even catchy?
The BadThere are a few drawbacks to this series that the Zelda games do not suffer. For example, the actual battle or fight mechanics in this game are quite unpolished. It is not uncommon that you are incidentally hurt by enemies that you have fairly struck - they often fly back towards you after you've struck them with your sword. There is no defense to this, and you often receive significant damage in what seems a truly unfair fashion.
Also, you take serious damage from even the most tiny or low-threat enemies. To compound this problem, you rarely see health power-ups in this game. Single hearts (again another Zelda reference) are very few and far between - so you will certainly get used to that file select screen!
There is a kind of empty mood to this game as well. You rarely see any NPCs out in the Overworld, so there is dire sense of meaningless most of the time. Also, the environments themselves seem a little heartless and plain. There are not many artistic touches to convince the player that the towns and villages are worth fighting for, not to mention the lack of personal history or details concerning the protagonist.
The Bottom LineBut, even though these things do harm the game's overall score, there is a unique charm to Neutopia II that does mean it is recommended. The game-play itself (although at times flawed), lends itself to a one-more-try aspect. And the steep difficulty will challenge Zelda players to the utmost. You really do feel like the labyrinths are vast, hostile environments where you are really not welcome. This I cannot say for Zelda games, as you often feel King of the dungeon before you've even found the main item!
These older titles like Neutopia II appeal to me because of their obscurity and complete obsolescence. It is a nice window back into the gaming past, where a minority system tried to gain some ground in the RPG/adventure genre. I recommend a good try at this title.