The importance and influence of the original Legend of Zelda on gaming history is undeniable. Pretty much every action-adventure after it was influenced by it to some degree. Neutopia, released in 1989 (1990 in the US) for the TurboGrafx-16 (And available today on the Wii Virtual Console for 600 Wii Points), however, is a particularly brazen, near-clone of it. As I posted on Reddit:
[Neutopia] takes place in the land of
Hyrule Neutopia, where the lovely Princess Zelda Aurora has been kidnapped by the evil Ganon Dirth. It’s up to you, Link Jazeta, to collect the eight Triforce Fragments Medallions, defeat Ganon Dirth, and save Zelda Aurora and Hyrule Neutopia.
Now this is part snark, of course, but much less than you may think. The gameplay is also incredibly similar to the original Legend of Zelda. You have a sword as your primary attack, and each dungeon you go through gets you another addition to your life. You move on discrete screens, power up your equipment, and open new areas as you complete dungeons. Essentially, it’s a 16-bit Legend of Zelda, like I said.
Having said that, there are some differences. Neutopia actually has four distinct “Overworlds”–the Land, Subterranean, Sea, and Sky Spheres. Each Sphere has two dungeons (Usually called “Labyrinths”, but more on this later), and you have to beat both dungeons before you can move onto the next one. Also, whereas the typical Zelda formula–which, admittedly, hadn’t yet fully formed in the first installment–involves getting an item in a dungeon, then either using it in that dungeon or using it to get to the next one, most of Neutopia’s “advancement” items tend to be found in the overworld, while the dungeons, with one exception, hide upgrades to your Sword, Armor, or Shield (And even the exception is used to later earn a Sword upgrade). There are also fewer “advancement” items in general–your main item, a fire rod, gets stronger as the game progresses and is used to reveal just about every non-bomb overworld secret.
Also worth noting is that finding overworld places to bomb tends to be a lot easier than in Zelda, although Labyrinths are just as difficult to navigate. There’s no audio cue for a bombable wall, so it pretty much comes down to “bomb every wall you can find and hope for the best”. Sometimes you’ll find hidden passages, and other times this is actually required to progress. Fortunately (Or unfortunately), the item drops seem to be weighted, as you’ll get no bombs for awhile, then all of a sudden get what seems like 3 bomb drops in 4 enemies killed.
Neutopia does have some issues that keep it from being a classic besides just being “The Legend of Zelda 16”. The hit detection can be strange at times, particularly as regards enemies who shouldn’t be able to hit you due to being behind a wall or other such obstruction. If they have a jumping animation, though, you can be hit and damaged, even though the enemy can’t actually jump over the obstruction itself. Also, whether it’s a translation quirk or just bad writing that got carried over into the US release, it seems like “Labyrinth” is supposed to refer to the dungeons, but at times is used to to interchangably refer to the Overworld as well. Similarly, “Crypt” is supposed to be the boss rooms, but is used to mean “Dungeon” a time or two. Finally, there’s a hint or two that’s actively misleading–once says you’ll “have to be clever” to open the dungeon, and apparently “being clever” means “finding the guy who supposedly knows how to open the dungeon, only he doesn’t tell you how to actually open the dungeon, only the dungeon entrance is all of the sudden there when you go back to it”. Stuff like this can, as you may imagine, be frustrating.
Still, overall, Neutopia is a solid game, and if you like The Legend of Zelda, you’ll also enjoy Neutopia. I can truthfully say that I’ve paid far less for a game, and regretted it far more, than I did with the money I spent on Neutopia.