It’s not easy making a game parody. More specifically, it’s not easy making a good parody game. Far too often, those developers purporting to satirize game tropes fall into the comfortable trap of calling out a trope, and then proceeding to play it out, as if mindfulness is any substitute for cleverness. Ludosity‘s Ittle Dew 2 is the sequel to Ittle Dew, a title I haven’t played and a self-proclaimed parody of old-school puzzle RPGs, especially the Zelda series, which I haven’t played either. So we’re going to have some fun with this one, aren’t we, dear reader?
Ittle Dew 2: Windows PC [Reviewed], Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Publisher: Nicalis, Inc.
Release Date: 15 November 2016
Price: 19,99€ [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Developer/Publisher]
Ittle Dew 2 Island Adventure
Now, now, don’t get your triforces in a Ganondorf, just because I haven’t ever played a Zelda game before doesn’t mean I don’t know what’s going on. Playing Nintendo games was tricky in late 80s, early 90s Eastern Europe, but that’s a story for another time. Luckily, virtually every introductory work on game design mentions the Legend of Zelda series and if reading isn’t your thing then (what are you doing here?) youtube upstart Mark Brown has an ongoing series of in-depth analyses of the dungeon design. So yes, even as a Zeldilettante (oh God…) I immediately recognised Ittle Dew 2 as “Zelda-esque”.
The eponymous Ittle Dew is the game’s protagonist. She’s a plucky, unconcerned, jovial adventurer accompanied by Tippsie: a flying fox with a cynical attitude and a bit of a substance abuse problem. Their raft leaves them marooned on a strange island inhabited by all manner of weird creatures and strange folk. She is quickly informed that in order to get off the island she’s going to need eight raft pieces conveniently located inside eight dungeons across the island.
The main gameplay loop consists of exploring the island’s regions, each having different types of enemies, caves and secrets and one main dungeon that holds a raft piece. The overworld is open for the most part and while the game does suggest the order in which regions and dungeons should be tackled, the player is free to take them on in any order they desire. At the very start, Ittle only has a stick as a weapon to her name but through exploration and conquest she gradually acquires several upgrades and abilities such as dynamite, a sword, an ice ring that freezes foes and a wand that shoots kinetic force projectiles as well as several outfits that just alter her looks.
Enemies have different attack and movement patterns, ranging from straightforward melee attacks to frantic bullet hell projectiles or AOE. Ittle’s only defense at the start of the game is rolling (which makes her invulnerable for the duration, like in one of them Soulsborne games I like a lot). As she adds abilities and items to her arsenal the range of her tactics increases somewhat, but for the most part the most reliable approach to combat is rolling and smacking, all else being situational.
The dungeons are a great mix of puzzle solving and fighting with some rooms requiring you to find a key, solve a box or timing puzzle or defeat certain enemies. There are shortcuts available that can lead you to where you were quicker if you end up losing all your hit points and need to start the entire run over, since enemies, traps and objects are reset when exiting a room, but solved puzzles and unlocked doors are not. There are many treasures to be found in dungeons, most valuable being the boxes of crayons, which increase Ittle’s HP total and shards which are used to access highly challenging optional dungeons. Each boss at the end of the crawl has their own tactics, firing patterns and vulnerabilities as well as an optimal approach to defeating them. Luckily, Tippsie is one button press away, always ready to offer advice on how to best approach the encounter.
Adventure Time With Ittle And Tippsie
Ittle Dew 2 has one of the most adorable styles I’ve ever seen in what is essentially a challenging old-school Action-Adventure. Its willful disregard for coherence in world-building reminds me of Adventure Time, with its candy people and sentient mortar cannons and all manner of surreal environmental elements, such as potassium mines which extract bananas from underground, or chilli farms which are a source of industrial hot sauce. It all comes together very well, making for a pleasant and colourful experience and reducing the violence to slapstick without sacrificing any mechanical depth in the process. The sound and music are similarly upbeat, with each zone and dungeon having its own cute, energetic theme tailored to match the environment and in some cases, the difficulty or general pace of the dungeon.
I think that calling Ittle Dew 2 a “parody” of the Zelda series is not necessarily apt. While it does show an acute sense of self-awareness, the game does little to subvert the tropes mechanically, preferring to simply cut out a lot of the overhead from the expositional dialogue. In this sense, I’d call Ittle Dew 2 more of a light-hearted homage to the Legend of Zelda series, keeping a lot of the mechanical depth, but showing a good sense of humor in presenting it. It works well, as the jokes don’t attempt to interfere with the game or give mixed signals about the cliches at play.
I have a few misgivings with the game, albeit minor ones. First, when using a controller, it uses a generic numbered button scheme for mapping the various actions instead of the now nearly standard Xbox ABXY layout. While the ABXY buttons numbered 1234 are usefully color-coded, the rest of the buttons are not, so it’s up to the player to learn what each of them do.
My bigger issue with the game might sound like more of a vague nitpick, but the difficulty curve and general pace of the game are a bit haphazardly designed. While looked at from a distance the difficulty curve might seem a steadily and uniformly increasing one if the suggested zone progression is followed, there are intermittent spikes that could have the player hit themselves against a wall repeatedly before deciding to try a different approach. Additionally, the first two or so hours of the game for someone trying to 100% everything before moving on are relatively uneventful, since the first significant new ability is acquired around the end of zone #2.
The puzzles range from mere formalities to brain teasers that you’ll spend dozens of minutes on. The only real problem I’ve had there was that while the puzzles can be solved at any point in the game, some are a lot easier once you acquire certain later-game abilities, but there’s no way for you to know this on your first playthrough. Luckily, the map is very helpful in indicating where things still need to be done for completionists wanting to go back and finish everything, so if you get stuck, keep exploring and come back later.
Ittle Dew 2 is a pleasant and cheerful return to form for the NES days action-adventure. It takes the Legend of Zelda formula and runs with it with dedication, mechanically. At the same time, it shows a sense of humour and willful lack of concern as far as the narrative goes. The story is simply there as framing for the experience and the jokes are by and large cleverly written. It poses a decent grade of challenge for the player, especially in terms of puzzles even if it takes a while to get into its stride. The environments and enemies are varied and require the player to constantly adapt their approach and because of the lack of any sort of stat-based character progression it rewards completionists but doesn’t require canvassing the game map in order to progress. Overall it’s a well-polished worthwhile little experience and I recommend checking it out. It’ll do.