Gamers on a Budget: 3D Dot Game Heroes & John Woo’s Stranglehold



There are a lot of things that gamers disagree on. Genre preferences, the benefits of single-player as opposed to co-op games, PlayStation versus Xbox versus PC; the list could go on and on. One thing we can all agree on is that gaming – be it computer, console, or even tabletop – is an expensive hobby. The industry-standard of $59.99 for a new game has been around for almost twenty years now, and it shows no sign of diminishing. In fact, many experts believe that when the next wave of systems arrives, the price may actually rise to $69.99 a piece, further emptying our already meager pockets.

With that in mind, I would like to do my best to bring you the best ‘bang for your buck,’ so to speak. Being an avid gamer and (if I do say so myself) a person perpetually on the verge of a financial cliff, I understand that sometimes we have to wait until the price drops to play the games we are excited about. Perhaps we might have to settle for something a little cheaper to hold us over until that new release drops to a respectable thirty or forty dollars.

So welcome, readers, to the first of what we here at hope to be many installments of “Gamers on a Budget”. Here we will try to find the best possible deals for under ten, fifteen, or twenty dollars, so that your time at the bargain bin is not spent in vain. Today I would like to discuss two separate games with you, both available at almost every retailer for under $15. One is even at GameStop for under $3.

Budget_1The first game I would like to talk about is called 3D Dot Game Heroes. This game completely flew under my radar when it was released in 2010 (2009 for Japan), and I’m glad I found it when it was only $8.99 (GameStop price). This game, even after having it on my shelf for the past two months, is still giving me hours of enjoyment every time I put the disc in my PlayStation. Developed by Silicon Studio, 3D Dot Game Heroes uniquely mixes old SNES-era gameplay and themes with 3D presentation and voxels, which is the technical term for big, thick pixels. (Actually, voxel is the technical term for a value on a regular grid in a three dimensional space, but who cares?) A former 2D adventuring world, the whole land (called Dotnia) is magically changed to 3D right before your eyes during the opening cutscene. This change alters the topography of the world and the characters inside of it, changing everyone’s lives forever.

Taking cues from games such Legend of Zelda and the early Final Fantasy games, 3D Dot Game Heroes places you in the role of the Great Hero’s descendant. It tasks you with recapturing the fabled Legendary Sword (sound familiar yet?) to destroy all the evil that has arisen in the world. In your quest you travel to many different parts of the overworld and retrieve Sage’s Orbs, which in turn strengthen your abilities and give you new magical powers.


If this sounds like a straight rip-off of Zelda, it certainly seemed that way to me at first. However, in the first thirty minutes, you realize that it’s not a rip-off; it’s a tribute. This game was made by people who loved the Zelda and Final Fantasy franchises, and is just as much about delivering a worthy experience to the player as it is about poking fun at some of the more obscure aspects of early RPGs. The dialog is, at times, laugh-out-loud funny, with some characters having clever catchphrases and sayings, such as a housemaid saying, “It’s so hard to clean in 3D!”

Combat in 3D Dot Game Heroes is so similar to A Link to the Past that it barely needs explaining. I will say that Link could have greatly benefited from some of the magic spells the Sage’s Orbs grant the main character. The Legendary Sword, which our hero finds early on in his quest, reaches its full potential when the player has a full life bar (represented by apples instead of the Zelda hearts). With 100% health, the player’s sword magnifies to a tremendous size, with the breadth of the weapon crossing almost half of the screen. It’s something you have to see to understand, which is why I have included the picture below. If that’s not big enough for you (and you don’t feel like travelling to Texas anytime soon) you can upgrade your sword’s length or width using coins collected throughout your journey. Eventually, your giant, not-at-all-compensating weapon will swing across the entire screen, decimating anything in its path. Just watch out for those enemies; one hit and you’ll be back to the normal, unimpressive sword, which feels sad and impotent compared to the full one.


Lastly, 3D Dot Game Heroes offers a complete create-a-character mode, in which you can edit any and all of the game’s NPC models or create your own model from scratch. If you can dream it, and consequently picture your dream in 3D block pixels, you can create it. I have made three characters so far: a somewhat sad-looking Charizard, a Link (of course), and the cutest little Solid Snake that you’ll ever see. Once you really get the feel for the (somewhat complicated) editor program, the sky’s the limit.

If you haven’t yet played it, 3D Dot Game Heroes is the closest thing to a new Zelda game you’re going to get in the near future. It’s fun, it’s funny, and best of all, it’s polished. Temples and puzzles are complicated but not impossible. The overworld is huge, expansive, and full of secrets; weapons and magic powers work in always-satisfying ways. Even if this game was more expensive, I would still recommend it. Because you can get it almost anywhere for under $10, there’s no reason not to add this gem to your collection.


The second game I would like to talk about is John Woo’s Stranglehold. Now, Stranglehold is an odd game to talk about. Nothing about it screams “great game”. It has no stand-out aspects, aside from the story, which is written and directed by none other than (you guessed it!) John Woo. Released by Midway way, way back in 2007, Stranglehold was the first game to fully utilize the Unreal Engine 3, creating a lifelike protagonist played by Chow Yun-fat.

Stranglehold is the sequel to John Woo’s 1992 action film Hard Boiled, with Chow Yun-fat revising his role as Inspector Tequila Yuen. The plot is long, convoluted, and riddled with dead bodies and shoot-outs, as most of John Woo’s movies tend to be. It will take the player on a journey through the Hong Kong underworld and beyond to deliver justice to the most hardened gang members of the Dragon Claw, Golden Kane, Imperial Nines, and the Zakarov Syndicate.


This game has two incredibly redeeming qualities that raise it up to “Best Bang for Your Buck” status. The first is the combat, which is fast-paced, fun, and absolutely loaded with bullet-time (or, as John Woo dubbed it, Tequila Time). You jump and roll and leap through storms of bullets in slow motion, both hands firing seemingly unlimited pistols as dead enemies pile up around you. Tequila can run up and down railings, swing from chandeliers, and even slide across bars and tabletops while still riddling his enemies with new holes. Each felled bad guy earns you points, or stars, and enough stars will unlock signature John Woo movie moves, dubbed ‘Tequila Bombs’. Stars can also be earned by collecting tiny paper cranes that are hidden in levels.

The second and overall most redeeming aspect of Stranglehold is the price. When I picked up my copy at GameStop, I was amazed that this PlayStation 3 title was only $1.99. Two dollars for the chance to view a five-star director’s vision, while playing as an award-winning actor cleaning up the streets of Hong Kong, is nothing but overwhelmingly fair. In reference, most gas stations charge more for a 20 ounce bottle of soda or a large candy bar. This game easily has 8-10 hours of gameplay, which roughly equals $0.50 an hour. You can’t get entertainment for that price anywhere else, period.


If you’re a fan of John Woo, Chow Yun-fat, or action movies in general, Stranglehold is well worth your pocket change. While I haven’t completed my own personal copy yet, I’m very glad to have it in my collection for when I’m feeling particularly Eastern.

3D Dot Game Heroes and John Woo’s Stranglehold are both excellent choices for the gamer on a budget. While neither of them have the polish of, say, a title like Bioshock Infinite, they still offer a great experience and many fun hours of gameplay. The character creation in 3D Dot Game Heroes alone will take many hours to master, and when you need to relax from destroying whatever Silicon Studio renamed their Moblins, you can always do a slow motion dive from a banister to a table while firing both guns into the air, just like you’ve always wanted.