Hudson Soft gave TurboGrafx-16 owners a Legend of Zelda to call their own with Neutopia, an action adventure that was the spitting image of the Nintendo Entertainment System classic. You can see just how much of an imitation Neutopia is now that it's on the Wii's Virtual Console, but if you can look past the mimicry, you'll also find a rather engaging experience.
The evil Dirth has conquered the land of Neutopia and kidnapped Princess Aurora. You take the role of the young Jazeta in a quest to recover eight medallions from eight underground crypts scattered across the land, after which you can confront and defeat Dirth. The setup is embarrassingly unoriginal, with goofy names to boot, but Neutopia proves an enjoyable world to explore. The land is divided into four distinct areas called "spheres," such as a lava-ridden subterranean cave and network of islands dominated by the sea. In each sphere, there are two of the eight underground crypts, and uncovering the medallions is the only way to access the next sphere. This keeps progression quick and direct.
This style of progression also makes Neutopia somewhat linear, keeping it from being a total "Zelda clone." Because most of the world is "locked" from the outset, it may not satisfy those wishing to go wandering aimlessly. Yet, the world design still provides a few nooks, crannies, and hidden staircases to uncover. Non-player characters are also scattered generously throughout each sphere and, along with a compass that shows you the general direction of the next crypt, offer enough direction for you to remember what you need to do. Oddly enough, the crypts--which are your primary objectives throughout the game--will likely take up less of your time. Their rooms are packed tightly together, and you can create shortcuts by bombing many of their walls.
Accessing and maneuvering these crypts requires special items given to you by some hidden characters. Taking great inspiration from elsewhere, such items as the fire rod, the moonbeam moss, and the rainbow drop allow you to burn bushes to uncover hidden entrances, illuminate darkened rooms, or step across narrow gaps. You'll need to wield Jazeta's trusty blade too. Swordplay is limited to stabbing in four directions, but Jazeta strikes quickly, making battles challenging--rather than cheap--when enemies start surrounding you. In addition, the fire rod doubles as a projectile weapon that shoots diagonally, so you won't be at the complete mercy of Neutopia's monsters.
These monsters start off plain and derivative, with such goons as spear-chucking goblins or fireball-spewing fish-men looking oh so familiar. Later on, they become more aggressive and interesting: Seemingly dormant rocklike creatures will ambush you as you walk by or iron-clad knights will charge toward you when you come into their line of sight. Groups of advanced enemies such as these prove more engaging to fight than many of the crypts' bosses, whose patterns, as well as weaknesses, often encourage more mindless hacking and less thought to overcome.
All of these adversaries, as well as the world of Neutopia, are brought to life with somewhat mundane presentation. The distinctness of the four spheres helps to combat monotony, and it's not an eyesore, but it mostly lacks artistic character. The audio is slightly worse off: The TurboGrafx-16 sound chip was never a musical prodigy and could be considered tone deaf today. The use of grating instrumentations in Neutopia's soundtrack only exacerbates this fact.
The game's biggest gaffe remains its blatant copycat tendencies, but frankly, this isn't such a bad thing. Taking copious inspiration from an all-time favorite has resulted in a game that offers a large world to quest through and tight combat. While you don't really need to pick Neutopia up if you've had your fill of Zelda and similar action adventure games, those of you who haven't--or those of you who are curious enough to see just how much of an imitation this game is--will be rewarded with a genuinely solid adventure.