Link, eat your heart(s) out. Ludosity’s latest venture into adventure, Ittle Dew, is both a delightful parody of the genre (one famous example in particular; three guesses as to which) and a quirky-fun homage to all our favorite questing games. Available now for Windows and Mac and coming soon to Linux, Wii U and mobile devices, the game combines basic RPG elements with block-pushing puzzles and a healthy dose of witty, self-referential humor.
Part of Ittle Dew’s treasure trove of charm lies in the streamlined interface. As the developers put it, they’ve “boiled down the classic adventure formula” to the basics, stripping away many of the bells and whistles other Zelda-esque games tend to add on in order to pretend more originality than they actually possess. (“Look, our character has two fairies! It’s completely different!”) Minimal screen clutter makes for a much prettier aesthetic, and limiting the player to only three weapons in total keeps gameplay both simple and interesting, as those three weapons – a fire sword, ice wand and portal wand – can be combined in any number of ways in order to progress.
Speaking of appearances, this game happens to have good looks and a great personality, thanks to an unabashedly vibrant palette and a pleasant, upbeat soundtrack that expertly echoes the classics, right down to tracks like “Overworld Theme” and the “Fire Temple Theme.” The world of Ittle Dew is clever and cartoonish, a quirky update of all the typical adventure-game aesthetics that becomes as amusing to look at as it is to explore.
Beneath the icing, the cake itself is just as delicious, mostly thanks to Ittle Dew’s particular brand of humor. No classic adventure trope is beyond mockery, and, like any good parody, the game isn’t afraid to point and laugh at itself, too. Though few characters are fully developed, Ittle Dew and her “health potion” guzzling sidekick Tippsie shine as the stars of the show, with excellent writing juxtaposing Ittle’s overconfident stubbornness and high spirits with Tippsie’s sardonic quips and blunt apathy. Even Tippsie’s tips are comically in-character – sometimes helpful, often sarcastic, and typically too obvious or too general to be of much practical use. Ittle and Tippsie may not be the first human-nonhuman duo on the questing scene, but they are certainly one of the funniest.
Of course, therein lies the squishy, palpitating heart of the game. Underneath the satirical witticisms and sparkling irony, deep down the overall design still reflects an honest love of dungeon diving and the art of the quest. It stays fun even in the face of continuous, infuriating instances of puzzler’s block, those terrible moments when you get stuck and just know the answer’s right in front of you, mocking you because it knows you’re too dense to spot it.
Fair warning, by the way: this can happen a lot in Ittle Dew, especially if spatial puzzles aren’t usually your forte. While I hesitate to call it a flaw, as some challenge is necessary to make any riddle worthwhile, it is somewhat frustrating that there is no option to adjust the difficulty setting for the casual players who are more interested in facing foes and discovering new maps than pushing blocks around a room all day. Still, even the most perplexing levels usually stay at least a few steps away from feeling impossible – and if you start to get really annoyed, you can always take a break and just play with your shiny new toys instead.
Ittle Dew the game is much like Ittle Dew the protagonist: bright, colorful, and ingeniously irreverent, with a skip in its step and an endearing twinkle in its eye. Even if the bravest thing you’ve ever done was check inside that unlabeled container lurking at the back of the fridge, even if you’ve never solved even the most basic word search puzzle, Ittle Dew will still welcome you with a wink and a grin. Just don’t feel too ashamed if you end up having to call a lifeline or look up a walkthrough when you inevitably find yourself staring at an apparent dead end.
[review pros=”Streamlined interface and simple gameplay mechanics, entertaining characters and dialogue, bright/colorful graphics, charming soundtrack, a funny RPG parody” cons=”High difficulty with no lower-level options, lacks a (reliable) hint/guide” score=86]