Question #1083 on the video gamers' SAT test: "Neutopia is to the TurboGrafx-16 as (blank) is to the NES." If you've been taking notes, you know that the correct response is The Legend of Zelda. Like Zelda, Neutopia is a hybrid action/role-playing game in which you explore vast territories while doing battle with thousands of beasts in order to expunge evil from the world.
The look and feel of Neutopia II are identical to the first game; the same items and interface are used; the same obstacles are placed in your path. It's almost as if the creators had taken all the same graphics and puzzles, put them in a bag, tossed it around and ... voila: Shake and Bake arcade adventure.
The differences are few: a new selection of enemies, a slightly different plot (it's still the same theme, though: rid Neutopia of the encroaching evil) and a huge, single game world rather than a great number of smaller, separate worlds.
Neutopia II is written as a "next generation" continuation. You are the son of Furei, grandson of Murdock. Furei, we're told, died in an immense battle with Rafael, the Evil Overlord. Your mission begins as you search for your father, missing and presumed dead, who went to battle the new monsters that have shown up around the Neutopian countryside. Finding your father involves a tangle of smaller subplots and side trips, and, once you find him (no small task), you learn that the serious work is all still ahead of you.
Sounds good, but those who paid close attention to the first game recall that it involved Jazeta battling Dirth to save Neutopia, so I'm not sure where Furei, Murdock and Rafael came into the story. But these, as with most plots in classic video games, are very minor details.
Solving a subplot typically means going into a labyrinth, moving blocks around and defeating the underground dwellers. You'll uncover hidden rooms by blowing up walls with bombs, and eventually you'll locate the boss, defeat it and take its treasure. Then you explore new areas on the surface, visiting towns and talking to citizens, increasing your strength and the quality of your equipment. The only real variation is the look of the terrain and the difficulty of the obstacles, which get significantly tougher the further you venture into game. There's far less variety here than in something like Zelda III, which requires much more imagination and creativity in problem-solving. Still, Neutopia II does offer a ton of play value; the labyrinths are neither so long nor so involved that you get frustrated, and you're constantly receiving positive reinforcement by acquiring new skills, buying or finding interesting items and weapons and being assigned lots of new side tasks.
There are a few visual improvements and special effects in this second installment (I particularly liked the underwater sequences), but, for the most part, the graphics are identical to those in the first game: not very detailed, very cartoony, more typical of an 8-bit machine than a 16-bit machine. I did notice a few slowdowns when the screen was crammed with enemies, but this was rare. Sound effects and music are decent; there's enough variety in the music that you don't go nutsoid from the repetition. There's no battery back-up, but you're frequently given a 48-character password (yowch!), and it seems to contain an amazing amount of information.
I enjoyed Neutopia II, despite the cookie-cutter graphics and its overall similarity to the first game. It's a long game, which makes it a value, yet it moves along quickly. Although this game is derivative of the Zelda series, it would be nice to see this story brought back and turned into a brand new game for one of the newer consoles. As it is, Neutopia II is a disappointing Zelda clone that should have been a lot more inventive than it actually is.