Wednesday, April 8, 2015

[REVIEW] Elliot Quest

Elliot Quest
Played on: Wii U (e-Shop)
Genre: 2D platformer, open-world adventure
Developer: Ansimuz Games
Publisher: PlayEveryWare

Recently, I decided to give another try to Zelda II: Adventure of Link, the NES game which took the beloved series in an interesting new direction. Sadly, I realized there was a small detail I had forgotten since I played it as a kid: the game is frustratingly, unfairly difficult, even with the advent of save states. I still love its structure, however, so I was quite pleased by the announcement of Elliot Quest, a game directly inspired by Link's second 8-bit outing. After playing it for much longer than I anticipated (over 20 hours), I was left pleasantly surprised by the sheer quality of its design.

Elliot Quest tells the story of, well, Elliot. He's a man who, after trying to commit suicide over his wife vanishing, found out that he's unable to die. The tale develops over quick cutscenes, showing Elliot's interaction with his newfound power and trying to find answers from Rasa, the local wise man. It's a great little storyline that is directly influenced by player decisions through the game, becoming surprisingly poignant at some points.

Why, you little...

The gameplay is where the similarities with Zelda II become obvious, and in this regard Elliot Quest absolutely excelled my expectations. It throws you into an interesting top-down, open overworld where you'll have a lot of freedom to explore and access new side-scrolling stages, dungeons, and towns. The game features loads of items, weapons, and powers to collect, as well as a customizable levelling system. Some of the items can be head scratchers at first, as their effects aren't really well-explained by in-game text, but most should be relatively easy to figure out.

Along with the truly top-notch level design, perhaps what impressed me the most about the game was just how filled to the brim with secrets it is. Those secrets are quite well-hidden, too, requiring careful exploration and backtracking to uncover them all. This is precisely what extended my playtime so much, especially since the game's world is so much fun to delve into. If that doesn't sound like your cup your tea, worry not: it's fully possible to finish the game without caring about optional aspects like the crystals, the extra boss fights, the paintings, and the many hidden unique objects scattered through the world. That's your loss, though, because those ended up being the real meat of the game for me.

Now, where to go next?

As excellently designed as it is, Elliot Quest unfortunately presents some technical optimization problems. Most of them are mild annoyances, such as frame rate drops and slight graphical glitches. Some, however, are more problematic. The entire graveyard area, for example, is filled with bugs, and that even made me unable to access the secret boss located there. This was really frustrating, as the game had otherwise compelled me to try and get a 100% completion rate. Maybe a patch will fix that in the future, but that didn't happen during my playthrough.

Even considering that, Elliot Quest is a game I'd recommend in a heartbeat. It truly feels like the Zelda II Miyamoto and co. would have put out if they had access to 20 extra years of game design technology, with compelling storytelling thrown on top of it. It certainly put Ansimuz and PlayEveryWare on my indie studio watchlist, and I'm eager to see what they bring us next.

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