In terms of the indie market, there is definitely no shortage of pixelated platformers that harken back to the early days of the 8 and 16-bit era of gaming. Elliot Quest is another title that throws itself into this crowded arena but it does distinguish itself from most of its competitors in that it takes inspiration from what many may consider to be an unlikely source – Zelda II. Whether this is a good thing or not depends on just how much you are willing to put up with being frustrated.
One of the main gripes with Elliot Quest is that the plot is never explained in an effective manner. You are left to piece together what you can from the random thoughts of the hero. These cryptic messages provide little background to exactly why you are going on this quest. The very start of the story all boils down to Elliot not being able to die and events spring from there.
It’s an annoying problem, especially considering that other similar games, like Zelda II and Castlevania: Simon’s Quest are able to tell a much more convincing and compelling story. The idea is obviously that the developer wanted the player to discover the plot as they played, bringing together the elusive clues to make sense of the adventure. However, it falls flat for the most part. Eventually, cutscenes explain that Elliot has been cursed by a demon. This is the reason he cannot die and it also means that he will turn into a demon himself if he cannot find a cure for the curse.
This motivation is certainly an interesting one and it combines with the recent disappearance of the protagonist’s wife to provide enough intrigue to want to find out what has happened. Yet, it is let down by the shoddy way that the plot is presented. It would have been nice to have been able to experience the overall story in a much more satisfying way.
This idiosyncratic thinking from the developers comes into play in other areas as well and they are equally baffling. The control schemes can change between four different types but the options do nothing to explain what the changes are and what the buttons will now do with each type. It is also impossible to skip dialogue or make it scroll faster. This is fine the first time you are talking to new characters but can get frustrating very quickly when you have to speak to them multiple times after dying.
If you can get over those problems, then Elliot Quest begins to shine. In terms of gameplay, it is basically exactly what you would expect from this type of game. You have a jump button and an attack button and have to fight your way past enemies while jumping over obstacles. This isn’t a run and gun type of game though. It requires careful timing and patience thanks to the fact that the platforming sections can be deceptively difficult and the combat is far from simple.
The main weapon in Elliot Quest in a bow. It is fairly weak when starting out, only able to shoot arrows a short distance before they plummet into the ground. Although this may be a little unforgiving for inexperienced players it does add a layer of tactical thinking as you need to plan attacks rather than jump straight into the action. The bow slowly becomes more powerful as you kill enemies and gather experience.
As you might expect from a game that is trying to blend the genres of platforming, RPG’s and metroidvania together, there is a significant levelling system in Elliot Quest. Defeating enemies and bosses grants experience to buy upgrades and become stronger. These can range from making your bow shoot faster or make arrows fly longer distances. There’s also a great deal of items and magical powers that can be unlocked along the adventure as you find secret areas. Unfortunately, cycling through all your new powers and items is not an easy feat. It requires trips to the inventory screen when a far more elegant solution, such as using the bumpers, could have made the game much smoother to play.
The visuals of the game are also a strange beast. Elliot Quest is undoubtedly a much more colorful affair than its retro counterparts are, and yet it appears to have a much more basic presentation. The pixel art style has obviously been done on purpose to give a physical connection to the games that are its inspiration. There are games that have done a much better job of nailing this visual style, such as Shovel Knight and Rogue Legacy. On the other hand, the soundtrack that accompanies the title is outstanding and is well worth listening to as you play.
Ultimately, Elliot Quest is a steady reinterpretation of the likes of Zelda II and Metroid. While it doesn’t do anything new or bring fresh features to the table it does manage to execute most of what it does well. The strange design choices with some elements and the disappointing story presentation are the only major problems with it. If you can get over them then there is a rather enjoyable game underneath that will provide you with hours of fun.
This review is based on a digital copy of the game that was provided by the publisher for review purposes. Elliot Quest is available now on Xbox One for $14.99.