In the good ol’ days of gaming, during the rise of the pixels, an action/adventure title was nothing out of the ordinary. Many tried their hand at the genre, and several great franchises spawned from it; Zelda, Metroid, Mega Man, Castlevania and so many more come to mind. Fast forward to now, and the technology that game developers have at their disposal is advanced enough to make those fantasy adventures feel rather realistic. Having super-massive worlds to explore with a million and one things to do is quite possible. Even so, the developers at Ansimuz Games had another idea in mind. Instead of using modern-day cutting-edge technology, they preferred to think smaller and take gamers on a trip down to the simpler times in games; when every little pixel was filled with fantasy and excitement. Enter Elliot Quest — a love letter to pixel-ventures past.
In Elliot Quest, players take on the role of Elliot, a young man who dwells on the island of Urele. This island is home to some deep mysteries. One day, Elliot’s wife disappears without a trace. Overcome by great amounts of grief, Elliot attempts to take his own life — only to find out that he can’t die. He visits a local Sage who reveals to him that he has been cursed by a demon, known as a Satar. As each day comes and goes, Elliot’s vitality is slowly being weathered away, and eventually, he too will become a Satar. In order to overcome it, Elliot must find a Guardian, beings who’ve protected the island from the demons, and obtain a cure.
Elliot Quest’s gameplay style is heavily inspired by titles like Zelda II as well as other classics like Mega Man, Metroid and Castlevania, with a few RPG-elements added into the mix. In this side-scrolling adventure title, players must guide Elliot across the expanse of Urele to locate one of the infamous Guardians. The world is seamless, so players will be able to go where they please. With its Metroidvania style of gameplay, there are areas that while immediately introduced — can’t be visited without first obtaining a necessary item/ability. This gives players the incentive to explore high and low, uncovering as much as possible. There are a lot of nooks and crannies to explore in Elliot Quest, which provides a deeper style of gameplay.
Despite its depth, players are left on their own to uncover it. Elliot Quest does little to provide even just a little bit of guiding hand as to what to do or where to go. The story is told through vague cutscenes and brief moments of dialogue. There’s no clear sense of direction. While this might be great for players who prefer to take their time and explore at their own pace, this could be quite an annoyance for those who appreciate getting a good idea of what to do and where to go next. This, in addition to Elliot Quest’s varying levels of difficulty. While the game itself is easily accessible, getting familiar with it is not. Even when a new item is acquired, there’s no dialogue to inform you as to what it does, leaving you to figure it out.
As mentioned before, Elliot is immortal, meaning that he can’t die. How does that affect the gameplay? Well, while there’s no life system — the game finds another way to penalize you. As you eliminate enemies, the XP bar increases. Each time the XP bar increases, Elliot levels up. Each level gives him a new skill to use in combat. Each time Elliot is knocked out, he loses a few XP points. This can get quite annoying, as cheap deaths are a common occurrence in this game. There were many times when simple enemies would get to me, and I’d have to start over from the last save point again and again. Certainly, Elliot Quest can’t be classified as a ‘pick-up-and-play’ title, despite its simplicity, putting it right in line with the classic titles it’s inspired from. Its gameplay style isn’t the only retro-inspiration it has, though.
The retro inspiration can literally be seen throughout the game, as it’s a fully pixelated title, just like the games of its past. Despite the Wii U being leaps and bounds above the hardware of the before-times, it’d be hard to say that Elliot Quest can’t run on an NES or equivalent. While it’s absolutely nothing compared to the level of graphical quality that we enjoy today, the game somehow looks quite beautiful. Colors are abundant through the many areas of Urele, as well as subtle hints of an alive environments with little details like foliage and dust blowing in the wind. Who says particle effects are anything new? Elliot Quest is sure to tickle the nostalgia bone of retro gamers, and even make modern-day players smile a bit at what gaming used to look like.
The retro-love doesn’t stop at the artstyle though; Elliot Quest stays true to the golden days straight-through to its soundtrack. The game features a soundtrack that sounds straight out of the cartridge-era, although with a slightly higher sound quality. While I enjoyed the visual presentation, I couldn’t help but find its audio offerings kind of lacking. The music isn’t like the tunes of old, and instead sounds a little bland and boring. Considering the adventure is supposed to be an against-all odds race for time, you’d think the music would be more compelling. However, it just sounds like it’s “there”. Not bad per say, but to me it felt like I wouldn’t even notice if it wasn’t there.
Despite its flaws, Elliot Quest is a decent love letter to the retro-adventures. From its challenging gameplay to its vibrant pixelated artstyle, gamers both young and old are sure to find even just a little enjoyment in the adventure. However, I can’t really find myself recommending it to just anyone. The game is quite challenging, with abundant cheap deaths and almost zero hand-holding. Tutorials are non-existent, and info on new weapons and abilities are also a no-show. This can make the game frustrating to some, but may excite others as it challenges their inner adventurer. The game’s bland soundtrack does little to really push that ‘exciting quest’ theme, though and it wouldn’t have made much of a difference if it wasn’t there.
In the end, Elliot Quest is nowhere near perfect and falls short of the classics it’s inspired from. However, it would be unfair to call it a bad game. It’s more a mixed bag; you’re either going to enjoy the game, or be annoyed with it.