Puzzle-platformers have become a staple on the Nintendo eShop, and with every good one that captures our imagination, there’s a bad one that doesn’t quite meet our expectations. Elli, a game with bags of potential, sits somewhere in the middle.
The attraction towards its beautiful world is instantaneous, with gorgeous beaches and depth-defying mountains that immerse the player into the land of the adorable, imp-like Mandragora. The art-style is effortless, brightly colored without trying to be edgy. It’s easy to see the influence behind Elli, with much of the world showing glimpses of that Super Mario Odyssey brush.
The gameplay doesn’t steer too far away from Odyssey either, testing the player’s ability to jump from platform to platform, dodging fireballs and electrical bolts on their way towards the end goal. This doesn’t come without problems, however, as while the gameplay isn’t too strenuous, the lack of camera control means misjudging jumps is far too common, eventually becoming a nuisance.
Fortunately, the game is incredibly forgiving, with plenty of save points and checkpoints that stop the player being dragged too far adrift from where they fell. Whether the lack of camera control is a deliberate omission or an accidental bypass isn’t obvious while playing, but there are situations where the camera does need to change the angle so that the player can aim their jump with more confidence, and the right analog stick could have been used for for this purpose.
Minus the camera trouble, Elli is an enjoyable game with plenty of potential. The lack of combat becomes a challenge in itself, testing the player’s ability to move quickly and effortlessly instead of being slowed down by monsters. Each region is distinct and contains separate challenges, with the difficulty curb increasing at a rate that both tests and rewards the player.
The only moments of methodical steadiness are puzzles which are well thought through, ensuring the player has to think, but likely without becoming frustrated. The puzzles often use the area around them, pushing the player to find anomalies within the map to manipulate the answer. Most of the puzzles are classics from previous platformers, redesigned to suit the mood of Elli. These range from color patterns to raised platforms to navigating a ball into the correct hole.
There is a loose storyline throughout this adventure: a Ghasti has stolen Elli’s five crystals, and she needs to go recover them before the end of the day or the world will end. A better narrative would have certainly helped to immerse the player, but a game focused on gameplay isn’t the end of the world. There is at least a base to develop future games further, introducing a creative storyline that encapsulates the world the developers have already created. For instance, Mulaka, a game of a similar size, does this effortlessly (though Elli has smoother controls and is easier to play).
Much like other platformers, there are gems to collect on your journey. Gems will buy additional clothes and new staffs, and the rarer hat coins will buy the player some new headwear. Strangely, this is all cosmetic, with no benefit from the ‘upgraded’ gear. This doesn’t entice the player to seek the gems, as there is no purpose to them, wasting an opportunity to persuade the player to take the more difficult routes around each level. It’s a great shame, as some of the hidden hat coins are in some incredibly clever places; a little encouragement to find them would give the game more replayability.
The soundtrack is beautiful though, and the different tunes blend into one another with ease. The player can go from region to region and not realize the music has changed, while at the same time, not feel conflicted that the music doesn’t suit the theme. Subtle changes work so well, elegantly done in a way which really brings the game to life. Even the character voices feel nostalgic, with the Mandragora sounding familiar to the Teensies from the Rayman series. Indeed, the whole design of the Mandragora feels like they would suit the Rayman series with ease.
That said, Elli does suffer from the occasional lag. It doesn’t affect the gameplay too much, but enough to become mildly irritating. It does seem to happen more in TV mode on the Switch, and strangely, more at the beginning of the game; the further into Elli the player goes, the smoother the experience.
Beneath all the bad camera angles and lag, however, there is a wonderful game ready to be discovered here. Elli has a lot of potential to become the puzzle-platformer to which it aspires; it just needs a little adjustment and greater depth to the storyline to blossom into the game it deserves to be.