Sunday, April 25, 2021

Effie (NSW) Review

Sometimes I struggle with review taglines. I want to be clever, but it doesn't always work out. Then, there are those review taglines that just come to me like water from a stream. They're so obvious that I think I am cleverer than I actually am (which is reality, I am about as smart as a box of rocks). Regardless, with Effie on the Nintendo Switch, this tagline I am--and forgive me for tooting my own horn--especially proud of. It's just a shame that I had to write it in the first place, as the game looks like a winner on other platforms... except this Nintendo Switch port, the subject of SPC's latest review.

An unpolished port that will make you go, "What The Effie?!" 

Originally releasing in 2019, Effie is a game that plays out with an older man telling a tale to Effie, a young child. The tale is one of a man named Galand, who upon neglecting to help an elderly lady due to his own laziness, finds himself cursed with an older appearance. In a journey to recapture his lost youth, Galand must go on an adventure to free three cities from corruption by reclaiming Gems of Evil in each destination, as well as defeat the witch that cursed him. 

A hero like Galand is only as good as his weapon, and Galand has one seriously versatile weapon in his repertoire: a magical shield. It's great for attacking, sure, but it also serves a role as a means of traversal in the hub world. Galand can hop on his shield and ride it like a hoverboard of sorts. It's a bit clumsy to control, but otherwise it gets the job done serviceably enough. The hub world itself is open to free explore, containing the major cities that Galand needs to free from the witch's clutches, but also various side content as well. There are fortresses and enemy encampments, towers to scale, and shield races to participate in. The latter are somewhat unwieldy due to both the handling of the shield and the total lack of an arrow to point in the general direction the next waypoint is located. 

Horses are SO passé. The cool way to travel is to surf on one's shield!

While the overworld exploration is competent enough, it's when Galand enters into the three cities that Effie as a game truly shines. These are large, expansive, exploration-filled areas complete with plenty of platforming challenges to test your hand-eye coordination and puzzles to wrap your head around. Areas are designed relatively well, offering a nice amount of traveling off the beaten path to reveal hidden treasures--the most rare of which being relics. Relics are basically log entries to expand the game world's lore and do little else. Still, it is fun to uncover a gold chest containing these relics, but in the Switch version there is no real motivation to do so, since achievements don't exist. 

Don't pull an Augustus Gloop and fall into that dangerous water, Galand!

In each city of the game, formerly home to friendly faces but now infested with baddies of all types, Galand can learn a new shield skill. These range from a dash that can be used to get around faster and gain extra "oomph" to carry him over chasms that are otherwise impossible to cross, to two different shield attacks. One of these throws the shield around in a circular pattern like a discus, while the other performs a quake-like move in a cone-shaped pattern spreading outward to damage enemies. 

Galand decides to take his shield out for a spin.

This leads to one of the glaring issues with Effie, and that's with the game's combat. Combat is extremely sloppy, and this results in the best recourse being to simply button-mash for the most part with an occasional manual evasion to regroup and recover. By the time I received the improved shield attacks, combat went from boring and somewhat tedious to completely effortless. All it took to defeat most small enemies was a throw of the shield as a discus or a shot of the quake attack. Sure, these moves consume magic, but acquiring rune energy from either runes themselves or defeat enemies makes running out of magic a moot concern.

For what it does right with exploration and level design, combat isn't really one of Effie's strong suits.

At the conclusion of each city's combination of platforming, puzzle-solving, exploration, and key-fetching, there is a boss encounter. It's similar to Sonic the Hedgehog in how you're facing the same boss every time--in this case, the witch who cursed poor Galand, but each encounter is unique in how you have to approach it. Well... sort of, unique. A fair number of encounters involve battling enemies while avoiding the witch's attacks, while others involve performing precarious platforming to make Galand's way to various switches to ultimately deal damage to the witch. Fortunately, checkpoints are common in these battles, coming after every piece of damage Galand delivers to the witch.

That said, there is an even more glaring issue with Effie than the combat. For one, the game does NOT allow manual saving. The game saves at certain points automatically, such as reaching certain points in the game and when Galand perishes. However, I had to learn this the hard way, when I entered the first major city of Galand's adventure, made my way to the first windmill, and was greeted with a floor I feel through because the game hadn't properly loaded the area. I was trapped underneath where the game should have loaded the level, meaning I had no choice but to quit the game. Imagine my "amusement" when I discovered the game last auto-saved my data 30 minutes prior. Thus, I had to do that whole city all over again from the beginning. 

This wasn't even the only instance of a glitch ruining my enjoyment of Ellie. On more than one occasion, when Galand fell in a pit, he didn't die like he was supposed to. Instead, he just stood there, and not even the option to pause and quit the game was possible, as the game was in a state of purgatory essentially. I had to quit out of the game to the Switch menu and reload my save. Plus, when deaths actually DID function correctly, they were still obnoxious due to the 20-30 seconds it took to reload the game to a checkpoint.

But, that isn't the worst of Ellie, at least with this Nintendo Switch port of the game. Ellie on the Switch is a totally unoptimized game, struggling to hold its frame-rate and oftentimes diving into slideshow territory. It sometimes made otherwise simple platforming an agonizing thing to do at best, and at worst, it was legitimately headache-inducing for me. It's just not a well optimized port for the Nintendo Switch, and that's a darn shame, as what's here with the gameplay and level design is enjoyable. Truly, it is. 

Unfortunately, these screens aren't exactly representative of the Nintendo Switch version of Effie
 and the game's poor performance on the system.

Furthermore, Ellie is just not a good looker on the Switch either. In docked mode, textures are fuzzy and blurry, and in undocked mode/handheld play, they're even more of a mess. The screens you see in this review are far too clean and crisp to have come from the Nintendo Switch version of the game. That said, there is a bright spot to the presentation, and that concerns the audio. It's amusing and entertaining to have the old man narrate throughout the story, even during gameplay itself. I like how if Galand dies or somehow fails, the narrator will exclaim, "No! That's not how the story happened!" It's cleverly done. The music, as well, while nothing that sticks with me after playing, fit the fantasy world of Ellie wonderfully.

Sadly, while Ellie is most likely a thoroughly enjoyable, if not short, adventure on other platforms, it simply is not that enjoyable on the Switch. The game is simply put, a technical mess in need of some serious fixing in the frame-rate and the bug department. It's wholly unpolished, which sadly is far too common an occurrence when it comes to ports from other platforms to the Switch. I do recommend Ellie--but with a HUGE caveat that it be for platforms other than the Switch, because what's here is just not worth it. It's a real shame, too, as I genuinely had fun playing Ellie on the Switch despite this port's problems.

[SPC Says: C-]

A code was received by SPC from the publisher for the purpose of writing this review.

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