We’re Just Playing is our way of turning the spotlight on games that catch our interest, whether they be new releases or old. In an effort to focus more on specific genres, we’re adding a new feature to our weekly round up of what’s trending in our personal zeitgeist called the Indie Game of the Week. Every week, one of our staff members will highlight a lesser known indie game that he believes deserves your attention. This week he looks at the action RPG Elliot Quest.
Johnny Malloy’s Indie Game of the Week: Elliot Quest
I first discovered Elliot Quest on the WiiU and was initially unsure of my feelings towards it. It has the intentionally slack 8-bit graphics indie developers gravitate more towards these days. While it was still a novel approach at the time, I did wonder if it would muddy the waters with easier-to-make games that wouldn’t exactly pull their own weight when it came to doing something interesting with the retro aesthetic.
The Nintendo Switch eShop is flooded with 8-bit style games now, and sifting through them all is nearly impossible. I can spend anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes every week scrolling through the hundreds of new releases and discount games to see what’s on sale. When I saw Elliot Quest in the eShop, I immediately snapped it up. For one, my WiiU has hard drive issues and several games no longer work on it, and second, I never completed the game.
It’s a charming game, and one that is—at times—difficult to pin down. Is it a 2D action platformer? Partly. Is it a Metroidvania style game? In some ways, yes, and other ways, no. Is it easy or is it hard? Well, it’s both. OK, allow me to be a little less flip-floppy.
The game is classic Metroidvania in the sense that you begin the game with nothing but a bow and arrow. You embark on your side-scrolling mission taking out enemies, finding treasure chests filled with coins, and exploring the area. At the outset, there will be places you are clearly meant to access but can’t, due to your character’s limitations. Progressing in the game and acquiring new items and abilities will allow you to return to certain areas at a later point to progress in the game.
Upon exiting an area, you are taken to a top-down overworld map where Elliot can wander and access other points of interest. When he can enter one of these places (towns, caves, secret areas) an exclaimation point appears over his head. Each area has its own map (which is very similar to the original Zelda map in that you fill it in as you go along, until you locate the literal map of that area). The overworld has the feel of Zelda II, although the graphics here are much more colorful and pleasing to the eye.
While the controls in the game are fluid and responsive, I do find that both the button-mapping and the pause menu are frustratingly backwards and confusing. In Switch games, the B button is usually for cancelling, and the A button is typically your action button (much like X is action, and O is cancel on the PS4). I often found myself trying to upgrade an ability, or select an item, only to exit out of the menu. Even worse, a few times I actually wandered over to the fast travel menu and exited out of where I was, forcing me to backtrack a good distance for something that wasn’t wholly my own fault.
The menu aside, I found Elliot Quest to be a delightful little indie game that does not hold your hand. The story is minimal, and the game peppers in little moments where Elliot talks out loud to himself, to remind the player what his motivations are. There is no NPC reminding you what to do, or guiding you where to go. You have to wander around and figure things out for yourself.
I did find the overworld map to be a bit confusing, and it’s something to keep in mind if this game piques your interest. The 2D side-scrolling areas have multiple exits, meaning if you enter a forest from one end you’ll possibly exit on a part of the overworld map you were unable to access before. This requires you to be aware of your location and surroundings.
There are towns to visit, and yes, they have a Zelda II feel to them. Again, the color palette is much brighter than that dour sequel, so it’s not as depressing to look at as The Adventure of Link was.
The game as a whole has simple-yet-stylized pixel graphics. There is a lot of detail to the production upon closer inspection. For those that love a good old-school action RPG platformer, this game will scratch that itch. While it doesn’t offer the replayability of a rogue-lite such as Dead Cells, or reach the heights of something like a Shovel Knight, it does offer a solid game for a reasonable price.
Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for sales too, as this title often goes for mere pennies. It is available on Switch, Xbox One, PS4, Windows and 3DS.
In my previous entry, I mentioned starting Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc on the Vita. My initial impressions were not positive. As I finished the game this week, I now highly recommend this for fans of both the Vita and visual novels. My lack of connection to the characters still rings true. A few characters did grow on me as the story progressed, but the main character is bland especially compared to the main character from Steins Gate.
The mystery surrounding the school in Danganronpa is what ultimately piqued my interest. As your classmates get picked off, the stakes just keep rising. While certain murders fell flat with a believable motive, there were two deaths that hit hard. The ending was satisfying enough that I am looking forward to playing the sequel.
I told myself I would not bother with attempting the platinum trophy, but the desire to grind for fake achievements is real. I will attribute the pandemic for needing a pointless distraction. The last few trophies were tedious but seeing that 100% on my PSN profile feels oh so good.
So, what next? I try to avoid running games of the same genre back to back so I will be taking a break from visual novels for now. Dragon Quest Builders 2 was a game that I had started a while ago and stopped even though I was enjoying it. The pandemic has put in me in the mood to build farms so let’s see if I can finish my playthrough this time around.
Conor, I was a huge fan of Dragon Quest Builders on the Vita until my left analog stick started to wander (much like the maligned Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons). Carefully placing items was impossible when my character would fidget nervously, which was disappointing because I was easily dropping hours gathering supplies, crafting, and building up my towns just the way I liked them.
Once DQB2 came out, I bought it for the PS4, and it’s everything you’d want from the sequel to the original. I’ve never been a fan of “builder” games, but the Dragon Quest hook drew me in, and now I’m a fan.
I started this week by picking up and playing through another retro title—namely, Wario Land 4 for the Game Boy Advance. Wario Land has always been something of an oddball series for Nintendo. Despite starting out life as Super Mario Land 3, subsequent Wario Land games quickly established their own unique style of 2D platforming. In fact, platforming might be the wrong term. Very rarely in Wario Land games are you punished for failing to make a jump. The emphasis is generally far more on thoroughly exploring the levels and collecting treasure along the way. Another series staple is the way in which enemies interact with the eponymous anti-hero. Oftentimes, being hit by an enemy will result in Wario being grotesquely transformed in some way and generally the transformations will allow further progression, although sometimes they inhibit it.
Wario Land 4 keeps these signature aspects but adds plenty of new creativity too. For the first time since the original title, Wario has a health bar and can actually ‘die’ (in the two previous games he was invulnerable). It was an interesting idea for the series but I certainly appreciate the added sense of peril here. Enemies that transform Wario are used sparingly but very effectively, and with the beautiful GBA pixel art they’re more grotesque than ever before. Being stung by a bee will see Wario’s head (literally) balloon causing him to float. Another enemy causes him to turn into a dripping, decomposing, zombie that liquifies when you try and jump, allowing you to fall through certain surfaces—it’s utterly grim but very entertaining.
The objective in each level is to collect four pieces of a jewel which are hidden in chests throughout the maze-like stages. A key, which is used to unlock the next stage, must also be found. The stage maps twist and turn on themselves in increasingly confusing and creative ways and there’s plenty of fun and challenge to be had in finding all of the collectables. At the ‘end’ (if you can call it that) of each stage is a frog statue which Wario needs to jump on to open the exit. This takes the form of a vortex back at the start of the level. Activating the frog statue will have also started a countdown timer—failing to reach the vortex in time will see Wario’s hard earned loot start to spill away. It’s a great way to induce some panic into each of the levels, which are otherwise quite slow paced and methodical. The music alone is enough to get your heart pounding. Whatever bizarre, zany arrangement accompanied the level before is suddenly replaced with a nightmarish, psychedelic, jungle track called ‘Hurry Up!’—I urge you to go and listen to it to see what I mean.
It’s a great format for a game and the creativity and playfulness throughout is really impressive. There’s lots of clever exploration of the game’s mechanics, and it rarely repeats the same trick twice. I think that’s what’s great about Wario games in general. It’s a franchise that allows Nintendo to take risks, try new concepts and explore a darker side to their sense of humour—all at a safe distance from their beloved mascot, Mario. Wario Land 4 is a perfect example of that and it’s a cracking game to boot. Here’s hoping the greedy, flatulent, imposter gets another shot on Switch!
Speaking of Switch—I know it seems like I’ve let myself sink fully into my retro, happy place recently but you’ll be relieved to hear that I’ve started playing something much more modern which I hope to talk about next week.
Blaster Master Zero counts as modern right?
Conor, I’m glad to hear that Danganronpa did pick up for you. It does take some getting used to with just how unapologetically anime the whole shebang is, but ultimately there’s a lot of cool stuff going on in the story that makes it worthwhile. I’ve also been curious about Dragon Quest Builders 2 for a while, being a huge fan of the series myself. I’ve enjoyed the few spinoffs I’ve played, including the DS game Dragon Quest Heroes Rocket Slime, which is a half- Zelda half- tank battling game with Dragon Quest monsters and more slime puns than you can shake a stick at. That’s a game that’s absolutely worth looking for.
Sean, I still have my old cartridge of Wario Land 4 for the Gameboy Advance, as well as a half- functioning GBASP, and now I’d love to go back to replay the game since you mentioned it. There was a sweet spot of five or six years in the early 2000s where the Wario sub- series became an almost experimental thing, with so much unabashed weirdness packed into each game that it’s jaw dropping to think that a major game studio would ever fund it. That being said, I’m glad they did, as Wario Land 4, from what I can remember, is a really great and unique little game with a bizarre aesthetic. Maybe I’ll do a replay of the whole series since I recently downloaded all of the Gameboy Mario Land games on my 3DS… There’s an idea.
Anyways, folks, you’ll be happy to know that I finally, finally, after 116.5 hours of playtime, reached the end of Persona 5 Royal. I’ll keep my thoughts on it brief for now: it’s utterly magnificent. Just a fantastic RPG in every way, with an ending that made me more emotional than I care to admit.
That being said, I’ve been playing it for so long that I’ve been neglecting my backlog in a pretty big way (thanks Steam sales!) and to cleanse the pallet, one of the games I played this past week is an RPG maker horror cult classic titled The Witch’s House MV from developer Fummy. The suffix on the title is in reference to its complete visual overhaul in RPG Maker MV, with crisper, cleaner graphics and some slight translation tweaks, as well as some new backstory content.
As anyone who has read my work knows, I adore exploring the far corners of platforms such as Steam to find small, weird, unique horror experiences, and I’ve heard from numerous sources that The Witch’s House is a must play for people into that scene, so when it got an official Steam release and went on sale, I snatched it up immediately. It’s not long (my playthrough took a little less than two hours, and that’s dying a significant amount), but it definitely provides a fix for people looking for something spooky and a little twisted. The story is rather thin, with you playing as Viola and traveling into the eponymous house for an unknown reason. It’s mostly just about exploring the twisted place, but there are some plot developments at the end that are well done and exceptionally dark. It’s a tad on the pricey side at 15 dollars full price (for a game that might take five hours to see everything, tops), but it is a memorable enough game thanks to its atmosphere and shocking moments.
Now that I’m no longer playing the longest RPG ever created, I’ve also gone back to The Game Kitchen’s surprising 2019 indie hit Blasphemous, which is a surprisingly straightforward metroidvania with an absolutely gorgeous- yet- gnarly pixel art style, which has tear- inducingly smooth animations and bizarre, messed up imagery that reminds one of hellish medieval paintings come to life. The story is cryptic as all hell, but essentially, you play as the Pentinent One, a silent warrior whose hat/ mask is a giant cone and who wields a sword referred to as the Mea Culpa on a quest to Do The Thing. There’s a little bit of Souls to the combat, with parries and timing being the key, but the difficulty overall is nowhere near as brutal as FromSoftware’s seminal franchise. In fact, it definitely leans more heavily on the Metroid side of things, with progress being directly tied to defeating certain bosses a’ la Super Metroid. I’m at the halfway mark right now, but it’s an enjoyable platformer with unforgettably beautiful yet gruesome visuals and I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of it through.
My plan now is to try and knock out a bunch of the shorter games in my backlog. That tends to be my style—play some shorter games between the really long ones—and I’m looking forward to going through and seeing if I can find any new favorites.