Review: Elli

Quietly launched on Nintendo Switch this year by BandanaKid, Elli opens with a small village in the land of Mandragora preparing to celebrate the birthday of guardian Elli. Just as the festivities are about to begin, the jealous Ghasti steals the five Crystals of Time, running off while declaring that she will be an even better guardian than Elli. Thus, Elli must retrieve the five crystals before the end of the day or risk all time stopping and everything in creation being destroyed.

Elli, an isometric 3D puzzle-platformer with a pacifistic spirit, pairs precise control and good-feeling movement with clever environmental puzzle design. The game looks good both docked and undocked, but doesn’t have any sort of touch control interaction (which is probably a good thing given how precise the movements are). Besides leaping between platforms and hopping over dangerous obstacles, Elli has several unique abilities, chief among them a radar-like ping spell used to uncover hidden platforms made faintly visible by a shimmer that’s given off if you stop moving and look close enough to spot it. She can also pick up and carry things, such as rocks to place on pressure switches or bombs to throw at destructible walls or objects.

The environmental puzzles change up at a steady clip as the game progresses. Initially, colored coins can be found in the world, and certain platforms will raise or lower depending on which coins are slotted into the coin receptacle. Different patterns are shown off at each platform, and some areas can’t be reached without first slotting in one or two colors to raise a platform granting access to yet other coins.

Further into the game, the puzzles become a bit more skill-based and reliant on proper timing, requiring jumping dexterity and an overall mastery of the mechanics that are introduced as the game progresses. For example a glowing brazier can be triggered to temporarily raise or lower platforms, and players must navigate Elli across the platforms before they disappear. Or in other instances, red orbs appear and a timer ticks down once the first one is collected, putting Elli against the clock to quickly collect all of the orbs to raise a platform.

As Elli explores the beaches, caverns, and temples of Mandragora, she encounters little citizens of the world who remind me of the Kodama found throughout the forest in Princess Mononoke. These cute beings help provide context to the overall story while also giving Elli an extra reason for carrying on with her journey. One thing that is silly but provided me with an unlimited amount of joy is the way that the Mandragora folk shake, act dazed and confused, and chirp with a cute cry whenever Elli uses here radar ping spell. I also enjoyed being able to custom tailor Elli’s appearance with different hats, cloaks, and staffs purchased from a shopkeeper using the two types of currency–gems, which appear in different color denominations, as well as green coins–hidden around the beautiful game world.

At certain points, Elli catches up with Ghasti and the game style shifts from isometric to a side-scrolling view as Elli enters a portal created by one of the Crystals of Time. In these sections of the game, Elli has the ability to double jump and air dash forward, which helps her cross larger gaps between platforms. These sections can be a bit more challenging because there is a time component in the form of a black wall of doom which crawls from the left side of the screen, forcing Elli’s movements to be precise. If the wall of doom reaches Elli, she “dies” and has to start the section over.

Fortunately the game is overly generous with respawn points throughout. Respawning is also very quick, keeping players in the action without any delay. This is a good thing because there are some especially tricky areas to get through at times. Platforms that are very narrow and have little space for anything but exact precision in timing a jump litter the latter sections of the game. These moments can be frustrating, but the respawn mechanic helps ease that frustration a little bit.

Some of the puzzles are too environmentally vague or extend beyond one load screen, which can lead to confusion as to where to go or what to do to overcome a particular area. In most cases, when the solution to a puzzle is in another location, visual cues are provided to help keep players moving so as not to get stuck attempting to use a particular method to break a wall. Later in the game, a plant grows a cherry bomb, which when picked up has the fuse immediately ignite, requiring that Elli must quickly move or throw the bomb before it detonates. Some walls can be destroyed with these bombs to clear access to keys to unlock blocked passages. In one particular section I struggled for far longer than I would care to admit trying to get a bomb over to a breakable wall, only to later realize that I had to access the breakable wall from another section. In some ways this area felt like it broke the established rules of the game. In the moment I was frustrated, even on the verge of giving up, but ultimately the design of this section turned out to be quite clever.

Even with some limitations, Elli is a fun puzzle-platforming adventure with a fair but challenging difficulty curve. I spent maybe 8-10 hours completing the game, and in all that time I found that whenever I was beginning to get bored with one type of puzzle or mechanic, the game changed up just in time to keep things fresh, providing a new tile set and music variation to go along with a new style of environmental puzzle. A satisfying ending offers resolution between Elli and Ghasti as well, closing the experience on a high note.

BuyIt

Game Info:
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Publisher: BandanaKid
Developer: BandanaKid
Release Date: 1/10/2019
Genre: Puzzle/Platformer
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1

Source: Review code provided by the game’s developer.

Buy From: Nintendo Switch eShop for $19.99.

About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.