“The following is a contributor post by the Mail Order Ninja Mage.”
As a debut title of a new developer, Effie caught my attention for the first time when it was featured on the PlayStation Blog not even a month ago. The trailer caught my attention, of course, but it was more about the inspirations for the game, that Inverge Studios shared during their blog post, that made me anxious to get my hands on the game. They set forth to make a game that calls back to the PlayStation and PlayStation 2 mascot platformers that they loved – games like Medievil, Jax and Daxter, and Ratchet & Clank. For a new – and largely unproven – studio, that’s a tall order indeed. I looked forward to seeing if the developers could really capture the charm, tight platforming, and collectathon joy that these titles largely rely on.
Effie is a game about a somewhat lazy boy named Galand, who’s cursed by a witch upon refusing to help her with some menial task. As payment for his rebuke, he’s aged, instantly. Not knowing what else to do, our hero sets out to seek to undo this premature maturity. Upon being gifted a magical shield, with which to surf upon and bonk the baddies of the world, he sets off on a quest to defeat the same witch from conquering the Red Plains of Oblena.
So, in other words, pretty standard stuff for a PS2 era mascot platform adventure.
The real question, then, is whether or not Effie can imitate these experiences while adding its own unique flair and bring us a game that capitalizes on an under-used genre in modern game design. The answer is a completely straight forward – and not at all ambiguous – maybe, sort of, kind of… yes?
Allow me to extrapolate.
It’s obvious from the outset that Effie isn’t a game from a AAA developer with highly polished graphics but I’ll be honest in saying that when I first saw the game in action I was a bit worried. The textures are incredibly rudimentary on the environment – think late-era original PlayStation work with a little more clarity – and often lighting effects glint off objects that shouldn’t have reflection. The characters themselves look fine overall, with a charming and brightly colored aesthetic, but they look more like plastic dolls than the crisp and bright cartoon heroes you might see in something like a 3D Mario game.
That being said, the design, layout, and art direction of the game I found myself consistently impressed by. Instead of verdant green fields, the Plains of Oblena are sweeping stalks of crimson, dotted with large and impressive towns. There’s a beautiful city of windmills that is my particular favorite. From the top of the parapets of the surrounding walls, the view of the entire map is stunningly well done.
It’s an odd juxtaposition between art design and technical prowess but as the game continued the graphics bothered me less and less and I found myself delighting in the different areas in the game. Though everything is a little blocky, has some odd lighting, and is, in general, rudimentary, it’s all put together in a minimalist way that both calls back to platformers of an early era while embracing the sweeping vistas of modern open worlds.
When it comes to the audio portion of Effie, it’s certainly the weakest point in the entire game, to the point that I occasionally muted it entirely. The biggest offender was the vocal efforts that, while often fine in their performance, were so wildly varied in quality that there were times I’d wince at the delivery. Our main protagonist and his lines are often delivered adequately, though there are some lines that didn’t make much sense to the instances in which they occurred. As a minor issue, often the words in the subtitles and the spoken words wouldn’t mesh at all or be would completely different from each other.
The biggest problems came in the poor way in which audio was equalized throughout the game. In the cutscenes, interspersed throughout the game as you complete the primary areas, the titular character’s voice was incredibly loud compared to the surrounding vocals or the primary hero’s voice. Her lines were also often stilted and stiff, with a strange tone to a lot of her delivery.
Enemies were probably the worst offenders of the bunch as they had these awful groans that would constantly threaten to blow out my speakers. If you were in close proximity to them it would repeat ad naseum until they were dead. It was horribly distracting and loud enough that it made my wife come from the other room, to see what the ruckus was, on more than one occasion.
There’s a strong music component for the credits, the opening, and whenever you hop aboard your shield to surf across the plains, but sometimes the music on top of the shield would cut out randomly or never cut in when it was supposed to. This made it hard to enjoy even one of the better tracks in the game.
It seems appropriate that what’s undoubtedly the strongest part of Effie should follow the weakest. In this regard, I really enjoyed the gameplay of this title. I have a fondness for the 3D platformers and collectathons of old that just isn’t scratched often enough these days, with games like Banjo-Kazooie dying out as the years progressed. Effie feels like I found a PlayStation 2 mascot platformer game developed by Sony that was somehow lost to time and then rediscovered. There are both good and bad things to mimicking that era but it mostly tips on the side of good when it comes to Effie’s gameplay. I found myself constantly eager to get back to the game until it was completed.
Effie’s platforming is straight forward enough but I was pleased with how solid the jumping mechanics felt; these are oft times incredibly difficult to get right, it would seem, as I’ve often played games with floaty, or off, platforming that didn’t detect hit boxes correctly. It can make the game absolutely miserable. I had no problems of the sort with controlling Galand; jumps always landed exactly when and where I meant them to, with no hitbox detection issues whatsoever. This means if something is meant to be a ledge you can grab onto Galand does just that – a seemingly small thing that I’ve occasionally even seen AAA games struggle with. You’ll eventually get a second jump, when you receive your shield, that allows for all the typical double-jump shenanigans. Later, you’ll receive a dash you can use whether on ground or mid-air that further shakes things ups.
Combat is a little more stiff and unfulfilling than its jumping cousin but it plays its part about as well as any other platformer of old did. Hitting enemies will sometimes be incredibly satisfying, with a decent impact as they fly off the screen and explode into pixels, but other times the impact of the hit feels disconnected a bit from the action. Often, enemies pile up around you but you almost never feel in danger, especially later, as you unlock a couple of additional combat abilities. This really translates to the entire game – it’s incredibly easy for what it is. I was never actually threatened by the enemies at all and when I failed in platforming it was few and far between. It never is a detraction from the game, really, it just leans more towards the Kirby equation than the Mario one when it comes to difficulty. That’s perfectly fine. There are spots of platforming or combat a little more difficult than the rest, if you want to find a hidden chest, but for the most part the game remains easily conquerable.
After a brief tutorial area, you’re shuffled outside to the Plains of Oblena themselves with your newly acquired shield in your hands. It’s here you find the ability to surf aboard your shield. There’s a very satisfying speed to the whole thing – that surprised me – with remarkably little slowdown. You’ll come to an abrupt stop when you hit something. Jumping on the board feels like it’s far too low but, in general, it’s good fun.
Aside from combat, platforming, and surfing, there are some really light puzzles scattered throughout the game that aren’t especially challenging but are par for the course when it comes to this genre. All the puzzles have straightforward answers that you do have to think about but some cursory exploration of the environment will often readily yield your solution.
Bosses are the one spot where Effie drops the ball completely, as there simply isn’t much variation to them – you’ll always fight the same witch with, largely, the same attacks and enemies to fight. Often, the boss is more about the platforming through the area to get to levers and drop attacks on her. It rarely feels rewarding in any real way. Even the very last boss was more of the same – with slightly more difficult platforming and attacks I’d seen the entire game – which was an incredibly disappointing turn to an otherwise solid gameplay experience.
It’s worth mentioning here that, once, I got stuck in an object on screen and had to drop to menu. Another time, I had a hard crash of the game when looking at trophies. This would have been far more annoying if it had happened more often, if the loads hadn’t been so quick, and the checkpoint system so generous. As it was, what would usually be game breaking for me were simple annoyances. The fact that I only had two issues helped as well. That being said, I did drop a point because of these errors. Even though you may never see them in your playthrough, they’re worth mentioning.
The narrative to Effie is incredibly simple but it gives me enough reason to collect shiny rocks and beat up baddies so it succeeds at its job. As I previously mentioned, Galand is cursed by a witch for refusing to help her and it ages him instantly. He sets out, as an elder man, to find a way to reverse his curse. It’s here he finds out that he must prove he has a kind heart by freeing the Plains of Oblen from the witch’s oppressive rule by seeking out the three gems of evil and purifying them thereby freeing each town that she has conquered.
Each of the three cities he visits are large, mostly linear, levels he has to work through but each is extremely unique from the other and has a real place in this world. One of them’s a city of windmills while another’s responsible for all the world’s “grape juice” and is made up of giant barrels made into buildings and lakes of the juice. This whimsy permeates the entire game but the narrative never really escalates beyond this.
The whole of the story is being told by our hero to a young girl named Effie as you play along. If you die he’ll exclaim that the story didn’t go that way. If you get things wrong on a puzzle he’ll have some flavor text for that as well. It adds another layer to the overall narrative that seems meant to add a little warmth but it just feels largely unnecessary.
While collectathon platformer gaming might have a few notable inclusions lately, with games like A Hat in Time and Yooka-Laylee, it’s still such a rare genre. Effie manages to set itself apart from a lot of other games out there by simply existing in this play style. The cool setting and shield surfing ability in a larger, open hub, world seek to set it further apart from your newest AAA titles.
One of the greatest strengths of these sorts of games is the ease with which many people can enjoy them. As such, Effie finds itself to be extraordinarily accessible in a way that most games fail at. The movements are simple to understand, everything is well designed to lead players in the right directions, and even the most cleverly hidden chest has subtle background clues built into the environment to lead you in its direction.
The challenge is extremely low but this allows children to be able to enjoy the game and complete it; in this way, it reminds me of games I played when I was younger. My children were able to all watch me and enjoy it, which made it more of a family game. That fact alone makes the game easily accessible by most any parent as there isn’t any over-the-top violence or gore to watch out for.
Although you might double back to look for additional chests in order to snag that last trophy, there seems to be almost no reason to go back and play the game again. My children both enjoyed surfing so much that they’ve continued to play that portion even after the credits rolled but, for the average gamer, Effie is a very short experience that doesn’t really bear repeating. I think my entire playthrough, even with really taking my time to look for things, only took me around six hours.
My Personal Grade: 6/10
Putting a final score on Effie was incredibly difficult for me, mostly because I really enjoyed my time with it. By going through this review for the numerical value alone, many might think it not worth their time. Inverge Studios have managed to duplicate a lot of the charm and character that mascot platformers of a bygone era did so well while also managing to fold some modern design sensibilities that improved the overall formula.
It’s a shame, then, that sub-par audio issues, technical limitations of the team, and the ho-hum story really detract from the overall quality. In general, though, if you enjoy this type of game, and are aware of the issues it faces, I think you’ll really find something to love in Effie. One thing is for certain: if Effie is their debut effort, I can’t wait to see what this studio comes up with as it continues to improve.
We’d like to thank Inverge Studios for furnishing us with a copy of their game for this critique!
Aggregated Score: 6.0
The Mail Order Ninja Mage loves video games across every console: an assassin of fanboy nonsense. He also really loves martial arts and pizza, though that is of no consequence here. To read more of his random word soup, or to view daily(ish) photo mode screenshots from his favorite games, visit him at Home Button.
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Categories: Game Review