I’ve looked at two of GrimTalin’s releases prior to this one – both Rollin’ Eggz and Cake Laboratory are appealingly colourful games with polished, colourful visuals and a single-mindedness in the mechanics that makes them straightforward for anyone, even younger children, to pick up with little fuss.
Though The Adventures of Elena Temple doesn’t have the same cartoony, kid-friendly aesthetic as the aforementioned games, it does have a similarly retro flavour – this time however, its influences are far more obvious, as they’re woven into the presentation in a very clever way. Not only is the main game a more obvious tribute to the games of yesteryear in terms of its lo-fi, pixel art graphical style, but there’s even a faux backstory provided to explain the ‘history’ of the game and its appearance on a variety of old consoles and computers.
It’s nonsense, of course – the devices mentioned aren’t real (nor is the game’s ‘history’), though they do bear a resemblance to actual machines – but it provides an excuse for the game to be presented on CRT screens (or Game Boy-esque displays) with suitably retro-looking backgrounds and scenery. These present differences in the graphical style of the game depending on the computer or console chosen. It’s a neat touch, though one that doesn’t have any effect on the gameplay (aside from pushing the actual play area into a screen size that can sometimes feel a little too small).
The gameplay itself is, somewhat unexpectedly for me – after playing the two GrimTalin titles mentioned above – really tough. It’s a platform game with really punishing level design; the game is made up of a map, consisting of separate rooms – each room is essentially a discrete platforming puzzle, with coins, pistol ammo and chests placed tantalisingly behind obstacles and in close proximity to very deadly enemies. Elena is armed, as you’d expect given that you can find ammo in many rooms, but can only carry two bullets at a time, which forces both discretion in using ammo and the need to seek out bullets at every opportunity.
Though one hit from an enemy or an obstacle – such as spikes – kills, you respawn in the same room at the last ‘safe’ point you reached. This makes the game less punishing than it could be – but can also lead to situations in which you’re stuck in a bit of a loop, which does seem somewhat unfair at times. Lives, however, are infinite – so despite the frustration of repeatedly dying at the same point, this won’t have any long term effects on progression.
The ultimate aim of the game is to escape the labyrinthine network of rooms via an exit that’s locked until you gather eight gems from the chests dotted around the map. It’s a simple aim, made difficult by the small rooms and the rather cramped nature of the level design.
There’s a map available, which you can use to check your position (though rooms and their exits only appear once you’ve actually visited them), but other than telling you where you actually are in relation to other rooms, there’s no further useful information here. It’d be incredibly useful if this were to let you know when a room has been cleared of coins and/or chests – and would save a lot of frustrating backtracking. That said, there’s a limited number of rooms and it’s relatively straightforward to make your way through most of them – if all you’re doing is traversing the map and not trying to reach some of the deviously placed items. This information also becomes available upon discovery of certain secrets, but it does feel like a detail that should be available immediately, rather than something that needs to be unlocked.
This could just be my reaction to the conveniences of modern games, however; The Adventures of Elena Temple is, after all, doing its best to recreate the feel of old school games, complete with the gruelling difficulty level and absence of quality-of-life conveniences included.
Though the difficulty – and initial lack of any handholding via the map – can cause frustration, The Adventures of Elena Temple remains a pretty addictive and compelling game. The presentation is top notch, lending the game a unique feel – and it’s a very old school game in many ways.
Though not family friendly in terms of its difficulty and visual design – as other GrimTalin games I’ve played seem to be – it’s definitely one I’d recommend if you aren’t dissuaded or disheartened by a solid challenge; especially one that’s drenched in a visual layer of nostalgia – and the impressively presented visuals definitely go above and beyond simply recreating the pixel art styles or hardcore difficulty of a bygone era.
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