Gaming provides us a stark example of progress. We’ve come a long way from the days of pong! When once the games we played were confined to the 8 bit world, where blocky characters navigated pixelated mazes with clunky controls we are now surrounded by a cornucopia of realistic games depicting the world in relative facsimile.
However, there is something to be said for the celebration of the old times. This is exactly the flavor of Elena Temple, a retro style indie platformer available on Switch, MS Windows, and Xbox.
I had the distinct pleasure of giving this old timey treat a whirl, and I feel as if it hits all the right notes.
Elena Temple is an intrepid young explorer, depicted in all her 8 bit glory, who stumbles into the entrance of a labyrinth maze. Within these walls she must avoid pitfalls, assault various creepy crawlies, collect coins and diamonds, and ultimately escape. The creator of this game goes by GrimTalin on Twitter, so give some love and a follow over there. Also, a special thanks to IndieGamerChick for giving me a copy of this game to review.
The gameplay in Elena Temple revolves around tight platforming mechanics. You have a gun with two bullets, and unlimited lives, which is a good thing for me because I’m not the best at platforming games. The game has two temples in it, one of which I have explored fully.
Many rooms of the temple features small puzzles that must be solved to move ahead. Smart use of your bullets and keeping an eye out for pitfalls will help you solve these.
Although difficult at times, nothing in this game is impossible, and with some grinding and luck you can get through each situation.
The music is a perfect throwback for the era the game simulates, with lilting chiptunes that seem to encapsulate the feeling of playing games in the 80's. I am a big fan of chiptunes and I enjoyed the tracks in this game quite a bit. The throwback feeling of the game makes it a convincing counterpart to similar titles from the 1980s. Pitfall, Contra, and Mario Bros come to mind when I play this game.
Still, while it may have echoes of these games, Elena Temple is very much its own game, and the tight controls set it apart from the classics which often felt clunky.
A good deal of the charm in Elena Temple comes from the way the game simulates the 1980’s gaming feel. One X bone you can use the bumper buttons to swap between various consoles representing various releases of the game over the years; this doesn’t change the gameplay but it gives the game an aesthetic change, making you feel like you’re playing on an old cathode ray tube television, or a handheld device.
You can zoom in to have a full screen experience, but when you zoom out the game shows you backgrounds that sell the idea that you're going back in time. Each of these platforms you can choose between have snarky names which are also amusing.
Dude, you’re getting a BELL!
There are times when Elena Temple can be very frustrating. A certain confined area where you must avoid a bat certainly required luck, not skill to get past. After about 40 deaths trying to best that situation I definitely had anxiety. I’m also incredibly stubborn; if it took me 100 tries I would have tried 100 times. I like games that reward a skillful player. While a definite element of this game requires skill, sometimes the mechanics seem to ignore your skills and fall to luck.
This can be a painful experience.
The game would also do better with a more detailed minimap. The map on your pause screen doesn’t give you much of an idea about what is where. This might be isolated to my Xbox playthrough, based on some images I’ve seen. It does help that the rooms you explore appear and show the possible exits, but overall there are no indicators where the items you’ve collected are.
They could add little indicators when you collect items in a room, and that might help.
Diversity in weapons would also be nice. The game uses the two bullet limitation well, and it plays into a lot of the puzzles. Bullets can flip switches, and break open pots in addition to defeating enemies.
But one of the things that made other games from the era this game simulates great was a diverse weapon set, and the feeling of upgrading the character as you progress.
I’d also like to see more diversity among enemies. Snakes, bats and scorpions are fun, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a temple. Where’s the mummified corpse?
The game has no bosses that I encountered in 2 hours of gameplay; the temple itself seems to be the boss.
It would be fun if you had to fight a mummified corpse come to life, or perhaps a sinister olmec head. The fact that there are two bullets in the gun would make these fights more interesting; having to evade and platform to get bullets.
A drawback is that with unlimited lives, progress against a boss would ultimately fall to a war of attrition.
If you like this game, there are also a ton of 2d platformers that have come out this year that go further with their graphical interface, pushing the limits of 8 bit animation. Keep an eye out for games like Katana ZERO, Valfaris, and Dark Devotion to get your metroidvania fix.
In a world where games seem to take themselves too seriously, Elena Temple remains refreshingly self aware. This game isn’t trying to be a blockbuster mega title with the latest graphics.
Instead the developer decided to create a touching tribute to all things retro. So many titles fall flat on their face when it comes to these issues and Elena Temple sets all the bells and whistles that modern games use to attract us and offers up wholesome simple gameplay.
If you'd like to see some gameplay from Elena Temple, I livestreamed my experience playing it.
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