Effie, Inverge Studios’ new 3D adventure game, initially sets out with a noble goal.
Attempting to resurrect the accessible platformers of the late ’90s to the early noughties, it delivers a simple, whimsical adventure that attempts to find favour with younger audiences looking to get into the world of video games.
It’s a brilliant pitch for an industry that has all but forgotten the fanciful platformer; memories of growing up with colourful mascots like Spyro and Crash Bandicoot have very few modern age equivalents. However, while Effie’s heart’s in the right place, it can’t find that unique spark that made my six-year-old self run downstairs at 7 am to try and beat Crash’s ‘The High Road’ for the fifth week straight. Although it has some beautiful environments and a few fun platforming sections, nothing stands out in Effie. Before long, it becomes as forgotten as the genre it’s desperately trying to reinvigorate.
The main story takes place in the fantasy kingdom of Oblena. You play as Galand, a youthful knight who, under the curse of an evil witch, transforms into an elderly man and must find a way to regain his lost years. To do this, he must defeat his mortal adversary and the woman who stole his youth: the evil Melira. If the plot sounds like a typical fantasy tale, that’s because it most definitely is. Everything from the over-the-top narrator to the cackling antagonist is brimming with cliché, the story falling by the wayside almost as soon as it begins. At the end of the day, Effie’s story is just a means of connecting its various platforming segments together, and while that’s not necessarily the worst thing in the world, investing more time in fun writing and memorable characters would make exploration that little bit more rewarding.
This is especially true as navigating Effie’s world isn’t exactly thrilling. The majority of the game sees you exploring large levels as you look for keys to progress to the next stage. This often requires solving simple challenges, dodging deadly obstacles, and searching for hidden switches as you keep an eye out for gems and magical chests that upgrade your health bar and magic meter. It’s fairly rudimentary stuff, only made worse by the easy nature of the game’s puzzles and, more detrimentally, simple platforming sequences that pose little challenge.
While modern platformers like Mario Odyssey and A Hat In Time attempt to provide new layers to the genre – adding more complex techniques to traverse obstacles and puzzles that challenge younger and older audiences alike – Effie never feels like it evolves its main set of systems. You start the game with a basic double jump and, aside from a dash that enters the game a couple of hours later, that’s essentially the entire suite of tools to play around with. The only way the game ramps up in difficulty is by implementing an inconsistent checkpoint system and a few instakill obstacles that frustrate you more than they instil a desire to try again.
Granted, there are a few sections that do show promise. A sequence from the middle of the game stands out as particularly strong, forcing you to navigate across a floor covered in numerous grates that shoot out fire periodically. It’s a fun puzzle mixed with a strong platforming section, standing as one of the few challenges that straddles a perfect balance between mindless, simple platforming and tediously unfair difficulty.
Unfortunately, these brief moments are the only part of Effie’s gameplay that manages to find that balance. The combat, for example, is another dose of bland simplicity. It mostly breaks down into how hard you can frequently press a button, Galand locking onto enemies automatically as you hammer square until you win. Eventually, the game introduces enemies that you can only conquer with a slower strong attack, but after unlocking an ability that allows you to slam your shield into the ground and unleash a strong energy wave, these foes quickly become a breeze also. With the game feeding you waves of opponents so frequently, it doesn’t take long for these combat sections to become repetitive slogs that you’ll try to find the fastest way to push through.
It’s not that Effie is entirely disappointing. For one, the game expands exponentially in between levels, unleashing you into a large open hub with a lot of different areas to explore. It’s too big for Galand to traverse on foot, the protagonist’s trusty shield transforming into a lightning-fast hoverboard that allows you to channel your inner Marty McFly as you zip around the world. It’s easily the game’s smoothest feature, soaring across Effie’s wide open fields as you collect speed boosts feeling smooth, slick and satisfying. I found myself spending more time just taking in the game’s gorgeous environments from aboard my trusty hoverboard than I did progress through levels. The world’s attention to detail makes it the game’s biggest highlight.
It’s also clear that a lot of work has gone into the colourful enemies and wonderous world design, both oozing character and charm. While Galand and Melira feel strangely uninspired in design, they’re the exception; everything else looks like it was torn directly from the mind of an imaginative child. For a game that struggles with eliciting personality, this is one of the only places where it manages to strike the perfect chord.
However, despite great intentions, Effie is simply a little too bland. Games like Crash Bandicoot, Spyro and the 3D Mario titles excel because they don’t equate accessibility to simplicity. They present younger players with a wide suite of unique, interesting gameplay mechanics and challenges that, while initially aren’t easy, are fun to overcome. Although Effie has the colourful world down, its gameplay lacks a unique selling point or enough complexity to make it memorable, ultimately becoming yet another attempt to reignite the accessible 90’s platformer that can’t hack what made the genre so successful.
Platform: PS4 (reviewed), PC (release date TBC)
Developer: Inverge Studios
Publisher: Inverge Studios
Release Date: June 4, 2019