Remember the days of arcade games, where the only thing that could stop you were the number of quarters you had in your pocket? Or when you had a limited amount of chances to get to the next level before having to send more quarters to the cabinet? This is the sort of vibe that I get from Elsie, an indie, roguelike game currently in development at Knight Shift Games. And while it is a game that I can’t wait to see at it’s fullest potential, its current status makes me fearful about its future.
Before I go down that path, though, let me start with what I find to be exceptionally unique about the game. For starters, I love the world they seem to be building. It has a very sci-fi, almost cybernetic inspiration (think MegaMan with its machines and its world, just more open instead of in more enclosed spaces in MegaMan). I also fond of the art-style, being reminiscent of games like Celeste and Dead Cells. It’s mechanically a little bit of both too; the game’s dash mechanic borrows from other titles, which makes significant gaps in the map doable.
During gameplay, players will run through procedurally generated maps as they level up and collect upgrades. The game turns essentially into a roguelike, as it is sometimes challenging to get through. This is accentuated by the fact that the game seems to become more difficult the more times you die, and puts your skills and upgrades to the test. With the level design ever-changing, there were a few times I encountered rooms that I’ve played through before, but given the stage of the development build, I don’t feel that this will be a problem come to their release date.
While playing the game, you’ll also encounter challenge rooms that yield excellent rewards, but only if you complete them. Furthermore, points can be used to purchase upgrades from the shop, and additional powerups can be found while playing to make getting through the dungeons easier. This is not an easy game by any means, but its charm and ever-changing layout provide an excellent sense of progression that makes you want to keep playing.
The thing that makes this kind of gameplay stand out from other modern games of this genre (Dead Cells being its closest competitor) is that Level Ups and upgrades to Elsie are done on the fly amid a battle, at the push of a button. This encourages you to think on your feet and make on the fly choices that you have to measure for your current and future situations. This challenged me, in particular, to choose upgrades that later on I came to realize weren’t helpful, while other times, it helped me clear the tankier enemies.
Elsie is light on resources and can run on low-end hardware (think laptops with integrated graphics). This makes the game approachable and much more open to a broader audience. The nature of it being mainly single-player focused means you can potentially play this on the go without issue, which is a rarity these days with live-service games dominating the market.
That said, a lot is happening on the technical side that worries me. For starters, this seems to be very early in a rewrite, as it currently suffers from no mouse capture (and in my case, no mouse input!). This worries me; as a primarily KB+M player, not being able to use the Mouse for shooting (which the game itself mentions you can use the mouse for, ironically enough), so I have to rely on a gamepad to play. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, mind you, but it does leave out those who prefer to use one input method, to rely on an alternate.
Another issue that seems to be around is the minimal amount of options in the in-game settings menu. I would like to see options for things like auto-detecting icons for the input being used, changing resolution mode, and size while in-game rather than via the launcher, among other similar quality-of-life features.
Elsie offers an experience that’s currently in development, and in this state, there are both good and bad systems to be found. Regardless, I will be keeping my eye on it as it approaches an official release. The quirkiness in its design, the fluidity of gameplay, and the world-building make me want to follow this project. I hope that the issues get sorted before launch since those would be the little things that can ruin an otherwise beautiful little game.
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