The Adventures of Elena Temple

The Indie Gamer Chick Paradox: not being nostalgic for older games, but being drawn to neo-retro games. It’s a strange phenomena, but one I’ve noticed in myself, especially lately. When browsing console or PC marketplaces, if a game is all pixel-arty in a convincing way, I’m much more likely to want to try it. I find that strange, because I’m not exactly telling kids about the glory days when all Mario needed was two buttons, a D-Pad, fireballs, and a flagpole at the end of each stage. Frankly, some of those type of gamers are kind of creepy. Like the ones who say they won’t let their kids play any modern games until they play the games of their childhood and learn to like them, or else. That’s not teaching your kids appreciation. That’s brainwashing. Really unnerving shit that turns what should be a beautiful event into something more like indoctrination into a cult.

Still, if I see something that looks like a lost older game that’s been rediscovered and released again for a new audience, it sticks out to me. The Adventure of Elena Temple takes that a step further: it’s presented to us like it really is a lost game from 1982. One that never found its audience because the hapless developer kept porting their work to generic, off-brand game consoles and personal computers nobody owned (like the Nintengo Some Toy or the Maple Computer, a Canadian Macintosh clone that sold 31 units), thus screwing themselves out ever getting recognition (or payment) for what is actually a decent little game.

I wish I was joking when I say I played XBLIGs that didn’t sell that well.

It’s a cute idea, but one that doesn’t factor into the gameplay at all besides changing the shading of the graphics. That’s a shame, because the meta-joke has legs and probably could have been worked into the concept. Like maybe each port of Elena is busted by era-specific limitations or something along those lines. What could have been a truly inspired gag becomes little more than flavor text for different color palettes of the same game. You can’t even change schemes on the fly. You have to exit out to the main menu, which is frankly inconvenient if you’re someone genuinely looking for what style is the most comfortable to use. And to be honest, because of the comedic framing with the dense creator getting conned into releasing on the wrong platforms, I actually thought each different graphics style was going to be a completely different map or even version of the game. They’re not. There is exactly one map and one map only for Elena Temple that plays the same no matter which version you use. That’s fine, but I wish it had been a bit less ambiguous. Sort of like my last home pregnancy test. It’s surprisingly difficult to interpret whether a tiny line is blue or not when you’re stressing over the effectiveness of condoms.

Also, I had to fixate on that stuff because I really don’t have very much to say about the actual content of Elena Temple. It’s fine. There’s only fifty rooms to explore and gameplay is kept very limited in order to stay true to the 1982-developed-game theme. Exploring is limited to hoping around on platforms, occasionally hitting a button or firing a gun to break jars or knock down walls. I asked myself why she had to shoot jars instead of, you know, just kicking them or picking them up and dropping them or anything really besides busting a cap in them? Who shoots a jar unless you’re a Branch Davidian or something? In fact, guns are the solution to almost everything in Elena Temple. It’s like the NRA’s wet dream. Nearly every puzzle requires shooting it, and sometimes I found myself shooting buttons I could have pressed, but you only get two bullets at a time. There’s refills scattered around the map, some of which respawn without having to leave the room and come back in it. It does work, but it never gets more involved than base-level puzzle elements. You can shoot enemies too, but there’s seriously only two types: snakes and bats, both of which can be plugged with a single bullet. It contributes to the consistent theme of Elena Temple: everything works but there’s not enough of it.

You can zoom in for a closer view if you wish, but then you can’t admire the off-brand equipment you’re playing the game on. Come to think of it, maybe Elena Temple is a scathing commentary on cheapskates buying generic brands. Fair enough, though my father insists that Soni televisions are just as good as the real thing.

To developer GrimTalin’s credit, everything that’s actually here is fun. Each room is over and done with so quickly that you don’t have time to ever get bored despite many of the rooms feeling kind of samey having very little in the way of actual content. It wouldn’t be out of the question for a first-timer to knock the game out in an under-an-hour with a 100% completion. It controls good enough to never be annoying. Jumping takes a bit to get the hang of, especially with the rooms being as claustrophobic as they are, but after ten minutes it becomes instinctive. There’s a few hidden secrets that shows the location of the eight diamonds you need to finish the game, or whether a room is finished (never found that one) or secret passages (never found that one either) but otherwise what you see is what you get. The framing device actually covers for the generic setting, traps, and enemies, which does work in the same way Microsoft claiming bugs are actually features does.

But, what’s here is actually so well made that I can’t help but think almost anyone will walk away feeling a bit unsatisfied. Elena Temple is one of those games that strives for authenticity, achieves it, and it’s not entirely to the game’s betterment. It’s too simple and too straight-forward and doesn’t have enough going for it. And clearly GrimTalin understands that gaming has come a long ways, because without the one modern concession it does make (unlimited lives and thus no game-overing), Elena Temple would have certainly been too frustrating. You know, like 99% of all the games it’s paying homage to. Maybe that’s as far as GrimTalin could take it without betraying the theme, but I don’t know. The most randomly strange thing I could “complain” about in the game is that the Elena character is perhaps too tall. Hear me out: she’s roughly 1/5 the size of the playfield, with the spikes, coins, snakes, etc being half-as-tall as she is. If she was shorter, along with things like the spikes and coins and traps and enemies being smaller, rooms could have been bigger and thus been made more elaborate. I don’t know why, but it’s something that was in the back of mind nearly my entire session with it. Or maybe I’m off my rocker and it just needed more rooms. Probably just more rooms would work. And enemies. And traps. And weapons. And.. really it just needed more.

This is what a sucker I am: I actually found a blue/yellow color scheme to be the easiest on my eyes, but played in the gross Game Boy mock-up because my fans liked the authenticity of it. That’s how it starts. Next thing you know I’ll be dancing on command.

But it doesn’t need more to be fun. Elena Temple already is fun. The stuff I’m suggesting is merely to push it to a higher level. And, while the stages are basic, they’re not exactly crap either. Elena Temple never bores, and is inexpensive enough that you don’t feel ripped-off by the length. Unlike some other shorter titles that have little in the way of innovation, like Sigi, it feels like what we do have here is fully fleshed out. Like a gourmet chef took bland ingredients and made something very delicious with them without resorting to seasoning or other culinary trickery. When I went to determine Elena’s leaderboard position, I was actually taken off guard by how high it ended up. So if I came across like I didn’t like it, it’s only because what was here was so good that I realized Catalin Marcu’s only sin was not aiming higher. Hardly a sin at all, really. What do you call something that is close to a sin but not? I was going to say “a blowjob”, but I looked into it and it turns out that actually is a sin. I didn’t know that! Well, my next confession on Sunday just got awkward.

The Adventures of Elena Temple was developed by GrimTalin
Point of Sale: Switch, Steam

$2.99 (normally $4.99, really $2.99 should be the permanent price) asked why explorers in all these games break the priceless antique vases instead of, you know, gathering them to donate them to a museum in the making of this review?

Elena Temple is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

Fly O’Clock

Fly O’Clock is like a Mario Party minigame that got released on its own. It costs double the Steam version, a whopping $2. Now mind you, during my first 2 1/2 years as IGC, 85% of all the games I reviewed cost $1 (or 80 Microsoft Points), so this is like a throwback review for me. And, like many XBLIGs I covered, there’s really not a whole lot of meat on these bones to review. Fly O’Clock is like mechanically-separated meat. It’s kind of delicious, but made from the spare parts nobody wants.

If only killing flies was as easy as letting a watch hand glide across them. Little bastards have been buzz-bombing my face all week. Then again, I haven’t showered in like a month now, but I can’t imagine the two things are related.

You’re a fly (or some other animal) on a wristwatch. You jump over the minute and hour hands on it. That’s it. That’s the entirety of the game. Jumping is limited to the corners only. You have no control over which direction you jump or how high or how fast. This is single-button gameplay. You always jump counter-clockwise while the hands move clockwise. It’s sort of like the sweeper obstacle from the TV series Wipeout, only instead of being a person getting knocked into the water, you’re a tiny animal being splattered by a personal time-telling apparatus. There’s not a lot to discuss with Fly O’Clock. The idea is fun in a time-sinky sort of way and feels cathartic in the same way competitive bubble-wrap popping would be. It’s so limited that it almost defies criticism, but I’ll give it shot.

Sometimes it’s hard to know where the hit-boxes are. There were instances where it seemed like I should have died and didn’t, and others where it seemed like I had enough clearance to land a jump and got flattened. The time between dying and starting another round is lightning quick, which is nice. I hate it when fast-paced games make you spend more time between menus than actually playing the game, so they did that right. There’s a handful of multiplayer options. One of them is based on survival, while the other is a race. In the race mode, the first player to do X amount of jumps wins, and the hands only stun you. You absolutely need to play it on a TV because the Switch screen is too compressed for four-player split-screen. But the multiplayer is fine otherwise. Like the main game, it’s fun for a couple of rounds. Fly O’Clock is mostly driven by high scores, so I’m not sure why they didn’t include online leaderboards, and it sucks that they didn’t because I have no way of knowing exactly how good I’ve done. And.. uh.. that’s about it.

Don’t even attempt multiplayer mode on the Switch screen. It’s more squished than the bugs in the game are.

Fly O’Clock is fun in short-bursts. It’s got no depth or complexity to it, but give me five solid minutes of arcadey fun over hours of boring but “deep, meaningful” storytelling any day. And cheap little games like this are awesome for one other reason: people focus on titles that are “pick-up-and-play” and Fly O’Clock is certainly that. But they overlook something: when you get bored and put it down, are you missing out on anything? When Fly O’Clock starts to get old (and hell, I put over an hour over the course of a day into it before that happened), when you put it down, likely to never be picked up again, were you ripped-off by it? Nope. When people roll their eyes at games like this, I ask if you’ve ever put $1 into an arcade machine and expected that experience to net you hours of gameplay? Sit down Twin Galaxies types, I didn’t mean you. Something like this is like putting a quarter into an arcade game, only you get to own the game. You get the full experience from your first couple play-throughs and whatever enjoyment you get out of it is the maximum enjoyment in its entirety. For Fly O’Clock, it was enough for me to nod my head in approval. Keep it simple, stupid.

Fly O’Clock was developed by Digital Melody
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Steam

$1.99 got swatted in the making of this review.

Really, this should only cost $1, even on Switch.

Fly O’Clock is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

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