A link to the past.
Any developer making a sequel to a classic game – or a new IP inspired by one – has an important decision to make: how faithful should they be to the source?
Should they craft something with merely a retro flavour that’s otherwise modern in design and functionality? Or should they stick rigidly to the precursor’s style, turning a blind eye to contemporary comforts and trappings?
Elliot Quest on the Switch is an example of a game borrowing liberally from its ancestors whilst discarding some obsoletion along the way. It’s just a shame that some of the remaining throwbacks in its design mar an otherwise harmonious pairing of old and new.
There’s no shortage of games out there influenced by The Legend of Zelda, but Elliot Quest is the first I’ve seen to ape Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. The side-scrolling format, traversable overworld map and upgradeable abilities are just some of the un-Zelda-like traits it adopts from the infamous black sheep of the series.
Exploring this emulative world as Elliot is a confusing affair in more ways than one. Visiting new areas for the first time often triggers brief cutscenes or haphazard monologues which are very difficult to tie together into some semblance of a story. A quest to break a demon’s curse and the pining for lost loved ones are about all I could make out – its disjointed, obscure narrative isn’t a deal-breaker but it does dampen context and agency.
Worse than getting lost in the plot is the tendency to get lost in the world itself. In an overly faithful resurgence of Zelda II and classic Metroids and Castlevanias, navigation is exasperatingly confusing at times. Despite having a lot of the world at your disposal early on, much of the areas within are cordoned off until you have the necessary ability. You won’t discover this until you try to progress through them, however – and good luck working out which area is not only accessible but grants the ability you need to reach the next ones.
This trial and error inflates Elliot Quest’s playtime with periods of disorienting slog, as you walk in circles hunting for the next destination. Even the visitable areas on the (admittedly lovely) overworld map are ambiguous, needing a thorough trudge across all of its pixels to determine which ones can actually be entered.
Thankfully, the actual platforming and combat go a long way towards redeeming these frustrations. Starting with the ability to merely jump and shoot arrows a few feet, Elliot gains skills to double-jump, cast spells and fire faster and further as he progresses. But it remains simple, tight and rewarding throughout – this is where its tributes to classic gaming shine.
Enemies are deadly, always threatening to close the gap between them and your little bow-wielding self, sapping your precious few life hearts. Careful level traversal pays off, as does taking advantage of all of the little tricks you pick up, like using gravity to hit enemies below you with your arrows and exposing vulnerabilities with your spells.
Levels are carefully crafted to tax and delight in equal measures. Elliot Quest absolutely nailed the difficulty curve for me. There are so many ways to die, yet not a single one feels unfair – you could have always seen that attack coming or timed that jump just a little better.
Strong design is evident in the visuals, too. It claims a traditional 8-bit aesthetic but has depth of colour and environmental detail which elevates it above its forebears. Elliot and the creatures and people he meets are bursting with charm, whilst his diverse surroundings are enhanced with lovely lighting and weather effects. It’s strikingly fresh and familiar all at once.
I know purists will argue that Elliot Quest’s refusal to explain anything is another plus in its favour. For me it holds it back from greatness. Regardless, this is a challenging, charismatic adventure which any Switch-playing retro fan would do well to pick up.