Games are just lovely these days aren’t they? Ok, maybe not the regular murder simulators that clog up the gaming chart’s top twenty, but increasingly amongst the weekly indie releases there’s a real sense of artistry to be found. Elli can be found nestling in the Switch’s eShop, and while this indie platforming adventure may not offer any hair-trigger thrills, it’s a relaxed little gem that might just serve as a counterpoint to the hectic world we live in.
Elli, the Guardian of the Crystals of Time is celebrating her 600th birthday when a dastardly crystal thief called Ghasti turns up to spoil her big day. Obviously this is not a good thing, as very bad things will happen if they’re not returned. It’s almost like they needed a guardian, isn’t it? To be fair it all happens so fast that I’m not sure that Elli even had a chance to eat any of her cake, proving Ghasti is already one of the most unlikeable rotters gaming has seen in many a year.
Elli is actually very spritely for someone who’s just turned 600, and the game tasks you with hopping around a variety of attractive areas while you search for the crystals. There’s some light puzzling and some moderately challenging platforming, but there’s nothing here that’s going to have you throwing your Switch or your Joy-Con about.
It’s very much in the ‘place this on that switch and the next door will open’ puzzle camp, but there are a few different elements to keep things interesting. At some points you’ll come across a wheel with up to four coloured gems and you have to find similarly coloured gems dotted around the level before you can proceed, or you might have to chase down a number of pick-ups in a set time limit. There are definitely a few elements stolen from a certain plumber’s bag of tricks, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Generally there’s enough going on with each puzzle to momentarily slow you down, but not upset you.
Elli is clearly designed to be a meditative experience, and thanks to the joyous pipe music it’s the kind of thing you can pop on during a tough day and relax with. The world that Elli inhabits is occasionally quite lovely to look at too, though thanks to the fixed isometric viewpoint you’ll on occasion feel like you’re missing out on something.
The world is exclusively populated by the diminutive Mandragora, and they help explain elements of the world to you or just greet you in a variety of cheery ways. They’re only small plant people mind you, so don’t expect too much else from them. There’s a solitary entrepreneur lurking at various points who operates a shop, and you can buy mildly different clothes or hats to wear if you feel like Elli needs a makeover. Hell, at 600 she could probably do with a full wardrobe refresh!
It’s a shame that, whether docked or undocked, the game’s performance is a bit of a let-down. Despite the fixed camera angles and straightforward art style there’s still a good few moments of slowdown, and though they barely affect the actual gameplay they’re decidedly disruptive to the game’s chilled out vibe and cheapen the overall effect.
The only question I have really is whether the game is in fact too relaxed. After a hard day at work, I actually found myself nodding off to Elli rather than chilling out with it, and while the soothing gameplay is clearly intentional it’s almost so minimalist as to become benign. It’s the kind of game that you find washing over you, and without much in the way of serious narrative to latch onto there’s a chance you’ll be fading well before the swiftly appearing end.