There are very few games that deal with old age in any significant fashion. Of course, gaming is still viewed as a young person’s activity, despite the increasing number of senior folk who have grown up alongside the hobby. Exceptions such as Old Man’s Journey are welcome, and most usually focus on quiet and meditative gameplay. Effie, an oldschool third person platform adventure game, promises to offer up a different take on the idea of being old. In using a traditional fairy tale involving a witch’s curse, the game seems well set to really interrogate the emotional and physical nature of living in a geriatric body. The reality, however, is less inventive as the interesting narrative plays second fiddle to the conventions of platform gaming.
Effie’s central idea of an insulted with punishing the one who offended her dates back at as far as Geoffrey Chaucer’s Wife of Bath’s Tale and will be familiar to most readers from Beauty and the Beast. Here, the affront caused is by a strong young man, Galand, and his punishment is the infirmity of a premature old age. The moral and narrative aspects of this setting are effective and clear, and I was fully expecting the game itself to make much of the effect on Galand. Unfortunately, even before he locates the magic shield that is key to the game’s central mechanics, the old man is surprisingly spritely. It might seem counterintuitive, but I was hoping for a less agile and controllable character, even if only for the game’s beginning. The curse that Galand is hoping to lift really doesn’t seem to have that much of an effect on him.
Inverge Studios have achieved an impressive level of polish, but that doesn’t paper over some of the less positive aspects. The promise of a nostalgic third person adventure game combined with more modern open world elements sounds enticing, but the world immediately feels bare to the point of detracting from the overall experience. This is even more of a shame since the main platforming environments are well designed and enjoyable to traverse.
The vibrant colours of the open world are contrasted well with the muted palette of the indoor areas and everything has a nice cartoony style that gives the game a nostalgic feel whilst still looking polished. Animation is good and there were few noticeable drops in framerate on my original PS4. Audio is unremarkable but passable, with the voice acting being fine and music effective if unmemorable. More enemy variety would have been welcome but the different areas are distinctive.
The various levels you explore are very reminiscent of old fashioned 3D platformers with linear progression but numerous secrets hidden away in less obvious spots. While some of these may prove a little tricky to find, the most difficult aspect is that you can’t repeat levels once you finish them. This decision is one of the few areas in which Effie would have benefited from a more contemporary approach. Trophy hunters would be advised to either consult a treasure guide or be prepared to rattle through a second playthrough. That being said, the game is not overly padded and is one of the more enjoyable cheap platinums I’ve earned in a while.
The intricacy of the indoor levels is not matched by the overworld, however, which feels like a throwback to clones of Ocarina of Time.The huge area is almost entirely empty with just a few small pockets of enemies, usually surrounding a treasure chest. This is particularly disappointing considering the game teases you with a vision of the sprawling countryside and then fails to do anything interesting with it. There is a race to complete and a few fights but they all feel like filler and are certainly not up to the standard of the main body of the game.
The throwback feel is exacerbated by Galand’s surfing on his shield, bringing back unwelcome memories of the late PSOne era where everything had to have a radical skating section. There was potential for this to be ironic, given Galand’s curse of premature old age but that backstory is seemingly forgotten.
It was this amnesia about the central premise of the game that was most disappointing to me. There was so much that could have been done with the idea of a central character struck down by a curse, but as soon as you obtain the shield after the tutorial, Galand is jumping, sliding, and climbing around like a teenager. Some kind of reverse aging connected to progression and new skills could have made this a really interesting meditation on the ways in which games rely on throwing you new abilities as you progress, but aside from some extra combat moves there is little development here.