I’ll start this review off by saying I’m a bit conflicted in regards to critiquing this game. On the one hand I really enjoy the direction and designs the developers took. On the other hand the game has some large design flaws that I can’t ignore.
The story starts off with your character; let’s call him Tim, waking up in an abandoned prison. Tim, unsure of where he is, decides to take a look around outside. Once outside, Tim discovers that he has magical powers that allow him to fly with an umbrella. Mary Poppins jokes aside; you soon find out that your country is at war. Tim then makes it his mission to help those separated by the war and lead them all home, and try to do something about the war if he can. The narrative is actually delivered quite well through short silent cut scenes that deliver dialogue in small action pictures. The overall game is pretty short, but I feel it doesn’t need to be any longer than it is. It tells us the story, gives it to us straight, and it’s over; simple, clean, done. While I certainly don’t think this game’s story is a masterpiece as others seem to claim, it is a delightful little story. When your story deals with topics such as this there are always people that will extrapolate ideas and meaning out of it, I’m guilty of doing this myself. Also to those types of people I say; pay close attention to the ending, because if there’s ever a statement to be made it’s there, and it is a rather nice ending. I also would have never expected a game like this to handle a theme like war in such a mature manner. It’s nice to games portray war with a little more seriousness than Sunday paintball event.
The game has adopted that Shadowy figure and landscape art style similar to that of Limbo and so many other indie games. I’m even a little torn on this. I don’t mind the art style; I’m just a little tired of seeing it, considering that so many developers have used something similar, to the point of abuse. However there’s something about it when used in the context of the story and setting that I can’t help but think works really well.
I feel like I should preface this by saying that I’m a big sucker for piano, and the games soundtrack definitely tickles that fancy. That doesn’t matter though, because the soundtrack is legitimately good. Each song fits so perfectly according to the context of each individual situation, that it greatly elevates the situation and vice versa. Not much else to say on that matter that just it, it’s good. If there’s a complaint to be had I guess it would be that there’s only eight tracks. Although complaining that there’s not more of something doesn’t really sound like much of a complaint, because you’re saying it’s so good it warrants more. With the games short length though, even if you do hear the same track twice you won’t remember it that clearly, and it will still be just as refreshing as the first time.
Considering we’re already five paragraphs into this review, I figure now would be a good time to mention that “El” is a side-scrolling flying game. At least that’s what the game’s description told me. Not that you would guess though, considering how high you can actually fly and how much space everything you have to avoid takes up. As a matter of fact I spent a majority of the game just hovering slightly above the ground, because it was the safest option. It was frequent to the point I seriously questioned whether or not my mission was to be a magical flying umbrella boy.
The gameplay is just poorly designed. Your character and everything you have to avoid takes up so much space on the screen. All moving objects move way too fast to properly react. This isn’t helped by the fact that, vertically, you move at a snail’s pace. While your horizontal speed is controlled by flicking the screen in the direction you wish to move, except there’s no varying degree of power. Moving your finger so much as a millimeter is the same as flicking it across the whole screen. All of these components combined make it damn near impossible to properly avoid anything. There’s only one way to react to any given situation, but you’re given a slim window of opportunity to perform it and the game just expects you to know where to be and what to do in any given moment. It’s not difficult; it’s just flat out unfair. So either you really like trial and error, have a photographic memory, or have the foresight of god, because those are pretty much the only ways you’re getting through any level unscathed.
What’s worse is the developers seemed to be aware of the fault of the mechanics. Instead of fixing anything however, they absolutely cover the level in these feathers that give a tiny amount of life. The problem here is that the feathers don’t actually give you back that much life, so you’re still always nearing death. If you have to shave health down our throat every five seconds, because of your game’s design, then I have news for you; the only real way to fix it is to fix the design and mechanics themselves. It’s like if I punched you, but every time I punched you, you got a dime. Sure you’re getting money, but it isn’t equal to the damage, and you’re maybe walking away with enough to do half of a load of laundry.
I’m now at the end of this review and I still don’t know where I stand on this game. This is the first time I’m unable to give a direct opinion. I guess I’m just going to have to leave it you guys to decide whether or not you think it is good or not. In my eyes the games good presentation is equal to that of it’s bad gameplay. So take this review as you will.