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Orcs & Elves (DS) artwork

Orcs & Elves (DS) review

"The developers brought us old school style, but left out the substance. The end result is a game that feels more antiquated than it should. It's funny because this game is only five years old and it's already aged worse than many of the other rat maze RPGs it pays homage to."

Orcs & Elves asset

I've spent hours in first-person rat mazes. Usually I lose myself in the intricate design, clever puzzles, strategic battles, and survival- and conservation-based concepts. Sometimes I enjoy the feeling that I'm trapped in a stone labyrinth. I love hunting for a speck of light, hoping it's the sun and not some horrid trap or joke. I relish the desperate moments where I feel like I may not make it--where my life is nearly depleted, I'm down to my last loaf of bread or healing potion, nightmarish creatures are closing in, and I've hit a dead end. I love those do-or-die moments because I enjoy gabbing about them with my other nerdy friends, telling them how I pulled off the impossible.

It's that love that brought me to Orcs & Elves. Ironically, it's also that love that veered me away from it in the end.

It starts with ancient presentation, great for hooking retro junkies like me. We see a new game that uses older graphics and conventions and we instantly wet out pants with anticipation. We tear open the package and pop the game in, and pretend we're back in 1988 and we've forgotten everything we've learned about contemporary games. Orcs & Elves instantly scratches that old school itch. We step into a dwarven stronghold built within a mountain, surrounded by the earthy gray and brown visuals we remember. Our hearts beat amorously as we hack apart our first enemy: a dingy wererat built of pixels--PIXELS! and not polygons.

Orcs & Elves seeks not to intimidate like many first-person RPGs, which is great for newcomers to the genre. It's simple to play and easy to learn, and very user-friendly. It even sports an efficient and easy to navigate menu system on the bottom screen. There we get a view of our character's utility belt, with each item in said belt denoting a different function or menu, from save data to our inventory.

With all of the loot we gather, we can make a trip to a dragon's hoard and buy new weapons, armor, and much needed potions. It's here we get our first painful jolt as we notice that there are only a few different swords to choose from. We hope that that isn't an indication to how short the game is, but we all know the truth. Still, we try to distract ourselves from this frightening revelation by playing further and savoring what moments we can.

We junkies love games like this to death. How can we not? It's like it's coming from a person who understands us. Heck, the developers may even be retro junkies themselves. There comes a point, though, where the gloss fades and we can tell whether or not we were really in love with the game or with the memories the game conjured. That happens around level three with Orcs & Elves, after we've seen our share of battle.

Combat is turn-based, but without the menus. You consume a turn any time you move a space, attack, or perform any other action like drink a potion or cast a spell. This concept is simple to grasp. Like any other simple concept, all it takes is some well thought out enemies and perils to make the game challenging. It prompts us to summon our strategic prowess or build a character powerful enough to deal with and survive against such tight odds. When developers fail to accomplish this, they reduce combat to basic chopping and healing. The only strategy you might deploy is switching weapons to suit different enemies, but that's really not strategic at all.

Such is the case with Orcs & Elves. Around the third level is where we discover that victory is not a matter of skillful battle, masterfully crafting a tough character, or intelligence. Our stash of potions is the main factor that decides whether we win or lose. Almost every battle can be won by simply hacking the enemies to bits and healing as needed. With potions and cash as abundant as they are, enemies are more of a temporary nuisance than a bona fide problem.

You'd think the game would supply us with plenty of tough puzzles to keep our brains entertained. Unfortunately, not so here. The most engaging puzzles require block pushing so basic that even an idiot could accidentally figure them out. When it isn't push block puzzles assailing us, it's locked doors that require passwords. We could spend a few minutes and use process of elimination to figure out the password, at the cost of a little HP for every wrong guess. However, a brief search of the area will uncover an NPC who will outright give you the password. These NPCs are usually not far from the door, sitting in plain sight, and very easy to get to. One wonders why they even bothered putting a password-protected door there in the first place.

All of the simple battles and basic puzzles don't add up to much. After felling the final boss, the only challenging moment in the game, our final play time comes to a meager four hours! I could list this as a flaw, but I like to think of the game as "mercifully short." Can you imagine twenty or more levels of the same dull slashing and puzzling, without even a slight bump up in terms of difficulty or strategy? Or twenty hours lacking in poignant variety? The problem isn't even that it's a broken game. It plays just fine, but it doesn't try hard enough.

Orcs & Elves starts with a solid selling point. It's yet another game to bring old school concepts back and help us remember the great times we had. However, it doesn't expand on its selling point. The developers brought us old school style, but left out the substance. The end result is a game that feels more antiquated than it should. It's funny because this game is only five years old and it's already aged worse than many of the other rat maze RPGs it pays homage to.

Honestly, I'd rather take games like Swords and Serpents or Anvil of Dawn any day. Why bother with a faux-retro game when it can't deliver what the real deal already provides, and has provided for years?


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Featured community review by JoeTheDestroyer (May 31, 2012)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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