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Orcs & Elves (DS) artwork

Orcs & Elves (DS) review

"A solid fantasy romp that focuses on what makes fantasy games fun: slaying enemies, using potions, and trying new weapons. "

Iím going to be honest: Iím a sucker for nostalgia. Itís not uncommon that I find myself gravitating towards older video games simply because I hold dear the time periods during which they were created. Orcs & Elves, a Nintendo DS port of the 2006 mobile game of the same name, is a game that oozes nostalgia, what with its Doom-esque visuals, gritty dungeon-crawling and abundance of loot to collect. As such, what many may view as an outdated relic is, to me, a solid fantasy romp that focuses on what makes fantasy games fun: slaying enemies, using potions, and trying new weapons.

Orcs & Elves places Elli, an elf warrior, into a dwarf city known as Zharrkarag as he works to fend off an orc invasion and find the lost soul of King Brahm. Externally, the story is rather flimsy and doesnít do much in the way of motivation, but throughout the adventure I encountered a host of characters who shared surprisingly witty dialogue to go along with a bit of background filler. The mountainside city is inhabited by a variety of foul enemies to kill, including centipedes, rats and orcs. The developers did a nice job of changing up the environments and enemies in such a way that I never felt things were getting stale.

One of the most unique identifying features of the game is the way Elli moves around the dungeons. Instead of a fluid, open movement style, the action unfolds on an invisible grid in a turn-based fashion--each move made (whether it be the consumption of a potion, a shift forward, or the slash of a sword) constitutes a turn, after which point the surrounding enemies can also move or attack for their own turn. Elli and the enemies alike can only move one spot left, right, forward or backward, which changes the way certain battles are approached. Since there are both ranged and close-range weapons to choose from, this dynamic lends the gameplay some diversity, as there are multiple ways to go about each battle. When the going gets rough and swarms of enemies are on the screen, it can be hectic making decisions on how to approach the fight, and which angles to take.

Factoring into said decisions is preference of weapons, and Iím happy to report that there are a lot of them. Swords, crossbows, fireballs, wands and even magic spells are routinely used, since enemies may or may not be one square away. I thought in the beginning of the game that the combat might grow stale since I was using the sword so much, but the battle scenarios get more and more complex, which requires a regular switch-up between ranged and melee-style weaponry.

In addition to felling a slew of baddies, Orcs & Elves encourages inquiring and adventurous souls with, well, loot. Around every corner and through every door lie treasure chests, reliquaries and piles of gold ripe for the looting. Id Software plays on an age-old psychological desire for more and more valuables, and as I plunged onward, I felt compelled to discover everything the stage had to offer. By making use of the map, I was able to do just that, and the game even rewards this completionist mentality with XP bonuses for destroying all of the enemies in an area, as well as littering three secret rooms throughout each stage. The fervor grows the further you get into the game, since newer weapons arise as a result of the grind. Itís really a simple declaration, but Orcs & Elves is just a fun ride, and it strengthens as it goes along.

The game culminates with some heated battles against seemingly endless hordes, and this is when it really shines. I suddenly was thinking deeply about which combination of potions would net the best result, in addition to scheming about which weapons to use and when. Had the game had a little bit more length, it would have been interesting to see just how hectic things could have gotten.

Unfortunately, the action is truncated just as it starts to hum along productively. Itís a shame, really, because Orcs & Elves does so many things right. Adding to the perfect old-school blend of gameplay the developers already established, the sound quality is right there with it. The clank of a sword against a dungeon wall, the splat of a spiderís guts across the flooróeach sound effect is a lovely homage to a simpler time in game development. Itís clear where the aesthetic inspiration comes from in this one, as Id Software are the developers of Doom, but itís almost an invigorating touch in an era when everything must have a glossy sheen and epic score to accompany it. I mean, you can practically count the number of pixels in each enemy sprite, and their animations are blunt and lifelessóperhaps even laughably choppy. But it works; the gameplay makes this game tick, so the graphics and audio presentation can practically be viewed as a modern day portal to an elementary day.

While the sum of its parts is a decidedly satisfying package, Orcs & Elves does have some flaws. The biggest gripe for me is how you never really are forced to use the plethora of options at Elliís disposal. Sure, the results of trying out a haste potion (gives you two or three turns in a row for a short time instead of just one) in combination with a strength potion are satisfying, but itís not something you need to do to plow through the onslaught. In addition, some of the weapons, while a whole lot of fun to wield, are unnecessary and serve as mostly perfunctory sideshows. If you have the desire like I did, though, thereís a lot of value in a small package here that can keep you hacking away for at least six to eight hours. Orcs & Elves is an excellent title that believes in what it isóand it works. Sometimes thatís all the nostalgia you need.

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Community review by Linkamoto (November 10, 2013)

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EmP posted November 13, 2013:

Every time I think about writing a review for this game, someone else does so before I even get a draft up. A few years back it was Joe. Now it's you. Fine, I get it. I give up.

Good review, but not enough complaining about that stupid rat maze section. Urgh.

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