Check out our review of the zany visual novel About An Elf…
Find out what to expect from the game, including gameplay, story, visuals and more, and whether you should pick it up on Nintendo Switch.
Hey how’s it going guys! This is Tom from UDS, and welcome to our review of About An Elf, a brand new game from Meringue Interactive, combining elements of point-and-click, visual novels and RPGs. We’re going to tell you everything you need to know before you play, and if you’re new to the channel, don’t forget to subscribe for more video game content every single week. You’re not going to want to miss it.
So, About An Elf is a strange game, in which a lot of strange things happen. But I’ll do my best to touch on what goes on and what to expect before I dive into my thoughts about it all. And boy howdy, do I have some thoughts about About An Elf.
Essentially, it’s a visual novel about an elven princess named Dam who teams up with a house cat to bring about Elftopia. Elftopia seems to be some sort of Elfven Nirvana, but even Dam doesn’t quite seem to know. The story is framed by Dam recounting it to her friend Dido, jumping between their conversations and the action at hand, and without giving much away, I use the word action very loosely.
But with a whimsical premise and a healthy mix of influences, would About An Elf deliver. No. No it won’t. But watch on to find out anyway…
Firstly, this is the type of game that lives or dies based on its story and humour, as there isn’t much to speak of in the way of gameplay (which I’ll touch on more in a little bit). Unfortunately, it absolutely fails to tell anything resembling engaging or entertaining.
Structurally it’s a mess, swapping back between the past and present tense depending on whether the story’s being recounted by Dam or if the action itself is taking place. Now this would be all well and good, but you get rewards from Dido that you can then take with you into the next adventure, which has apparently already taken place! I totally get that this is a game that’s meant to be chaotic and zany, but you need to get the fundamentals down for anything else to work. Instead, you just get a messy splodge of things happening in no order and for no reason, which makes it incredibly difficult to get invested, or even care about what’s going on.
What’s more, when things do happen, the tonal shift is enough to give you whiplash. You’ll go from heavy themes of loss, lack of purpose and other existential issues, to the game’s usual irritating attempt at irreverence. There’s plenty of stories that balance pathos with comedy, but when your best attempt at humour is something you might find in an I Can Has Cheezburger? meme, you know we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel. It might’ve flown in the mid-2000s, but now it’s enough to make you cringe.
None of this is helped by the visuals. The character models have this weird uncanny valley CGI effect, cycling through the same three or four animations depending on the emotion of the dialogue. The problem is, they look somewhere between crappy Deviantart and art used to sell an early 2000s graphics card.
You’ll end up fighting the same sorts of enemies over and over again, with underwhelming worlds offering less than inspiring backdrops. Again, you can kind of see what they were going for. As you’re a tiny elf operating at least in part within the world of humans, the influence of the likes of Katamari and such are plain to see, but it just comes across as a cheap imitation more than a loving homage.
Then there’s the gameplay itself. About An Elf touts itself as a visual novel first and foremost, so I wasn’t expecting much in the way of action, but I was still left disappointed! Aside from clicking through dialogue and some very light point-and-click elements, the main engagement comes from the combat. You’ll have to slay some goofy-looking beasts in what might be some of the most simple turn-based action I’ve ever experienced. You have a selection of elemental marbles (known as Magiballs) that are effective against different enemies. Before you can select which one to use, you’ll be given some sort of clue of which one to use. If it’s the water ball, it might be a rubber duck in a bath, or if it’s the lightning ball, it might be birds sitting on a power line. Some are a little more obtuse than others, but you’ll get it more right than not.
And it doesn’t really matter if you do get it wrong, as you’ll constantly pick up gummy bears that act as your lives, and you’d be hard pressed to run out. And once you do pick the right ball, that’s it; the enemy is defeated in one go and you move onto the next one. And sometimes your feline companion will randomly decide to take matters into his own hands and one-shot an enemy for you. You’ll run out of patience before you run out of lives, trust me.
Maybe it’s a weird form of reverse recency bias, but About An Elf might be one of the worst games I’ve played in a long time, if not ever. Even with a relatively short runtime, it was a bland, repetitive and painfully unfunny slog that I couldn’t wait to stop playing and delete from my Switch. Perhaps the humour might work for somebody else, and that could be enough to carry the experience, but for me it’s a hard pass.
But what did you think of About An Elf? Did you find anything to like about it? Please let me know in the comments below, I’d love to read your thoughts. And don’t forget to subscribe for more video game content every single week, or you can always visit upsidedownshark.com to keep up with everything we’ve got going on.
Until then my name is Tom, we’ve been UDS, and we’ll see you next time.