To preface the review of Effie I feel I must speak, though not at length, about my gaming experience as that affects how I experienced Effie. I grew up with a Sony Playstation, which would eventually be upgraded to a Sega Dreamcast, and later still a Sony Playstation 2, which I got in August 2006. I say this not to pinpoint my age, or to explain why I’m such a Sony Fangirl (though I am), but to try and explain that 3D Platformers were part of my formative experience with video games.
I greatly enjoy 3D Platformers as a genre, though they seem to be dying out. With the exception of the re-release of Battle for Bikini Bottom by THQ Nordic, and the excellent Ratchet and Clank Reboot on PS4, I can’t think of any released by a Triple A studio in years. There are exceptions of franchises that keep on coming, such as the blue blur, or the we need something to launch with Mario game of the current system, but as a breed they’ve become rarer, and as a genre they’ve lost popularity. and that’s something I regret. But I don’t think I’m alone in this, this opinion that the death of the 3D Platofrmer is bad, it’s something I think a lot of very talented people felt too, because if I need my 3D Platformer fix, I go indie. Indies are, as with many genres, keeping the 3D Platformer on steady life support, giving us more than the few drops that bigger studios drop on occasion.
But I’ve spent more than two hundred words on an introduction and I still haven’t talked about Effie. While the website is called Indie Gamer Team, I don’t think giving a general overview of 3D Platforming’s demise was what the developers had in mind when they provided the website, and so me, with the review code. Such is Effie though, in that it can’t really be talked about without referencing other games in the same genre that came before it. It stands on the shoulders of giants, and it uses those games as a stepping stone towards a high level of enjoyment
Effie is a 3D Platformer with beat’em up elements that border on hack’n’slash lite at some points. It uses the age old technique of locking you in a room, or more often, a hallway, and only opening the door to move forward when all the enemies have been defeated as one of its gameplay mechanics. To progress through the game you must jump, run, slide and bash through a series of increasingly harder and complex levels with a cartoony aesthetic, and a very muted soundtrack. You might have noticed the use of the world slide in the description of options one has, when it comes to movement, and that was no mere happenstance. In fact it’s part of one of Effie’s defining characteristics and what makes it unique, and trust me, there will be a point where it’ll be your most used move.
Every game with a Hub world has it, a method of traveling through it faster so as to get to the real meat of the game. Hyrule Fields was rolled through more than ran, Sonic Adventure was spindashed, and Rayman Revolution (a remake of overly ported Rayman 2, for the original Playstation 2), had the backwards short hop. Hub worlds in Platformers remain a controversial topic to this day, and whether they be a map with dots to indicate a new level, or a seamless transition in a semi-open world that mirrors Dark Souls, it doesn’t matter. Hub worlds are considered by many as filler, as an in-between for the real fun. Hub worlds can be done right, but they very rarely are. A smart developer will litter it with interesting set pieces and secrets that make it more than a quick stop gap to be traversed as fast as possible. To do otherwise would make it no more than a husk, an open or not so open space that looks nice – but serves to pad out gameplay, a big load of nothing. Effie understands this, I feel, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t fall prey to that very same pitfall.
In between the points of interests, towns, levels, there’s the entirety of the land of Oblena to explore. This might sound like an interesting prospect, and indeed it is fun…for the first twenty minutes or so, which is when you’ll realise that it is as beautiful as it is dull. Oblena looks absolutely stunning with large rivers, autumny forests with deep crimson colors, and monolithic construction in the distance, giving you a goal to strive towards. I think the developers knew this, for quite early in the game there’s a moment where you emerge from a damp, desecrated, and quite dark area and you are high enough you get to see the entire land spread out in front of you, as if observing your domain. A playground for your bettering, not only of skills but also of your character.
The problem, of course, comes when they are so utterly empty, devoid of anything but good art design. There’s a few points of interests haphazardly placed here and there, but they feel like an afterthought, and are little if any distraction. The emptiness spreads to the towns which aren’t populated by a single human character. Besides your not-so-young anymore hero, and the implied, not-so-human villainess, there aren’t any other human characters to interact with. Character comes second, if not third in a Platformer, but both can be done well at the same time, Psychonauts is proof of that.
The story feels very much like a fairy tale and, given the setting, the character, the art design, and who the narrator telling the story is, it feels adequate. Cheesy and childish are usually used as negative descriptors but I cracked a smile more than once at the narration provided by the hero himself. There was something utterly sweet about the presentation, almost enough to cause cavities, and though there was little of it, it left me wanting more.
In fact, the entire experience is disappointingly short. It was over before I knew it. Let me be fair here, its length is similar if not equal to many of the great 90’s Platformers that inspired it: Gex, Rayman 2, Spyro, Banjo-Kazooie. Those games will be over just as quickly, but there is something in Effie that made me let out an incredulous, “wait, that was it?” after I beat it, which happened in one sitting of a single afternoon.
Maybe what led me astray was that the game never really increases its difficulty. Enemies multiply and platforming gets more tight, but it never gets to a level where I had to grip my controller harder, or felt a cold sweat at a close to perfect jump. While Effie tributes many of the great 90’s platformers, their difficulty on the later half was not carried over. Thankfully, neither was the camera. Everyone who’s played a 5th generation 3D Platformer, when 3D was at its infancy, knows the horror of such cameras, which were stiff and best summed up as unhelpful. Effie’s camera did get stuck once or twice, and the angles provided weren’t the best, but that comes as much from my skill as it does the game. It does its best to accommodate the pitiful attempts at centering it by actually clipping objects and turning them transparent from inside. Instead, Effie opts to bring out some of the best features of those games, like inventive themes for levels, and a true sense of exploration.
The levels clearly got the devils’ share of work put into them. The hub world is pretty, but the worlds continuously outdo themselves with every bend and turn. Willy Wonka-like contraptions, bright colors, larger than life heightened obstacles to platform through, and vivid details. I often use the metaphor that I’m dragged into my childhood by a particularly good game, but truth be told I can’t do that with Effie. It didn’t bring me back to playing my favorite 3D Platformer of all time, Rayman 2, for the first time. No, it built upon that.
There’s a definitive bend to the formula in Effie. It knows where it comes from and it sees to emulate and pay tribute, but its not above bringing something of its own. Using Runescape as your shield to surf the hub worlds after giving up on the idea of exploring its nooks, or defiantly moving forward after the way you just came gets blocked, it’s not a true open world and therefore locks areas you’ve completed, so watch out if you want a 100 percent file. Choosing to nail a combo even though your light attack is enough to deal with everything, there’s a certain joy in that, a certain twist to what is essentially a pretty standard formula platformer. I enjoyed Effie. It’s not an experience that will challenge you, or even make you break a sweat, but it’s fun. Throughout this review I’ve been comparing Effie to a dozen mainstream 3D Platformers of old, and maybe that was unfair. Effie is its own beast, and a heck of a one at that. It doesn’t quite beat my favorites, but it easily makes its way to those I intend to replay someday. It’s definitely worth the price point in my opinion.
Effie was developed by Inverge Studios
A review copy was provided by the Developer.
Mcportugalem awards Effie the Indie Gamer Team Seal of approval.