We can all agree old age comes on suddenly. For Galand, the hirsute hero of this action platformer, it comes on a little too sudden after a witch transforms the young adventurer into an elderly gent.
Worry not, as he’s still able to fight, dash, and leap through the air like a youngster. A platformer where a geriatric hero hobbles around on a walking frame wouldn’t be much fun, after all. Plus, the movie tie-in for Pixar’s Up already has that base covered.
Effie’s story is told in retrospect, with Galand – now a bonafide senior citizen – huddled around a roaring fire while telling a younger family member of his heroic quest to save a trio of towns from evil to reverse the witch’s curse. As such, the whole shebang is narrated by Galand himself, who often chimes in to steer the story in the right direction. “That’s not how the story went,” he duly informs after falling from a floating platform. Sadly, this does result in a few lines becoming repetitive – “It was an ambush!” Galand yells whenever a group of enemies suddenly appear.
The Elder Gods bestow a bevy of upgrades during the adventure’s 6-8 hour duration, starting with a magical shield. Taking a cue from a certain superhero, the shield can be thrown around like a boomerang during in combat. Enemies (orcs, imps and trolls) go down easily, with only the larger enemies requiring heavy attacks and the occasional dash manoeuvre to defeat. Glowing ghosts are easily the most satisfying enemy type to beat, hurtling into walls and obstacles when hit before exploding into a shower of neon-hued goo. Effie has a nice line of sparkly particle effects.
The shield can also be used as an impromptu hoverboard, used to get around the sprawling open-world hub – formed of rolling crimson-coloured hills – in a hasty yet graceful fashion. The hub is intended to encourage exploration, housing a few additional challenges – such as a checkpoint race and a battle arena – as well as a handful of hidden relics to cross off a list. Of course, it’s also where the main worlds can be accessed – a quaint town riddled with orcs, a smoke-spewing sawmill located in an eerie village, and a floating brewery sat astride a river formed of wine. Well, non-alcoholic purple grape juice.
Each location has its own hazards, which helps set them apart. Puzzles are frequent too, tasking you with flicking switches in the correct order, finding hidden levers, navigating mazes and such. One of the more elaborate puzzles involves spinning objects to form a certain silhouette on a wall. Nothing amazingly original, granted, but we’re pleased to report the developers avoided adding puzzles of the cliched block-shoving variety. Tracking down oversized keys, often located at the end of hazard-filled rooms, is another regular pursuit.
Generally, the level design is straightforward, although not to the point where it could be considered linear. On the few occasions where level design is more open, there are usually signposts to point the way – it’s hard to imagine anybody becoming lost or confused as to where to head next. As for hazards, the sawmill has a predictable assortment of conveyor belts, spinning saw blades and bellowing furnaces, while the vineyard sees you leaping across floating barrels and such to avoid a watery grave. There’s also a room that’s a clear Willy Wonka pastiche, featuring water levels to alter.
Each stage ends with a battle against the witch. She has one main attack which is reused throughout, but as the environments vary drastically from one battle to the next, each encounter feels fresh. The second battle is hardest of all, and by some margin, due to some irksome one-hit-deaths. Although checkpoints are sensibly placed, there’s always a short loading screen after dying which makes the trickier sections slightly more tedious.
Thankfully, these moments are few and far between. Once the sawmill stage in chapter two is out of the way it’s pretty smooth surfing (sailing) until the foregone conclusion. In part, this is thanks to the responsive controls and an intelligent camera – whenever we missed a platform while jumping, we never felt it was down to wayward controls or poor design. Galand air dashes in an elegant fashion, easy to manoeuvre while mid-air and the camera is easy to adjust manually.
It’s worth noting that outside of boss battles we never died during combat. This makes its inclusion feel more of a distraction than a challenge – even during later stages, you can always button bash and ground pound your way to victory without having to even glance at the heath gauge.
Effie is definitely one of the easier going platformers around. Lighter-hearted, too. Cruising the open-world hub is a playful and carefree experience, searching for treasure chests while whizzing across the vibrant landscape with its delightfully contrasting red and white colour scheme. It’s a shame it’s impossible to revisit past stages to gather any missing collectables – once the boss has been beaten, there’s no going back. Not a deal breaker, but trophy hunters should still take note.
The only thing really holding Effie back is a slight lack of ambition. The developers state it’s inspired by such PS2 platformers as Jak & Daxter and Maximo (hence hoverboarding and the occasional spooky undertone), and consequently, it never really strives to offer anything more than its contemporaries. Those seemingly endless rolling crimson hills notwithstanding.
But as stifled as it may be, Effie not only achieves its goal of providing some light-hearted platforming frolics, but it also looks the part, putting some titles with far bigger budgets to shame with its surprisingly slick visuals. Coming out of nowhere while riding no coattails (we’re looking at you, Yooka-Laylee), it’s hard to think of a recent experience anywhere near as humble and carefree.
Effie is available now on PS4. A Steam release is due at a later date.