Elliot Quest is about a boy who’s been possessed by a demon, but you might have to do a little legwork to learn that. The game doesn’t do a whole lot of talking, letting gameplay take first priority while it hints at the longer story within. When you’re an interesting sidescrolling exploration game that bears similarities to the good aspects of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, maybe you don’t need a whole lot of background story explaining things. At its heart, this is a game about a boy out on an adventure – the sort of experience that drew me to games when I was a kid. Ansimuz Games captured that spirit of fun and mystery well, as Elliot Quest is full of hidden caverns, dangerous monsters, and a lot of heart.
Once you hit start, you’re dumped in the middle of a forest with no explanation. You can go left or right and get to different places, so there is no obvious leading, even at the start. It’s been a long time since I felt lost right from the start of any game, but the result was a feeling like I was carving my own path through the game. I had no overarching task or indication of what I should be doing, so I just started walking. When the path branched, I just picked a trail and kept on going. Despite it being a game and that I knew there were other people out there playing it, this lack of direction made me feel like I was marching down uncharted paths, lost in the woods but happy to be out exploring. It left me with an odd sense of wonder as the game opened, showing me that the world was mine to see as I saw fit.
It took me a while to get my bearings, which I had to do with the in-game map (which is created by you finding a map somewhere or just by walking around) and by wandering. You carve out meaning from this world by looking around, learning its secrets by seeing what lies at the end of every road. I know that this is something I’ve been doing for years, but modern games have gotten me used to receiving directions and being lead by the nose. You can fix getting lost with a click of a button and have a line lead you to where you’re ‘supposed’ to go, but Elliot Quest has no interest in that; the only place you’re supposed to go is where your feet take you. The maps aren’t that complicated, and besides, there are rewards for those who like to explore.
Eventually, you’ll stumble across the main world map, finding that the woods you got lost in are only a small part of a larger world. You can select the area you want to explore deeper on this main map, and in fact have to if you want to pass into other areas. To get to the game’s first dungeon, you have to cross the initial forest in the right way to get out on the other side. Most of the places to go on this map show obvious differences that make them stand out, such as temples, towns, and cave entrances, but there are also more hidden areas that will just show up as a question mark if you walk on top of them. Even on the main map, there are still lots of hidden goodies to find.
While there are a lot of secrets and different areas to explore, I did find that taking the shortest route to the game’s obvious dungeons was the best idea. The dungeons contain items that will help you explore the game further, so you’ll just be more likely to find the secret items and places if you have them. More important than that, without the items you find in those dungeons, I often found myself on the other side of a path I couldn’t escape from. I’m not talking getting stuck permanently and having to shut the game off, but rather getting stuck on the wrong side of a circular route. Most caves and paths circle back on themselves for easy returning later, but I often found these paths by accident when I wasn’t ready to use them.
Why would that be an issue? Well, as an example, I had to cross a cave and a desert map to get to the game’s second dungeon. Even so, there was another cave up in that area that was meant to be a shortcut back down, but I didn’t know that at the time. It just looked like another new cave, so I wanted to explore it before I hit the main dungeon. This ended up leading me down a path that lead back to where I started, forcing me to go back through the cave and desert to reach the dungeon again. I could have gone back if I’d had the powers from that dungeon, but I didn’t grab them yet. As such, the game accidentally punished me for exploring too much at first. That’s a problem for a game about exploring, as this actively discouraged me from looking around until I’d beaten the dungeons. It’s nice to have a shortcut back to the start for when I was finished with the dungeon, but ended up being a big liability when I wanted to look around.
Another aspect that made exploration difficult was that bombs were pretty hard to find when I first got them. I am used to games where the walls don’t always make their secrets obvious, so the first couple of bombs I picked up were wasted on nothing. They didn’t sell replacements at the shop for a little while, so I had to redo the entire little dungeon that contained bombs just to get a few more. Later shops did carry them, but even so, they weren’t dropped anywhere in the wild. It discouraged me from playing around with them and doing some extra exploring with them, and was also a nuisance whenever I found a secret but was already out of them. Perhaps it was my own fault for using them without being careful, but it felt like a bad decision for them to only be found in shops and in that dungeon.
The dungeons and maps are pretty straightforward once you’ve explored them thoroughly, so it wasn’t bad having to go through them again. When you’re not looking for every possible exit and treasure, the path tends to be pretty simple even without the shortcut, so taking the wrong exit was a problem I could tolerate. The monsters and dangers do make for quite a bit of trouble once you get out of the game’s initial areas, though.
It didn’t seem that hard at first, but once you hit the second area, the game stops playing around. No matter what area you’re in, you’ll likely find that things go bad quickly. Elliot can only take a few hits, and health is very hard to come by. The enemies don’t drop replacement hearts all that often, and I never felt like I had a very long health bar. Accidentally taking a hit or two can bring you pretty close to death, and there are some areas where the enemies fire or move so fast that it’s very hard not to take a handful of hits. Even in the easier areas, if you goof up too much, it’s back to the previous checkpoint.
Elliot Quest isn’t big on giving checkpoints though, I found. There tend to be two or three of them in any given dungeon, but they are pretty far apart. You really start to feel that once things get more challenging and the game starts using instant death pits. You suffer knockback from enemies, so there were a couple of tough areas where I died a lot, having to go back a decent distance to get another chance. There’s no limit to how many times you respawn, but it can be a long walk back to where you died. It’s not as brutal as many NES games, but you do have to play well for a decent period of time to get through later areas of the game.
To do that, you’ll need to be adept at combat. You start the game off with a basic bow whose arrow flies in a descending arc. It seems like it would be a nuisance, but the arc makes it easier to hit enemies on the uneven platforms and at distance. I enjoy using the bow in games like Skyrim, and really like figuring out how to use an arrow’s arc to my advantage. It makes me feel more involved in my shot, rather than just pointing and shooting in a straight line, so I found using this main weapon to be a lot of fun. There are also various kinds of magic such as fireballs and turning into a tornado that you can use on other enemies. Some enemies are only weak to the various magic attacks, so not only are you constantly paying attention to your weapon arc, but you also have to play around with weaknesses, typically while doing some challenging platforming. Combat is pretty involved as a result, and is more fun than just swinging a sword.