Orcs & Elves - Staff Retroview  

Very Few Elves
by Michael "Macstorm" Cunningham

Orcs & Elves
Less than 20 Hours
+ Simple, addictive gameplay
+ Easy to use interface
+ Saving available anywhere
- Lacks polish
- Very short
- Can overwhelm the careless
Click here for scoring definitions 

   When I hear words "mobile phone game," I usually cringe. And when I hear about a port of a mobile phone game, twitching is added to my list of symptoms. So it was with great surprise that when I broke down and tried Orcs & Elves for the Nintendo DS, I was suddenly healed from any prior malady, as the game was really quite enjoyable. Though a little rough around the edges and very short, my time with Orcs & Elves was mostly positive.

   The concept behind this game is simple, yet unusual. It is a first-person, turn-based RPG from the mind of Doom developer John Carmack. Its slower-paced style fits perfectly on a portable, play-as-you-can platform. Players move around 3D dungeons and do battle with orcs and other baddies. There are a variety of weapons available beyond the basic sword, such as a magic wand, that is also a sentient cohort, but also ranged crossbows and powerful warhammers. Each weapon type allows for managing combat situations with different levels of efficiency, so thankfully changing weapons and equipping items is a simple process. The basics of battle are simple, but the game requires a good deal of strategy and luck in order to survive. It's quite easy to become quickly overwhelmed due to carelessness, but is generally fair throughout.

Dragons Don't anger Gaya or you'll regret it.

   Considering the majority of Orcs & Elves is spent in combat or exploration, it's good that the interface is functionally easy to use. The bottom screen can be used for all menu options, but shortcuts have been mapped to buttons, such as cycling through weapons. Maps are available at the touch of a button, and they auto-fill as areas are explored. Saving is quick and painless as well and can be done anywhere. The game also allows for three save slots, so it's tougher to wind up in a bad situation. The user interface is simple, but very fitting for a game like this.

   The story of Orcs & Elves is minimal. The player takes on the role of an elf named Elli, son of a famous elf warrior. Elli is a silent protagonist, but his talking wand Ellon more than makes up for his muted personality. The two venture into an underground dwarven city that has become infested with orcs, and the duo must fight the invaders and find the dwarven king. Character interaction is very limited, but the dwaven ghosts met throughout this adventure do have some light humor in their dialogue, though nothing too memorable. Also, the treasure hoarding dragon Gaya will play a recurring role, as players will be visiting the giant red beast to obtain new quests and to purchase new weapons and armor. Just take care not to anger or attack her. It won't end well.

Attack with a talking wand Attack with a talking wand.

   The game's presentation is sorely lacking, but thankfully does little to deter the experience as a whole. The graphics are bland and uninteresting, NPCs and monsters designs are recycled and dull, and animation is very limited. They serve their purpose, but do little to elevate the experience. One issue is text displayed when talking to ghost dwarves wobbles around in an apparent effort to make the dialogue seem vapid, but ends up being irritating. The game's soundtrack is very limited, as many areas have no music accompanying them at all. It would be difficult to fault anyone playing this with the volume down, as often the only sounds are groans of death amid weapons clashing.

   Orcs & Elves is a very basic RPG with a low budget presentation, but a solid foundation in terms of gameplay. While the game will only last about five hours for everything, it's quick enough to not get old. This game is well worth picking up at a discounted price, because despite its lack of flare, it's actually addictive and fun to play. In the vein of casual games such as Tetris or Bejeweled, RPGs like Orcs & Elves are fun to play in short bursts, and this title is no exception.

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