Playing ENslaveD Elf (yes, capital N, capital D) was an experience that reminded me of the first time I went into a bar. There was that one extremely skittish, topless chick who couldn’t stop showing off her pierced nips to everyone, there was the jackass who kept smearing butter all over the floor, and most importantly, there was this resounding feeling of regret once the night had ended. For what it’s worth, at least ENslaveD Elf didn’t raid my wallet and throw me into in a garbage truck heading downtown after the alcohol hammered me into a day-long coma.
Alright, alright, I’m probably rushing way too fast into some preconceived notion about today’s game without giving it a proper introduction, so let’s start fresh.
Abandon all delusions of faith, ye who dare to trespass.
ENslaveD Elf is a 2016 title released by DarkStorm, an independent developer from Thailand. According to his personal blog, DarkStorm seemed to be working on an H-game title as early as July 2014, just over two years ago from today. This title, known as Escape Sisters, was to center around the escape of two sisters from, and I quote, “hell sex club.” Escape Sisters was never released, and since the developer stated he was working on ENslaveD Elf in early 2015, I can only assume the former title was reworked into the very game we’re looking at now.
According to the DLSite page, you control Arwen the elf, who was captured and enslaved by an ogre. Presumably being aware of elf:ogre relationships in erotic media, she decides to get the hell outta dodge. This succinct story plays out across three the game’s trio of action-packed stages, though since there are no cutscenes between levels, it’s more of an excuse plot than anything.
Gotta admit, that ogre is rocking a fabulous ‘do.
On the surface, ENslaveD Elf is a very, very simple game. You move right with the arrow keys, jump with Z, use your sword with X, and hold down X to charge up a powerful sword beam. No double jumps, no special maneuvers, no combos, just two attacks and your wits. It’s cool, though, you’ve got five whole hits to your name in this game, so there’s some room for pilot error. The game’s stages are broken into segments, with each new screen counting as a new segment; screen 2 of stage 1, for instance, is 1-2, screen 3 is 1-3, so on. By the end of 1-3, you’ll run into a boss with an absurdly easy pattern that likely betrays the difficulty of the stage you just traversed to reach the boss, and then you’ll move onto the next stage. It’s a very short type of pick-up-and-play sort of game that usually centers around memorizing and reacting to enemy patterns in platforming situations. Sounds simple, right?
Why would anything ever be that simple.
In retrospect, this screen in particular, isn’t that bad.
While I may have summarized the entire game’s structure in that lone paragraph, it does no service to ENslaveD Elf’s many, many issues. If you’ll give me a few minutes to unfurl this wall scroll I made just to hold all of my complaints, I’ll list them off in as much detail as I can, because I am a broken husk of a man with little else to look forward to than the bottom of a glass mug.
ENslaveD Elf’s first sin is the level design. There’s one part early in the game where you’re platforming across narrow platforms to reach another narrow platform across a bottomless pit. The problem? Each narrow platform has a slime on it, teetering from side to side, leaving you with a small window of opportunity for you to leap onto the platform without being knocked into a pit. If that sounds like an average platforming obstacle, don’t you worry, the level design gets worse, with hazards that blend into the environment seamlessly, some of the most obnoxious enemy placement that puts the likes of Ninja Gaiden (NES) to shame, and an over-reliance on moving all the way to the right of the stage, only to leap up some platforms and platform across the left side again, with a single mistake, usually resulting in death.
Sure, that doesn’t sound super annoying, but this is compounded by the second issue with ENslaveD Elf: there are no checkpoints whatsoever. If you die at any point in the stage, your ass is hauled back to the beginning – do not pass Go, do not collect $200. As later stages start narrowing the amount of mistakes you’re allowed, the amount of times you’ll be replaying the beginning portion of a stage will start to numb on your mind. It’s like if you ate nothing but empanadas or Chinese take-out every single day.
See this screen? Better get used to it.
It’s cool, though. I’ve played games with no checkpoints, and I can manage if the game is designed around the lack of checkpoints. I haven’t played a game with such malevolent level design and lack of checkpoints that had such slippery controls, though. I truly cannot encapsulate why the control in this game just doesn’t work, but it feels very loose. Arwen doesn’t have perfect traction on the ground, and her footprint is smaller what her sprite may lead you to believe. Her jumping doesn’t lend itself to platforming very well, as she always reaches the same height regardless of how long you hold the jump button. When trying to leap onto moving platforms, it’s very easy to undershoot some of them, since you’d think she would be able to land on the platforms with ease. Often times, you’ll hit the side of them and fall off or overshoot trying to compensate for it.
While not as much of an issue as the above, enemy respawns are very odd in ENslaveD Elf. Enemies like spear-throwing men, dogs, and ogres don’t respawn at all, whereas giant hornets and slimes will respawn indefinitely. The plant enemies are somewhere in between, respawning once after death and never again. The problem with the respawning enemies lies more in giant hornets than in slimes. See, slimes leave behind a puddle that they’ll soon reconstitute from a few seconds after being dispatched, which gives you some visual cue for their eventual return. Giant hornets, an enemy that will never fuck off during some of the later platforming sections, leave no such visual cue and will respawn right out of the blue. The instant they do so, they’ll make a beeline straight for Arwen and start pumping her raw, harvesting her sweet nectar above a treacherous platforming section.
You might think I’m crazy, but I don’t even care; it’s hip to fuck bees!
No stage represents all of these problems better than stage 3-2 and stage 3-3, which are some of the absolute most infuriating screens I’ve ever had to slog through in any video game. If jumping across platforms sandwiched between infinitely respawning hornets and a spear-throwing chucklefuck won’t give you trouble, the mountain of moving platforms and slippery jumps will. Between the lack of checkpoints, lack of healing items (except near the beginning of the stage, for no goddamn reason at all), and dependence upon left-to-right-and-back-again level design, it was an experience more miserable than my first relationship. I’d honestly rather marathon all of Family Guy while watching Konami rape my favorite IPs in the ass if it meant never enduring the latter portions of stage 3 again.
There are other niggling details bogging down the gameplay, but they’re not AS major. I’ve run into some soft locks by getting pushed into a wall by a moving platform, I was phased out of existence just after a hornet approached Arwen, and charging your blade sometimes happens while you’re merely mashing the X key to kill a lesser enemy, rather than holding it outright. Perhaps the biggest “lesser” issue is the lack of invincibility frames, as it’s possible to get comboed and lose three hearts in two seconds flat, whether it’s due to jumping too early or a hornet respawning at the worst possible time.
You don’t understand how easy it is to screw this up. You don’t get it, man.
With this review having been mainly a compilation of my scathing critiques thus far, I find it hard to discuss anything else about ENslaveD Elf. If the game’s window is of any indication, the game was developed in the legendary Game Maker engine, which would explain the laughable 640 x 480 resolution the game is locked at. Making out the finer details in enemies past shapes and colors is a true testament to one’s vision, which means mine is likely quite poor. The sound design in ENslaveD Elf isn’t terrible, with stages 2 and 3 sporting some rocking themes, though the sounds overall are likely just from a stock library the developer had access to. The actual sound mixing leaves a fair bit to be desired, but it gets the job done. If you were hoping for any options to adjust the volume, resolution, or even rebind controls, you’re outta luck on this one. Just gotta stick with Japan’s patented “Z to confirm, X to cancel” style of key binds.
Then there’re the H-scenes, which I’m sure you’re all here for. If you’re into pixelated sex, you’re in luck, since this game is of the “rewarding death with sex” variety. Dying next to live enemies will see the enemy start to rape Arwen (unless they’re hornets or plants, in which case that’s their main form of attack), unload their hot seed inside her, and then continue until you restart or switch to some higher quality elf porn. Similarly, quitting back to the main menu after dying will yield a game over CG, which is likely what you’re more interested in. These CGs typically depend on how you exit to the main menu, such as whether you fell into a pit versus whether the local fauna violated you to death. The quality of the CGs varies anywhere from “mediocre” to “why are her legs that short oh no”, which can dampen the mood a fair bit. Especially when you stumble onto faces like this:
“HOLY SHIT ELF PUSSY IS SO GOOD LIKE GODDAMN”
ENslaveD Elf is definitely a platformer starring an elf, but that’s about all it can really claim. Seeing how this is DarkStorm’s first game, I could understand some of the issues outlined above, but there’re far too many of them to overlook under the notion that it’s his first release. $10 is quite a bit to ask for a rather unpolished game that’s only three stages long. At best, ENslaveD Elf is a mediocre offering outdone by other elf-centric titles. At worst, it’s a frustrating mess of poor level design that can drive a man to Insanity Ave and Despair Place for an escape in the form of a tall, frothy glass of ale.
If you’re curious, interested, or dead-set on giving EnSlaveD Elf a whirl, head on over to DLsite, where’s available for $10.30 as of this writing.