||E.G.G. - Elemental Gimmick Gear
Zelda for smart people - Review By BenT
It was with a bit of trepidation that I began to play Hudson's Elemental Gimmick Gear (or, E.G.G.). While the name Hudson had once been synonymous with quality, of late their offerings have been very dull, with many not even making it to western shores. And although this game, Elemental Gimmick Gear, actually has made it over, it's arrived with so little fanfare or hype that many people may not have even noticed. And that's really a shame, because Elemental Gimmick Gear is the most solid Zelda wanna-be that we've gotten in ages.
Story and plot are not E.G.G.'s strong points, but here goes anyway: 100 years ago, in an unnamed fantasy world, archeologists are excavating the ancient ruins known as Fogna. Things go routinely until they happen to unearth a small, rather mech-like vehicle that resembles a knight. The discovery becomes even more intriguing when a sleeping man is found inside. All attempts at reviving him fail, so the so-called Sleeper is consigned to the research lab of nearby Eastokion town. Meanwhile, the Sleeper's mech (dubbed Elemental Gimmick Gear) is the object of intense scrutiny. The initial clones that are created are house-sized monstrosities, but eventually the technology is mastered and man-sized E.G.Gs become common. Fast forward 100 years, to three lone figures walking among the Fogna ruins. They enter a cave, at the back of which is some kind of machinery. Upon approaching it, one accidentally activates it, and all hell breaks loose. Huge tentacles erupt from Fogna and rip throughout the countryside, wreaking havoc and destroying everything in their paths. Three weeks pass. Much of the world is now in rubble, and no one knows the meaning or origin of the destructive tentacles. There is one small hope though, for today the mysterious Sleeper has opened his eyes...
The first thing that will strike you is the artwork - it's absolutely gorgeous. The majority of overhead perspective 2D games up to this point have relied on tile-based graphics, wherein pre-made 32x32 tiles are pieced together to create the various scenes. Obviously, this is rather easy to notice, and gives the game a rather tiled look. Thankfully, E.G.G. takes a bold step away from this technique, in that each screen bears a closer resemblance to a handmade painting than a random assortment of tiles. No squares here! The resultant highly organic look is both fresh and new, and serves as an often beautiful complement to your adventures.
E.G.G.'s graphics are wonderfully lush. Don't make the mistake of scorning them for the simple fact that they're not 3D.
Adventures? In E.G.G. the real adventure is getting from point A to point B, because Hudson has created some of the best dungeon designs to grace a game in years. Clever, puzzling and completely engrossing, these labyrinths are sure to please. You'll soon lose count of the dozens of areas that you can see, but can't quite access yet. Of course, come back later with the proper tool and you're on your way. In this game, though, it's not always that simple, as in order to proceed you may have to use your items in unorthodox way. Really, I was truly amazed at some of the creativity seen in E.G.G.'s dungeons. Whichever team designed them should get a raise and a lifetime's supply of VMU batteries.
E.G.G.'s gameplay, excepting combat, is another strong point. When the game begins you have only two abilities, punching and spinning. (Well, ok - you can walk too.) But, play for a few hours and the special abilities will start appearing one after another. For example, one early item is a hook which pulls you across chasms, while another summons a fireball with which you can put the burn on wood and enemies. This all sounds very similar to a certain SNES game that begins with a Z, doesn't it? Yes, Elemental Gimmick Gear basically plays like a Zelda 3 for the new millennium. Unlike that game, however, there aren't many borderline useless items. Every trinket you come across will come in handy multiple times, and knowing the right item for the job is one of the keys to progressing in this game.
At times E.G.G.'s environments look like they sprang from a vividly colored comic book.
Since I made the Zelda 3 comparison, you may be thinking that this game is a cakewalk. After all, you may have (like me) beaten Zelda 3 the day that you got it. It was not a hard game, and to this day I am still disappointed at how my months of eager anticipation bled away in one marathon gaming session. Thankfully, while E.G.G. is many things, easy is not one of them. In fact, this game is actually really quite hard at points. Numerous puzzles featured in it are real brain-busters, and
a good chunk of the bosses are not exactly push-overs either. So, at the very least, you'll need to be prepared to do a fair share of backtracking and experimentation from time to time (in E.G.G. that means about every half hour), and always make sure to save before a boss. However, despite the game's exacting nature, it rarely becomes truly frustrating. With some choice help from the Internet I was able to pass it in around twenty hours, which is a bit short. But, I shudder to think how long it might have taken me to get unstuck without those tips. Thank god for Al Gore and his Information Superhighway.
Finally, no adventure or RPG would be complete without a decent soundtrack, so I'm happy to say that E.G.G.'s music is indeed very good. Every single piece is well-composed and appropriate for the occasion, from the dreary piano tune of the dilapidated bar to the technological, menacing beats of inner Fogna. Barring remixes, there is not quite enough material to fill a worthwhile soundtrack disc, but the music is nonetheless surprisingly enjoyable.
There is one major flaw in Elemental Gimmick Gear, and that is the combat system. Or, I should actually say "systems", since there are really two. The first is contained in your standard overhead adventure engine - press a button, your character attacks in the direction you're facing. In most games of this type, you have a spear, sword, or even a bow with which to eviscerate your enemies. But, of course, that's other games. In E.G.G... well, you have a punch. And not just any old punch: you're equipped with the smallest, dinkiest, most unimpressive piece of handheld pummeling technology that I've ever seen. On my 27-inch TV, the thing has trouble hitting enemies over a half-inch away. The range is so damn short that you almost have to touch your hated enemy before you have a chance of landing a single blow. (You do have one other weapon throughout the game, which is your spin, but that takes too long to start up and drains energy constantly, limiting its usefulness.) To sum it up, the 2D combat pretty much sucks.
Become used to getting in your enemy's face - it's the only way to kill them.
But why did I just specify "2D" in the preceding sentence? Well, it's because you fight the bosses in full-on, 60 fps 3D. Unfortunately, these sequences are just as flawed as the 2D battles, if not more so. You are still limited by your character's incredibly pathetic punching, but now you also move with the speed of a dead slug. Not to mention that the camera is all over the freaking place. On certain bosses I sometimes went two or three seconds without my character even being on the screen, leading to confusion and extremely annoying cheap hits. Needless to say, I found the 3D combat to be an unnecessary bore, and have no idea why the designers opted to go with these half-baked 3D scenes instead of utilizing the game's standard 2D engine. Games like Zelda 3 and Legend of Oasis have shown us that 2D overhead boss combat can be quite exciting, so it's a shame Hudson chose to go the 3D route here.
Another annoyance is that a few (optional) segments of the game are highly monotonous. The major standouts are the races that you can play in the mini-game center. The problem here is that the difficulty is through the roof. There is no acceleration, braking or advanced turning. Just spin your E.G.G. through the course three times and you're done. Sound simple? That's assuming that you don't take one of the many, many opportunities to fall off the track, at which point your race is over and (if you can muster the patience) you have to start all over again. There are some nice prizes if you can manage a first place run in each race, but it's just too damn hard. I really don't feel like spending ten hours getting annoyed just to receive one stinkin' energy tank. Maybe next time I'm in the hospital...
The boss battles are 3D, but the combat here is actually worse than in the 2D sections.
The other major point of monotony is that at one point you can fight a boss character one hundred consecutive times in order to win an optional item. Factor in that there is a six+ second loading time going into and leaving the fight, that the guy takes twenty+ hits, and that he runs from you, and you have a pretty boring three hours or so. Again, doing this bit is purely optional, but the item in question is so useful that many players will feel compelled to slog their way through this endlessly repetitive sequence.
Finally, it should be noted that the translation work here is crap. The characters speak in broken half-sentences and awkward phrasings. As you might imagine this doesn't help the already thin plot, and in this day and age a translation of such low quality is really quite inexcusable. Similarly, the cover art is the ugliest I've seen since the original Street Fighter Alpha. These are really amateur mistakes. Shame on you, Vatical.
The Final Word
Elemental Gimmick Gear is part of a dying breed, the 2D overhead action RPG. It is one of the better ones of recent years, brought down only by its slightly short length and extremely lame combat systems. However, this game is really more than the sum of its parts, and it is a recommended purchase for the adventure-starved Dreamcast gamer.
Developer: Hudson Soft
Highs: Stunning level design, challenging difficulty, lush graphics, enjoyable music.
Lows: Lame combat, a few monotonous sections, you need prior adventure game experience.
Other: 1 player, VMU Compatible (1 save takes 6 blocks).
(out of a possible 10)
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