Y’know, up until this weekend, I really wasn’t in the Christmas spirit at all, but over the past few days, three things have happened that have served to change my tune and leave me chock full of holiday cheer. It started snowing briefly (I live up in Scotland for all those southerners confused by that remark) I went to see Arthur Christmas at the cinema which was just adorable and I played Elfsquad7 with my girlfriend for the best part of three hours. Obviously, considering what you are reading, I’ll be emphasising why playing Elfsquad7 in particular delivered the Christmas cheer to my previously gloomy household.
I know what you’re thinking –it’s because it’s a game about elves, right? Well, no actually…….ok, maybe a little bit. The primary reason though wasn’t because of the elves, or the presents or the general Christmas theme. No, it was because it reminded me of my NES. Of all the consoles I have ever owned, the NES has always remained synonymous with Christmas in my eyes. Getting a completely unexpected NES on the 25th December 1989 stands as one of my favourite Christmas memories of all time and playing Elfsquad7 on a cold winter’s day in 2011 took me right back to that most magical of times.
The thing is, loads of games on Live Arcade and the Indie Game platform go for that classic 8-bit look but only a very small selection actually achieve the feat of looking like a real NES game. Many are high-res while others throw in too many flashy effects or simply choose to go for a more generally ‘retro’ look rather than a specifically NES aesthetic. Elfsquad7 though, like Megaman 9 before it, actually looks and sounds like it could be a genuine NES game.
Of course, all the audio/visual nostalgia in the world wouldn’t save this game if it played like a turd, but in fairness to Tykocom Entertainment, Elfsquad7 actually delivers gameplay mechanics worthy of its good looks. Like the visuals, the gameplay is all about simplistic charm – charm that is increased three fold if you can manage to get a few friends over.
Playing as one of six anime-styled, vaguely Christmas related characters, it’s your job to save the presents being thrown about willy-nilly by the malfunctioning super Christmas robot, Kevin. You see, Kevin was brought in to wrap the huge backlog of unwrapped presents at the NorthPole, but instead of wrapping them, he’s decided to go mental and has started lobbing them all over the shop. With your trusty wrapping gun, you are required to shoot the falling presents and capture a certain number of them within each stage’s often harsh time limit.
It’s all simple enough, but the constant need to collect sundials for additional time combined with falling enemies eager to steal your presents and much in the way of rudimentary obstacles means getting those presents wrapped in time is certainly easier said than done.
Luckily, to help you in your increasingly difficult task, there is a giant cat who sells you skills and goods at the end of each stage (naturally). It’s here that you can increase your speed, purchase more powerful wrapping weaponry and slow down the speed in which presents drop. With a fair few options to choose from and only so much money to spend, the shop system actually delivers a welcome tactical edge to gameplay, one that becomes more and more prevalent as you progress.
While only a few levels long, the three difficulty settings offer distinctly different level layouts. There is also a boss battle at the end that changes up the core mechanics and offers a unique challenge to round off the experience. The gameplay doesn’t actually change all that much depending on the level that you play at, but the three star difficulty setting does deliver a very solid challenge – one that you will have to plan and spend for carefully if you wish to succeed.
Of course, to make things that little bit easier, you could just get three friends around to help you out. Played in 4 player co-op, Elfsquad7 does get a tad hectic but given the nature of the game, that rarely causes too much of a problem. This is good old fashioned fun and at just 80 MS Points is an absolute steal for those looking for a sneaky bit of Christmas cheer.
It looks great, it sounds great and despite some occasionally floaty controls, is a great deal of fun to play. On your own, it’s a good laugh for an hour or so but get a few friends over and you’ll be surprised by just how far that 80MS Points can stretch.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox 360 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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