Monday 30 August 2010


ELFLAND. Oh how the title makes your mind go wild. What could possibly lie beyond this line of text? A fun Christmas-themed game in the style of Super Mario Land? A on old DOS platformer from my childhood whose existence I forgot about until writing this sentence and will probably blog about it in the near future? Of course not... it's an unlicensed NES game from "Tip Top" in 1992.

And wouldn't you know it, it has absolutely nothing to do with elves. It's actually a strange Bubble Bobble clone, without the bubbles or bobbles. The catch this time is to eliminate your enemies by changing colour in a de Blob style manner, and if it had been presented a little better... it might have been quite nice.

This game was again (for August 2010) recently dumped and won't work in most emulators. It was bundled with 199 other games (wait sorry... 9 other games) on a pirate multi-cart but unlike the previous example I gave you, other titles in the compilation include things like Super Mario Bros. and Galaxian. Standard official stuff with missing logos. I'm also leaving this one off tORP as I think that site is better suited to the "bigger" games, i.e. games I can write a lot about in great detail.

Elfland is a fairly simple game, but it doesn't take a genius to realise it's ideas weren't implemented very well either. The basic premise is you're a strange blob creature who needs to dip himself in primary coloured paintpots to fill up and change colour. Then you simply walk into enemies that are the same colour as you and clear the stage.

Each time you hit an enemy you run out of paint, and so you often find yourself having to refuel. Hit an enemy that's a different colour to yourself and you'll be punished, eventually leading to a loss of life. If you catch your enemies on their way to heaven, you can score some extra bonus points and you also have the opportunity to then catch items that can affect gameplay such as putting a stop to your enemies' movements.

This process is rinsed and repeated through a number of levels until your character is changed back to their regular human form, similar to what eventually happens in Bubble Bobble. It's a much easier game however, so you'll probably encounter this ending a lot quicker than if you were crazy enough to tackle Taito's classic.

And on paper it's not so bad. The idea was fairly fresh and there's a lot that can be done with this colour changing idea (even de Blob only scratched the surface). But then came the implementation into code form, and things started to go wrong. For one, there's two jump buttons, a high jump and a low jump... the latter being a pointless addition. Secondly there's a lot of enemies filling the screen at once, which not only makes your job that extra bit difficult, but also leads to sprite flickering and other problems. You also seem to slide to the right uncontrollably for some reason when standing still.

I don't think the giant paint pot method really works all that well, and had I been in charge I'd be willing to explore different ideas which didn't involve so many detours. The graphics are also, for the most part, terrible. All enemies have the same spawning and dying animations, even though the enemies themselves couldn't be any more different. Jesters and balls shouldn't look like flying horses with crash helmets when they die. It's also impossible to really know what your characters are supposed to look like.

But this is sadly what we've grown to expect from these sorts of unlicensed games. As you can imagine, the music is dreadful and doesn't compare to Bubble Bobble's memorable tunes, and because the game was built with the NES in mind everything is held back by the weaknesses of the console. It's still a two player game though, so you can waste a friends' life too.

But it's an interesting concept, and I'm always a fan of interesting concepts no matter how poorly they're executed. Can I recommend the game? Probably not, but hey, it might interest some.

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