Nov 19, 2007
When we first heard about Orcs & Elves, we weren't quite sure what to expect. Yes, it was originally designed for cell phones (bad sign), but it was also produced by John Carmack and id Software (good sign). Whatever its origins, what matters is that the final product is a solid action-RPG that delivers a satisfying adventure with plenty of wit, humor, guts and gore.
Above: Before and after: a sheep feels the power of the mighty flaming sword. You did not die in vain, humble sheep
Set in a gigantic castle recently overrun by orcs (of course) and hideous monsters of all size and manner, the game is all about exploring the various sections of the castle with two simple rules in mind: grab all the loot you can and slay anything in your path. Each section is a 3D maze, with plenty of secrets to discover and enemies constantly appearing to block your way. The action is both neat and messy at the same time - neat because everything is strictly turn-based, and messy because your powers send gore flying everywhere. Although you have the option of using the stylus, you won't want to, because the conventional controls work great on their own.
Both screens are used aptly, with the action on the top screen and either your map or your utility belt-style items menu on the bottom. If it weren't for the excellent Castlevania-esque map, navigating each labyrinthine dungeon would be a horribly tedious mess (one dungeon is actually called The Labyrinth).
While the DS graphics aren't exactly photorealistic, they do have a charmingly nostalgic feel (think Doom), and are complemented perfectly by impressive audio effects. Every squishy gore noise and anguished Wraith death wail that emanates from those tiny DS speakers (we actually recommend using headphones) makes the hack and slash action seem realer than it actually is.
What would otherwise be a dull story is kept snappy with a minimalist approach that never breaks up the action too much. Every character bursts with personality, from your opinionated talking wand Ellon, to the regal shopkeeper dragon Gaya, and all the Dwarven ghosts that inhabit the castle (many of which are endearingly drunk... so stereotypical). At one point, Ellon is stolen (or kidnapped, if you will) by a thieving Wererat, and the bond between wand and wielder becomes apparent as you frantically search to retrieve him. Since dialogue is kept to a minimum, none of the characters ever overstay their welcome, and it's actually quite amazing how much characterization is squeezed into such a small amount of text.
From slicing giant bugs open with your flaming sword and painting the walls with their juice, to popping giant spore-spewing pustules with your crossbow, Orcs & Elves is one of the most satisfying action experiences on the DS to date. And don't let the fact that it was originally designed as a cell phone game scare you off - it most definitely does not feel like a port. The dungeons are well-designed, the action is well-balanced and fun, and even the characters are likeable. This is a must-have for any action-RPG fan or anyone looking for something different on the DS.