Horror isn’t my forte, so why I went for Ellen, by JanduSoft , I’m not sure as I think I may have overlooked that critical element from my first perusal. I’ve seen more than my fair share of horror films, but they aren’t my go-to genre, neither is the gaming variety as I’m a bit of a wuss. I have to say that Silent Hill is one of my all-time favourite franchises, and I’m also a fan of Outlast, so I’m not allergic to anything dark in the slightest. With that in mind, I’ll judge a game on its own merits rather than my taste.
So, why Ellen? I didn’t get mixed up and assume it was a simulation of the talk show host, more so because the screenshots looked interesting, the theme was something I’m familiar with and enjoy (detective-type games with a strong narrative), and it’s an indie title on the Switch – some of my favourite games are on that platform. I don’t recall watching the trailer as if I had, I may not have prioritised getting to this game. Looking back at the trailer again, like all trailers, they need to show the best bits and whet your thirst for more. It certainly doesn’t look bad, but in context, I can see hints of the things that have bothered me with this game.
Keeping Up Appearances
Let’s talk appearances. I haven’t been motivated to play games just because of the visuals for as long as I can remember. Of course, I salivate at the latest Final Fantasy VII Remake trailer or the upcoming Yakuza 7: Like a Dragon because I know that they have substance underneath the surface. Likewise, I haven’t dismissed a game based on appearance either – the Switch is swarming with them – check out the Mana Spark review as that’s a typical example.
Now that I’ve made that disclaimer, I can go on to Ellen. I did not like the visuals at all. The character design was absolutely fine, but the backgrounds had as much charm as the coaster currently supporting my cup of tea. It’s just flat and soulless on so many levels. To entice a gamer to play a game, you need something that grabs them from the start. Walking all the way to the left, then the right, then back left at snail speed and with dark backgrounds that appeared to be there for the sake of it just bored me to tears.
This, along with the fact that your character, James, an ‘intelligent’ detective, has fallen and injured himself doesn’t help. He also ruins his favourite jacket in the process. Poor soul hobbles from one screen to the other. Along his path, you’ll encounter highlighted objects, and he’ll make a comment about them, but you can do nothing with them. It begs to differ why they were there in the first place. Eventually, you pick up a flashlight, which has a redeeming feature as the lighting effect looks cool. Regrettably, they use up batteries, and I found I used them up almost immediately.
Playing in the Dark
There’s no direction either. With the best adventure games, there is backtracking here and there, so that’s not an issue, but in Ellen, there are no apparent goals. I literally walked as far as I could one way, and then something happened that turned me around, so I walked the other way, and then a door was now open. I went through the door, an action occurred that was ‘scary’, and then I walked all the way back to where I was before, only to realise that I needed my flashlight to progress, but I had no batteries.
When you start Ellen, the game suggests playing in the dark and with headphones. No chance. Before I experienced the game, I knew I wouldn’t do that as I have an active imagination and no clean sheets. In hindsight, it’s not necessary. Playing in the dark meant lower visibility, so you can’t see how dull this game is, and the headphones were for listening to some music on Spotify or even an audiobook on plumbing, either one would be more entertaining.
With the wandering around, jump scares and creepiness begin with a large shadow of a cockroach climbing across the screen. First of all, the pixel design doesn’t warrant scares; also, a shadow that goes across the screen…straight over your character… is the cockroach in the room with James, or is it climbing across the Switch to make me jump? While on shadows, if you walk behind a shadow or object in the background, it cuts off the dialogue bubble. So, if you look at an object and James says, “It’s a pot plant”, and if you’re standing behind the shadow of a shelf, it might only show “It’s a —-” and get blacked out. Bizarre.
The background story of the brutal murder of a family and the disappearance of the titular daughter, Ellen, could have been promising. Unfortunately, the agonisingly slow gameplay where nothing happens, the scares being more irritating than frightening and the fact that I found myself standing under areas where water was dropping just to catch a screenshot give the indication that I didn’t enjoy Ellen one bit.
Developer: Red Mount Media
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 13th September 2019
Do you agree with our review of Ellen? what are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments below.