It sat on my shelf for a couple months until this past weekend, when I finally finished up Metroid Prime and decided to tackle one of my many unplayed Dreamcast games, just for completion's sake. I popped the disc in, pressed the power button, and watched that beautiful orange triangle on the lid of the console light up. For a reason that truly defies words, I had high expectations about EGG... though I'd been warned it was less than ideal, I still harbored some sort of childlike dream that it would turn out to be one of the most overlooked, impressive franchises that never got off the ground in America. Something like Star Ocean: The Second Story, I suppose. The difference between that title and this one, unfortunately, is that I went into the Star Ocean experience expecting nothing and was rewarded with an awesome experience, truly one of the best RPGs on the old PSX. I went into EGG expecting something worth the seven dollars I paid, and was rewarded this time with a great, big, peanutty turd.
To say that Elemental Gimmick Gear is a bad game isn't entirely fair. It's more like EGG's planning got off on the right foot, before the programming duties were handed off to a room full of chimpanzees in diapers. There are a few moments when the light is trying really hard to shine through the cracks in this game, when you can almost catch a glimpse of something redeemable. But then, just as quickly as it appeared, it's overshadowed by a big, stinky chunk of ass-tastic gameplay.
Your character, called "the sleeper," awakens from a slumber several centuries old to find the world being overrun by tentacles and sentient plant life, all sprouting from an enormous temple named "Fogna." Equipped with a ten foot tall suit of robotic armor named "Elemental Gimmick Gear," he sets off to fight the evil and overcome his own amnesia. It's a bargain basement story at best. Guy wakes up in a mysterious environment. Guy fights to save world. Guy has no memory, but bits and pieces are revealed as time goes on. Aside from the introduction and a brief revelation halfway through the game, the writing really grinds to a halt right there. You're given no continuing motivation to play, and non-central characters speak in short, uninteresting, one-sentence blurbs. Perhaps a dozen objects in the game's various houses and scenes are examinable, usually yielding such momentous descriptions as "A bed" or "Plastic Flowers." They can't be added to your inventory, nor do they serve any real purpose. They're just... sitting there, waiting to be glanced over and then forgotten.
There are a total of three cinematic cut scenes in Elemental Gimmick Gear. One is played at the onset of a new game, and serves to introduce the storyline (or, perhaps, lack thereof). The second is a montage of scenes from that cinema, and plays when you power the game up and fail to press the start button within a couple seconds. The third is your generic "reward" video, and is played every time you defeat a boss and receive a new power. Eight hours into this game, I'd watched that same cinema half a dozen times. No minor nuances were altered, to differentiate between my reception of the ice beam as opposed to, say, the fire beam. It's all the same, horribly compressed, video scene. I'm sure there would have been an equally uninspiring CGI at the game's conclusion, had I been granted the willpower to make it that far.
Yes, you read that correctly. As a man who prides himself on the fact that he never reviews a title until he's completed it, I was willing to make an exception with EGG thanks to a horrible glitch in the "save game" process. After spending upwards of four hours last night on this pile of stink, saving over a dozen times, I powered up this morning to see that the only save status on my VMU was from one day earlier. That's four hours of the most irritating game I've ever played, the most insanely cheap boss, the most headache-inducing glitches.. all gone by the wayside because the title's claims of "progress saved successfully" were incorrect. I'm not going through that hell again.
Perhaps the only factor in which EGG doesn't completely lag is the impressive originality within the overworld's graphics. There's a beautiful, stylistic, thick-lined detail in the backdrops of the game's overhead battle scenes that, with a little finesse, could have been really well done. In today's world of 3-D rendered surroundings and polygons, polygons, polygons, it's nice to see some legitimate linework making its way into a game for a change. Unfortunately, programmers managed to turn even that slim positive element into a non-factor, as despite their beauty it's incredibly difficult to navigate your way around the detailed sketches. I've spent several minutes at a time searching for a doorway that was completely veiled in darkness, or a set of stairs that completely blended into the surrounding grass.
When you face-off with a boss, the game abruptly shifts from the traditional overhead adventure format (a'la Zelda: A Link to the Past) to a strange, polygonal 3-D battle. In addition to the jerky shift between vantagepoints, the visual style shifts just as abruptly, the overdetailed 2-D linework giving way to a poorly textured 3-D battle zone. Bosses are poorly designed and far from intimidating, to the point where they're almost comical. Your surroundings look vaguely similar to the overhead screen they're meant to be molded after, but lack the fine detail and character that made those scenes even remotely memorable. The creatures are simplistic to a fault, and would've been just as much at home with the first wave of Playstation titles as they are here, late in the Dreamcast's lifespan. Add to that an unforgivable load time prior to each boss battle, and you've got an unhappy camper 97% of the time.
Gameplay in EGG is a chore, full of inconsistencies, quirks and bugs. I honestly don't think this game was playtested before its release. Moving around the screen varies from difficult to impossible, and collision detection is way off. Enemies are either too powerful or too weak, with nothing landing in between. I've watched, several times, as my ten foot robot fell to the almighty power of a trout. Yeah, I'm thinking the same thing... you put a fish and a robot in the same room and tell them to fight to the death, my money's most certainly not on the fish.
Your robot also has a love for sailing off of ledges and cliffs, an action which actively returns you to the last doorway you walked through and takes 20% of your life as a toll. It's beyond easy to accidentally sail into the abyss, as the machine assumes you've stepped over a ledge every time you're within a couple feet of doing so. Pair that with the horrendous controls, which, instead of following your instructions and heading north, often lead you alternately northwest and northeast in a bizarre drunken swagger, this is a big drawback.
It gets even better when you enter into "Egg Mode," in which your robot retracts its arms and legs, spins wildly and shoots off in whichever direction you specify. While this looks like a fresh change to the status quo at first glance, it quickly becomes a drain in both the literal and figurative sense. Spinning in Egg Mode slowly siphons your life away, so you'll do so very rarely. In addition, Egg Mode is one of the most difficult things I've ever attempted to control. Ricochets are dramatically overemphasized, especially when cliffs are nearby, (and trust me, there's ALWAYS a cliff nearby) and the damned thing just refuses to go in a straight line.
Even the soundtrack is horribly lacking In EGG. Though obviously influenced heavily by the score to Final Fantasy VIII (complete with the soft plucking of violin strings), the game relies all too often on looping. Each individual song is comprised of MAYBE a minute and a half of original music, which then loops back upon itself infinitely. Considering you'll spend about an hour in the average dungeon, this means you'll hear the same obnoxious tune looped upwards of fifty times before you finally complete your work and return to the overworld. Making things even more torturous is the fact that you must return to the same dungeon four times throughout the course of the game, fighting further into the depths and encountering new bosses, all the while punishing yourself with the same droning, unyielding musical arrangement. It really is terrible... there's nothing more I can do to demonstrate this sheer trauma to you, aside from perhaps embedding a looped MIDI file into the code of this very review.
Thinking about Elemental Gimmick Gear makes me wonder what happened. Intentions seemed to be in the right places, minds firmly devoted to the idea of introducing something new, combining a few genres which had never before been combined. Hudson Soft was chasing the Holy Grail with EGG, the thought of introducing a new type of game to the masses, something which would forever serve as the mold from which entire franchises were crafted. Instead, they released a product which can only be described as overly flawed, incomplete, uninspiring and often painful. I wouldn't wish Elemental Gimmick Gear on my worst enemy.
On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 1.2
Overall Score: 1.2