Wednesday 25 February 2015

Game 49: Elvira, Mistress of the Dark - Final Rating

By Deimar

Long time no see title screen. How are you doing?

And here we are, deciding the fate of Elvira. Elvira is a strange beast. It tries to be a RPG-graphic adventure hybrid but it seems to me the developers didn’t dare to venture far into any of those genres. Unlike Quest for Glory, the reference hybrid, Elvira doesn’t take too much advantage of its RPG elements. They are there mostly for the combat, and it’s not very exciting, although it doesn’t get in the way (unless you are me and enjoy being beat to a pulp). And the puzzles are not that difficult or creative and there is no NPC interaction to spice the dull moments. However, and even though my last hour and a half of pixel hunting almost drove me mad (or at least quite bored), I will say that Elvira is a good game. Certainly there are better games, but it is quite enjoyable. So let’s see how it fares in the PISSED scale.

Puzzles and Solvability

Elvira is at its core an adventure game. The proof is that there are almost no big enemies in the game that can be beaten by pure strength. And I have to say most of them make sense, in a “I hope you’ve done your homework about terror tropes” way, or there are hints about to solve them. For example, the werewolf just plain tells you how to kill him. The vampiress is dealt with in the typical horror manner. The salt gives you a straight hint about what it is used for and so do the torturer’s bones and the crusader’s sword. And I really like the idea of using spells to solve puzzles a la Loom, Spellcasting or QfG, even though is not really explored.

However, there are some puzzles that are solved through tedious pixel hunting. Finding the key in the stables or the torturer’s bones for example. Or the knight’s corpse. I don’t even know if I should call that a puzzle or simply busywork. Putting Elvira’s ring in the chapel's cross is almost a lucky guess, as nothing makes reference to the ring’s shape. Not even its picture. Fortunately, those are limited occurrences.

Rating: 7

Oh, key! How much I despise you!

Interface and Inventory

I’m a bit conflicted about this one. On one hand, the inventory is quite functional. It could be better. For example, I would like to know what armor I’m wearing or what weapon I’m wielding. Each item has a distinct icon that greatly helps to identify one from another, which is also very helpful. However, there is not a lot you can do with your items. Descriptions are quite short in most cases. Sometimes it is even repeating the name of the item, making the “examine” button not that useful. Another issue is that you can’t combine items apart from using them as a container. For example, to make the silver tipped bolt you have to take the crucible, put the silver cross inside, leave the crucible in the room (which automatically places it in the forge) and put a bolt inside the crucible. It is not impossible but not exactly intuitive either. This mechanic is even more patent when the game makes you use items together without you knowing it. For example, you can’t use the stake on the vampiress until you have the sledgehammer. Or you can’t take the crucible from the forge until you have taken the kitchen mittens or take the burning coal without the tongs. You don’t need to use them, just having them in your inventory works. And there is no message telling you why you can take them now. And don’t make me speak about the iron rings that can be “taken” but have no verb associated and don’t appear in the game room inventory.

Let’s not forget the combat interface. I don’t have too much to say about it to be honest. It is simply functional. It is not very engaging and it is too fast for my taste, but it is functional.

Rating: 6

One of the most satisfying solutions. Even if it leads to nothing.

Story and Setting

The game’s story starts and ends with the manual. There is no story to this game, it’s just a gigantic fetch quest. A funny one, but a fetch quest. Nobody is gonna play Elvira for the story, it is an exploration focused game. The setting is also a bit lackluster. The manual says that EIvira is trying to transform the castle into a bed and breakfast. There is a bar in the main keep, there are rooms being refurbished, the two “museum” rooms (the one at the castle’s gate and the armory) some modern things lying around... And that’s about it. Limited to the main keep and the castle entrance. I think the developers could have included some items tied to the story or some more rooms with modern details, because as it is, you can forget the story is set in modern times and think you are playing a sword and sorcery game.

Rating: 3

And not a drop of good cider. In England. Preposterous!!

Sound and graphics

Music. Music never changes. Or at least only changes about 4 times in the whole game. Taking in account it took me nearly eight hours to complete the game you could say I kind of grew tired of it. It is nice and helps a lot with setting an oppressive atmosphere. It’s the same with sound effects. The only ones you will hear during the whole game are the combat sounds, which are always the same regardless of the enemy. I am still baffled that the Hamlet creature from the lagoon screams. And so do the skeletons. It gets repetitive. I know, I know. It is so because of the limited storage space. But in the end you've spent the whole game listening to the same sounds and music.

But it is all for the benefit of Mr. Graphics. Man, this game is gorgeous. You can take screenshots from Elvira and compare them to any of the other 1990 games and see that this game is superior in this aspect. The amount of detail in each screen, the close ups, the animations, the funny death scenes... It is all very well crafted. And even considering they also get repetitive (you get to see all varieties of grey walls and there aren’t that many) it is still a marvel to watch.

By the way, take a look at the far superior Amiga version which even has digitized speech. Take into account that the music is also different from the DOS version.

Rating: 7

One day Elvira, all this will be yours. What? The maze?

Environment and Atmosphere

This is where the graphics, the music and the overall tone of the game really come together. The game really feels like being inside a bad monster movie. Getting inside the garden is peaceful and bright, and the monsters are probably the less dangerous ones, although they are the most obnoxious. The dungeons and the catacombs are dangerous and tense. But while in the dungeons you get the skeletons and a serious threat, in the catacombs there are the… things, directly taken from monster movies. The underwater scene, where the only music is your heartbeat is very stressing, even when you are in the moat above water. I think it works really well. My praise for the designers in this aspect is they managed to capture the essence of the Elvira premise. If I have one but, it is that I think the game takes itself too seriously whenever Elvira is not in the screen.

Rating: 8

Setting the mood since the very beginning

Dialogue and acting

Speaking of which. I don’t think the game should be punished by this decision but allow me to rant for a little. Why is Elvira relegated to such a small role? She is the titular and only known character, she has a personality more or less well developed by her TV program and the movies... Why would you throw all of that away? I’m pretty sure if any Elvira fan played this game only for Elvira, they would have felt disappointed. It feels like they got the license and threw Elvira into the first game they had that somehow fitted the premise.

Regarding dialogue and acting, well, the acting is mostly fine I guess. The little there is, because there are only two speaking characters in the whole game - Elvira and the gatekeeper. There is no option to interact with any NPC other than killing them. Or make them mix spells for you. This is getting a very low score as you could guess.

Rating: 2

This is the only interaction of our character that doesn’t involve hitting someone

Final Rating

So let’s see. 7+4+3+7+8+2 divided by 0.6 is 52. I’m going to add one discretionary point for the deaths, getting the final score of 53. I think that’s fine taking into account it is a graphic adventure with no dialogues and no story beyond “save the princess, save the world”. The CRPGAddict said that as a RPG he didn’t like it, but it was a decent adventure game. And I wholeheartedly agree. That means Fry takes the prize with his 51. Congratulations!!

Cap Distribution:

120 CAPs for Deimar
  • Blogger Award - 100 CAPs - For blogging his way through the game for our enjoyment
  • What's Your Story Award - 20 CAPs - For sending What's Your Story -answers

50 CAPs for Joe Pranevich
  • Classic Blogger Award - 50 CAPs - For blogging his way through Wizard and the Princess for our enjoyment

20 CAPs for Fry
  • On Fire Award - 10 CAPS - For guessing closest to the game’s score
  • Simpsons Award - 5 CAPs - For finding a TV show reference in Deimar's post
  • Connecting the Dots Award - 5 CAPs - For revealing some King’s Quest trivia

18 CAPs for Kenny McCormick
  • Things man is not meant to see Award - 5 CAPS - For watching Elvira 2.
  • Ambidextrous Award - 5 CAPS - For providing a satisfactory explanation to the parry and block mechanic
  • You know who Award - 5 CAPS - For beating the dare
  • Jealousy Award - 2 CAPs - For noticing the really important part in Joe’s post
  • Taking The High Road - 1 CAP - For not responding to Joe’s call to caption the slightly obscene hill

15 CAPs for Andy Panthro
  • Holy Grail Award - 5 CAPs - For finding movie references in Deimar's post
  • Snake Charmer Award - 10 CAPs - For his acquaintance with snakes in all King’s Quests

15 CAPS for Ilmari Jauhiainen
  • I dreamt a dream Award- 5 CAPS - For finding a movie reference in Deimar’s post
  • Wizard Award - 10 CAPs - For guessing the correct rating for Wizard and the Princess

10 CAPS for Aperama
  • Globe Theatre Award - 10 CAPS - For winning the caption contest

10 CAPs for TBD
  • Genre Appreciation Award - 5 CAPs - For announcing a GOG weekend sale
  • Orange Award - 5 CAPs - For knowing the colour of lions

5 CAPs for Dehumanizer
  • Apple Award - 5 CAPs - For sharing some info on Apple II graphics

5 CAPs for Laukku
  • Carnivore Award - 5 CAPs - For knowing the feeding habits of lions

5 CAPs for Kenjab
  • Genre Appreciation Award - 5 CAPs - For announcing a GOG weekend sale

5 CAPs for Canageek
  • Die Hard Award - 5 CAPs - For finding a movie reference in Deimar's post

5 CAPs for Laertes
  • The Bard Award - 5 CAPs - For finding a reference to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in Joe’s post


  1. That's quite a good score, especially considering this could have been disregarded! I would hope that we'll be able to cover more borderline games in future now that we have a selection of potential reviewers to take on the challenge.

    Your point about the licensing for the game and not utilising Elvira to her fullest is an interesting one. I wonder if the game had been made a little later on, would we have got a CD/FMV adventure game instead, something similar to 7th Guest? Would that have been better, or worse? (I vote worse, but then I was never a fan of those sorts of adventures...)

    1. As one whom had played Elvira 2, I don't think they got the license late and just put her in the game later.

      It is definitely a design choice because that's what happened in Elvira 2.

      There is a very popular game franchise from Nintendo that has the titular character doing nothing but waiting to get rescued too - The Legend Of Zelda.

    2. I'm sure it was a design choice in Elvira 2 (although Elvira is even less relevant in that game), probably for keeping the trend set in this one.

      However, I read somewhere than when they got the rights they were making an Uninvited clone. They just threw the character in that game and called it a day. I don't have any reliable source for that comment though but seeing how little it has to do with anything Elvira it makes sense.

  2. Horrorsoft definitely had some kind of rights to Elvira back in 1989, as you can see from Personal Nightmare (1989)

    In that game, she only appeared on the box cover and title screen and was not in the game or referred to in any way.

    I wonder if they only licensed the Elvira image for that purpose and licensed the character herself later, or if they got the rights in 1989 but had already finished Personal Nightmare and were part way through developing what would become Elvira and threw her into a few scenes and changed the story background.

    1. I think they got the license just so they could get gigantic posters of Elvira for free to hang on their office walls to... inspire... er... their creativity. Yeah. I'm sure that's what they do with them boobi- POSTERS! I mean, posters.

  3. CAP leaderboard updated.

    With his Missed Classic of Wizard and the Princess, Joe Pranevich hits the top 10!

    I'd get out the champagne in your honour, but it's 5am so I'll settle for some coffee.

    1. Nice to see there's some movement in the leaderboard, it was so static for a long time. I'll open a box of chocolates in honour of Joe's meteoric rise!

    2. Chocolate ... coffee ... I'll just take some tea, thanks!

      But I have a feeling that no one will be able to keep Kenny down for long.

    3. Yaaaay, I got 5 points. Gotta be more active.

  4. Funny to see Elvira get so high a score, when it was regarded with so much skepticism and Charles had to literally beg people to spend their CAPs on it. Of course, it seems very much a game that might divide opinions, because the emphasis on combat could alienate some players.

    1. Yeah, had to watch it from the sidelines but I'm happy to see it turned out so well! Personally I never considered Elvira much of an RPG, and as an adventure it was flawed, but to me it was all about the creepy characters, the gruesome deaths and most of all the dense atmosphere. The original Alone in the Dark hit a similar tone a couple of years later, but managed to excel in all those areas where Elvira was lacking.

  5. We can all blame Trickster for that. Elvira 2 and Waxworks made great improvements with this game engine. There is no reason to kick this franchise off the Adventure Game list other than to sneakily reduce the number of games on it.

    1. I would argue against that. I think Elvira 2 and Waxworks delve too much into dungeon crawling to be considered adventure games. Elvira 2 has just 1 out of 3 different scenarios with puzzles, while the other two are more or less pure hack'n'slash. Waxworks is even worse in that regard, as there are very few puzzles compared to the huge amount of dungeon crawling.

    2. Really? I was actually handling myself pretty well in fights playing Waxworks but the puzzles were what got me.

    3. Kenny: I bet the boo-graphics were distracting you.

  6. Did I talk about King's Quest trivia? I couldn't find it in a quick skim of Elvira posts, though there are a lot of other intervening posts so I might have missed it.

    I was really worried about my score guess when someone recapped the guesses so far, and my guess was the highest (with a pretty broad spectrum). Apparently even I was too conservative!

  7. It was in the Wizard and Princess -posts. We decided to score them at the same time as the Elvira -posts.