Eselmir and the Five Magical Gifts is a recreation of classic point and click games from the nineties and it remains true to its predecessors, almost to a fault. Its simple and outdated design initially feels like a mistake. Its terrible movement system frustrated me and a lack of explicit “how-to” information made my first steps a bit shaky. However, it didn’t take long before I discovered that there was a phenomenal experience hiding behind those shortcomings.
It becomes obvious that every corner of this game was created with care and respect for its story and genre; optimism and joy shine through every level. The world’s lore is incredibly detailed and fun to discover, while progressing through the puzzles was satisfying and for the most part intuitive.
The art style is wonderfully handcrafted and each map is full of life. This is a unique game, not because it’s groundbreaking or flashy, but because it’s driven forward by storytelling as opposed to making some set of game mechanics the star of the show.
All that said, it is not perfect. There are various glitches and hiccups that got in my way and sucked some of the fun from the experience. Luckily, my complaints were soothed as the developers actually responded to my post for help on steam within a few hours. But, keep that in mind when considering this game. It’s beautiful and lovingly made, but technical issues may spoil the experience.
I’d say Eselmir and the Five Magical Gifts is best described as an illustrated ebook that features point and click mechanics. This would be a great visual novel if it had that genre’s staple feature of choices, but instead, it’s a very linear story. Therefore, if spending a good chunk of your time reading short vignettes and exposition doesn’t sound fun, you probably won’t like this game very much. If that doesn’t sound so bad, or maybe even enjoyable, you’ll find there is a lot to like here.
I think this shows that there is a space for good games that don’t focus heavily on mechanics but still don’t get rid of them completely. Even though reading is the main way the story progresses this is still much more than a slightly interactive cartoon.
Designwise, the game is a very straightforward point and click adventure. The plot is linear and simply requires you find items scattered around the various maps of each level. Thankfully, they have added a mechanic where pressing the spacebar reveals hotspots. This saved me a lot of time and whenever I became frustrated, it was often because I forgot about this life-saving mechanic. This changed the games focus from being a souped-up version of Eye Spy, as a many modern point and clicks still are, to allowing more time devoted to reading stories and problem-solving.
Speaking of which, you’ll come across a full gambit of fun and challenging puzzles: math problems, memory games, and even a fully realized maze. I was genuinely pleased as each puzzle is thoughtful and managed to make storytelling integral to solving them by inserting short vignettes that offered a unique and fun way to find hints.
Should You Buy It?
My biggest complaint overall is that the UI and controls are clunky and quite frankly old. The patch notes reveal that the game is built on top of an outdated engine, and while that in itself isn’t bad, it does mean the developers might have sacrificed many convenient and necessary features; even things down to game saves being incompatible between patches. They appear to be doing a great deal in order to alleviate these issues, like making each patch selectable and keeping a close eye on the game’s Steam forums. But again, how much you like this game is going to depend on how tolerant you are of glitches and troubleshooting.
I gave this game a decent score in spite of the technical issues, but it could have been much higher had they been less pervasive. But, if you can put up with some of its rough edges, I think you’ll enjoy yourself.
Puzzles are the bread and butter of the point and click genre and Eselmir and the Five Magical Gifts delivers a surprising amount of problems to solve; as the story progressed I found myself delighted by each consecutive one. Most are very straightforward and consist of a unique UI which you simply follow along with until you solve the problem.
One example of this is a series riddles that requires you to match a certain shape with a color. I read the riddles a few times, matched some colors and shapes randomly for a bit, and after some trial and error felt a nice sense of accomplishment. The game is forgiving and patient and it never forces you to come up with an immediate solution. It’s a relaxed, laid back experience.
Occasionally I got stumped, however the developers made the wise choice of adding decent in-game hints. By default, hints are turned off, but once turned on you get a slight pointer in the right direction and this helped me overcome most of my mental woes. When I did have to refer to an online walkthrough, it turned out I had just forgotten how certain mechanics work and wasn’t clicking the right button on the keyboard or mouse. This again goes back to technical and UI issues that might not be there had they used a more modern game engine.
What this game does best is storytelling. Everything points you towards a new story. Where a traditional point and click might reward the player with a key or McGuffin, Eselmir gifts you with tales and tragedies beautifully illustrated. What makes this interesting is that these aren’t frivolous. Almost everything you read plays into the main plot in some way. This extends to most items you pick up. Everything has a history and the knowledge equips the protagonist to overcome his challenges.
Interestingly, I think this act of reading goes a step further and causes you to identify with the game’s hero, Eselmir. As he learns about his world, you learn too. As he grows and ingests the various parables and fairy tales, you join him in that experience. The act of reading accomplishes what other games might do with the click of your mouse and the swing of a digital sword. The knowledge you as the player acquire leads Eselmir to victory.
That’s not to say you couldn’t skip all the dialogue and reading while still easily managing to get through this game rather quickly. There isn’t a quiz at the end of each level making sure you did your homework. However, I believe the quality of the writing and the amount of it presented is enough to signify that its integral to truly playing this game. That’s why earlier I described it as an ebook with point and click mechanics; anyone can open each page of a book until they reach the end, but we understand they didn’t actually read it. Eselmir challenges us in that way.
A Folk Game (#NewGenre)
Overall, this feels familiar; as though you’re reading a traditional fairy tale, Arthurian stories, or condensed versions of myths. All the tropes that define the fantasy genre make an appearance: lost swords, fairies, prophecies, and evil wizards. But it manages to stay fresh simply by remaining optimistic. The game doesn’t try to be cool or flashy and the voice acting in cutscenes reminded me of classic Disney films rather than modern mono-tone action heroes.
This optimism pours from its folksy and handcrafted art style, as though someone cut pictures from a storybook and pasted them on your screen. This is a rare game whose value doesn’t come from technical feats or creative game designs, but rather from the quality and quantity of its world building.
The score comes down to the detail and massive amount of storytelling and world building involved within. It honestly rivals AAA franchises known for world-building, like Elder Scrolls and The Witcher. The main difference is their presentation. While Elder Scrolls has lore, it sits in the background and on bookshelves for when you tire of killing peasants. Here the lore is the main attraction. If it were based off a well-known fictional universe, such as Lord of the Rings, I think fans would go wild for this game.
Available from: Steam