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XEL Is Too Broken & Flawed To Be A Good Zelda-Like

Platform(s): PC, Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S
Genre: Action-Adventure, Zelda-Like, RPG, Exploration

Developer Tiny Roar clearly wanted to make their own The Legend Of Zelda-like game but they fell short from achieving their goals. Indie games can be fun, but some titles really do need more time behind the workbench. XEL is one of those games; too broken to be entertaining.

In XEL, players assume the role of Reid. Her situation is similar to that of the coventional protagonist trope, waking up in an unknown place with no past memories. Thankfully, she’s not alone, as she is joined by Chap, a silent but still-expressive floating robot companion who doesn’t actually contribute to the gameplay.

XEL-da

Speaking of the gameplay, XEL is pretty simple. It borrows a lot from The Legend of Zelda games. Basically, you explore the world, solve puzzles along the way and fight enemies. However, Reid can be too overly snarky and cynical that she might rub players the wrong way. There’s a silver lining to making a sassy protagonist likeable and not annoying. During gameplay, the player’s main objective is always usually the same: find a way to open a door to the next area and solve puzzles using mechanics like pushing boxes around and a bunch of nifty gadgets, including an electric mine thingy and a webshooter that shoots goo to traverse gaps. These gadgets can also be used in combat, especially against certain bosses.

The game’s main unique gameplay mechanic is the Time Core ability, which allows Reid to go back in time in a specific or particular area to traverse environments or solve puzzles. It’s something that we’ve seen before in other games, but the issue is that the time core ability can cause bugs sometimes when Reid gets stuck in environments or falling through the floor after travelling to the future or past. When that happens, I’m sometimes forced to reload the game and checkpoints are pretty far apart in this game. It’s also unbelievable that a game released in 2022 doesn’t feature any sort of autosaves or the ability to manually save anytime you want.

Just like Link in The Legend Of Zelda, Reid’s main weapons are a sword and a shield. She can also perform dodge rolls but these deplete stamina. The combat can feel snappy, but also extremely janky and clunky. I had to repeat the second boss battle multiple times because of how wonky the hitboxes are in this game. The framerate would stutter whenever an attack connects, for some reason. Apparently, it’s because game’s VSync is forced on and you can’t turn it off (there are no advanced graphical options for the PC version of XEL).

XEL also features a cooking mechanic that the game doesn’t tell you about (I only discovered it by interacting with what seems to be a campsite of some sort) and a simple crafting mechanic to upgrade weapons and gadgets. These are optional and players don’t really need to engage with them. However, the game should at least still inform players about their existence.

Needs More Time In The Oven

Now you see her, now you don’t.

The biggest problem with XEL as a whole is the lack of polish and broken state of the game. Your vision can be blocked by the environment due to the fixed and static camera angles, which makes it frustrating. That’s not even mentioning how far the camera is, and you can’t zoom in. This disconnects you from the action, but coupled with the obstructing environments, makes it harder to actually explore or even see items.

As for the puzzles, the game doesn’t really tell you about certain mechanics. Some players on Steam complained about the lack of a tutorial, but that’s totally normal for a Zelda-like or Metroidvania game not to have one. Unfortunately, XEL lets players figure things out on their own. For example, I had to push a box to cover a drain hole to make the water overflow. However, the game didn’t tell me that I could make water overflow in this game, but luckily, I still managed to figure it out myself.

For some weird reason, there’s no dedicated jump button in this game. You’ll autonatically jump when Reid comes across a ledge or chasm. This resulted in some issues, especially when Reid sometimes jumps or fall when I don’t want her to. The game’s visuals look awful during cinematics, with broken animations and the lip synching being out of synch. I can forgive broken animations and visual glitches (considering that this is an indie game made by a small team of indie developers) but not bugs that impede gameplay or make things harder.

Ultimately, Tiny Roar was too ambitious while making XEL. The scale of the game should have been smaller, so that the team could make a more polished products. Instead, they’re in over their heads. Maybe with time and further updates or patches, it’ll be closer in terms of quality to the game franchise it aspires to be but right now it doesn’t hold a candle to The Legend Of Zelda or even to other recent Zelda-like games like Death’s Door or Hob.

PROS

  • A vibrant world to explore.
  • Puzzles and time travelling mechanics can be fun.

CONS

  • Technical issues like stuttering framerate and game-breaking bugs.
  • Visuals look awful in cinematics (dialogue audio not synched).
  • Lack of quality-of-life features and accessibility options, like auto-saves or a rotatable camera.

FINAL SCORE: 40/100

Review copy provided by Assemble Entertainment. Played on PC. XEL is now available on Nintendo Switch and PC via Steam. It’s coming to the PS4, PS5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S later this year.

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