We wouldn't exactly say that the 3D platformer has experienced a complete resurgence of late, but the likes of Yooka-Laylee and Spyro: Reignited Trilogy have certainly scratched a particular itch for faithful fans of the genre. And that's not even to mention the obvious example of Super Mario Odyssey, which is arguably the finest 3D platformer ever made.
Elli certainly doesn't belong in such illustrious company. It's a much more modest, unassuming, and downright flawed example of the format. But it does provide a quietly effective 3D platforming hit for those who have thoroughly exhausted the genre's most recent efforts.
From the off, it's clear that Elli is operating from several levels below those genre champs in terms of ambition and execution. This is no free-roaming, camera-spinning, open-world extravaganza. Rather, it's closer to a fixed-camera isometric platformer with a linear path. It's more Super Mario 3D Land than Super Mario Odyssey, though without the former's wit and poise.
Our titular heroine must hop and skip through a whimsical fantasy world, flipping switches, collecting keys, shuttling boxes to pressure pads (with the help of incongruous wizard characters), and executing simple door code puzzles in order to move to the next area. Along the way, you'll encounter a benign race known as the Mandragora, which are rather like blander versions of Breath of the Wild's Koroks, though a good deal less useful.
Talking of Zelda, Elli's world and art style is arguably more influenced by Link's adventures than Mario's. It's all mystical runes, picturesque beaches and crumbling temples. There are even dungeons to conquer, though here they form levels within a linear adventure. Regardless of structure, Elli's world is a charming and colourful one, though perhaps a little too generic.
The gameplay itself, too, is moderately entertaining without ever threatening to break through into fresh, overtly engaging territory. It's pleasant to spend time in Elli's world, tootling through its largely easy platforming challenges and light-as-air spatial puzzles. But there's none of the ingenuity or excitement of those aforementioned 3D platformer titans.
It's not a completely water-tight experience, either. There are clunky cut-aways to story scenes that pull you out of the action, while an occasionally faltering frame rate similarly reminds you that you're not dealing with a top-tier title. Objects that either snag or are rendered completely immaterial beneath Elli's feet hint at a game made to a tight budget. One particular invisible barrier almost stopped us from progressing through the game, requiring us to glitch our way through with an awkwardly improvised jump.
While Elli herself controls reasonably well for the most part, the game's throwing system is one of the worst and least intuitive we've ever seen in this genre. It requires you to pick an item up with Y, then press X to bring up an aiming reticule. You must then rotate said reticule with the L and R buttons, and press X again to finally throw. It's a bafflingly stilted and protracted process.
None of this is enough to completely break Elli. It's a fundamentally entertaining 3D platformer that will undoubtedly scratch that very particular itch that all fans of the genre get from time to time. But its virtues are subtle and understated, and they come with a bunch of glitchy caveats.
Ultimately, Elli simply doesn't have the zippy gameplay, inspired level design, variety, or super-tight controls to leave you truly spellbound. But it might be a timely little snack to help tide you over until the next top-tier 3D platformer comes to Switch. How about that Super Mario 3D World port, eh Nintendo?
A fixed-camera 3D platformer that's charming enough in its own modest way, but limited ambition and a series of glitches keep Elli well short of the genre's greats. If you have any work left to do in Super Mario Odyssey or Yooka-Laylee, you probably don't need this.