Games are remembered and become well known for different reasons. One such game is Spelunker. While it inspired a bunch of games, with Spelunker HD likely being my favorite PlayStation 3 title, it was largely remembered for the wrong reasons. The title is difficult for a variety of reasons. Almost everything can and will kill you, there are multiple time based mechanics and, most importantly, subpar controls. All these things might not apply to Emerald Shores, though it certainly left me with a similar impression.
After the very basic story, one that is little more than being tasked with protecting a location called Emerald Shores, players are expected to battle their way there. After two fairly simple levels, the next couple levels provide more of a challenge. Between some tricky jumps, well placed enemies with annoying mechanics and plenty of obstacles, it ultimately proves to be a fairly unenjoyable experience.
The issue isn’t the difficulty per se, it just doesn’t feel like the controls and mechanics align with what players are asked to do. As someone who is very well versed with platformers, the greatest struggle isn’t timing, as much as having the mechanics work in your favor. With wide hit boxes, floaty controls and a variety of elements that favor enemies, it isn’t hard to fail. Worst yet, the RPG elements designed to help players are ultimately pointless, with rushing, forced failures and ignoring mechanics being the best way to play.
Playrers are given a small amount of HP, a fixed amount of damage and are asked to complete levels with it. Collecting coins and defeating enemies with oddly high amounts of health will give you more HP and damage, though there is an upward cap. Once a level has been completed, nothing you do will result in more experience. So, it isn’t a system that can make up for a lack of skill, nor does it do much to help players. Since each level gives 10 health and increases your damage by one point, it will often make little to no difference. Sure, hitting a boss 45 times instead of 50 or being able to take one more hit might be the difference between success and failure, it’s still precise enough where you can overcome this stumbling block with a little more practice.
Oddly enough, I found the best way to play Emerald Shores was to use the bad mechanics against it. A lot of things that should have a physical presence, like a metal rod with a bed of spikes attached, can be jumped through and the invincibility given for taking damage is often generous enough to overcome many of the hardest parts. In fact, since enemies, attacks, traps and so forth give different amounts of damage, I found allowing the thing that does the least amount of damage to be the best way to overcome an otherwise difficult part.
This tactic was invaluable while going through the optional Rush mode. This mode demands more of players, either by adding more pit falls, enemies or traps, though the actual challenge can often be overcame, with relative ease, by abusing these mechanics. Naturally, it won’t help you defeat bosses, nor will change your fate if you can’t make a jump, it just trivializes timing.
Much to Emerald Shores credit, later levels try to offer a more diverse experience. There is one where you run to the end avoiding enemies, another where you need to clear a path and so forth. None of these levels add much, they’re actually easier than the platforming sections, resulting in a nice, but far from memorable, change of pace.
Like a lot of other really simple games, Emerald Shores doesn’t do a good job of challenging players. Almost everything has a predictable pattern, making bosses more of an endurance battle than anything else. Outside of a couple things, the core mechanics are predictable to the point where they don’t offer much of a challenge. Sure, the random attacks of the final boss or bomb placements can and will result in your demise, it doesn’t change bosses attack at specific times, a predetermined way and you either learn the rotation, get lucky or lose until you learn it.
Outside of the main game is an optional quest, few side levels and two mini-games. The optional quest gives players the ability to double jump whenever they want, provided they obtain three keys and finish a level. None of the keys are particularly well hidden, nor is the level that difficult, resulting it in being, at most, a nice effort. The same holds true for the side levels. They often focus on a specific element, though aren’t as hard as the average main story level or give players a reason to ever return.
Mini-games are probably the most underwhelming. The first game is a small farming simulator where you need to score $4,000 or more in revenue. By doing the simplest of rotations, I was able to more than triple this amount. By this I mean, I bought wheat, planted the max amount, harvested, repeated until I could buy carrots, did the same until I could obtain corn and then maximized production of that. There is likely a better way to do it, but it loses all meaning when the goal can be obtained with absolutely no effort or understanding of the mechanics.
As for the other quest, there is an alternate path where you befriend an enemy. Upon gaining this ally, you have the option to race it against other enemies across a couple stages. Since this is suppose to be a hardcore race, all the weird items you can collect, besides the aforementioned keys, can be used to give you ally an edge. When I did the races with maxed stats I had no issue winning every race, without a care in the world and substantial lead, by just pushing one button repeatedly.
Emerald Shores wants to be a great experience, without the tools or understanding of what goes into that. Between imprecise controls, horrible hit boxes, predictable enemies and countless ways to abuse the mechanics, it’s not a pleasurable experience. When you figure it does countless things to limit the replay value, either by removing your ability to gain experience or easily solved secrets, it really has nothing to offer. So, unless you’re a big fan of bad games, there is really no reason to ever visit Emerald Shores.
[Editor’s Note: Emerald Shores was reviewed on PS4 platform. The game was provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.]