Welcome to Elk Review: A Charmingly Dark Storybook

Over the weekend, I finished a brilliant little game that was equal parts brief, clever, and dark as shit. Going into the game knowing that the stories being told are based on real-life happenings only heightens their gravity. Every single one of its stories and characters is based on true stories. Welcome to Elk is a deeply emotional narrative experience that is unlike much out there right now and it’s definitely not an experience to miss out on. So, let’s talk a little bit more about what makes it tick in our Welcome to Elk review. As usual, you can slide down to the verdict at the bottom to get a synopsis of our thoughts.

A Collection of Tragic and Beautiful Stories

Welcome to Elk is the sort of game that beckons you to it for the story. In this instance, the game elevates its stories by the fact that they are all real-life events that real people have experienced. As the game exposes various narrative elements, the most intense of them are often accompanied by a live-action video of a person telling a story with deep personal meaning to them. Knowing that some of the darkest, and most charming elements are the narrative were experienced by real people is truly the heart of Welcome to Elk‘s charm.

The game’s narrative follows the story of pink-haired protagonist Frigg. She embarks on a trip to move to the titular island of Elk to seek an apprenticeship under a local carpenter. Throughout her brief time on Elk, she becomes intimately involved in the lives and stories of its colorful residents. The devs steeped the island of Elk in Scandinavian and Greenlandic culture which deeply intertwines with the stories of those who reside there.

With Equally Tragic and Beautiful Characters

Self-described as a “biographical adventure,” Welcome to Elk‘s presents its narrative, more or less, through a series of case studies of the island’s inhabitants. From the moment Frigg steps ashore, it is clear that the island has its own set of problems. Problems, which, unsurprisingly become Frigg’s to solve.

Every one of the characters presented in Welcome to Elk exudes personality. I won’t soon be forgetting Sue and her rampant alcoholism, or the cave-dwelling Anders and his enigmatic belief that everyone around him is actually dead and that this is the afterlife. As one would expect, given the biographical nature of the narrative presentation, the characters lie at the heart of the story, and it’s clear that Triple Topping gave an ample amount of time into fully realizing all of them.

As every new day begins in the game, an accompanying message-in-a-bottle of the true stories of the day’s events appears in Frigg’s home. I found it very interesting to be able to spot the ways in which the development team incorporated various elements of the true stories into the game. Without any spoilers, I can say that the end of the game surprised me a great deal, but I was completely satisfied with that.

A Very Short Experience

Triple Topping squeezed quite a lot of impact into a very small container. It only took me about 3 and a half hours to complete my Welcome to Elk review. I am a fan of short games, so this didn’t bother me, but some may be surprised by its brevity. Welcome to Elk manages to appear, tell its story, and disappear in a reasonable amount of time. However, with how short the game is, I really wished I could have experienced more of Elk.

Elegantly Simple Gameplay

Throughout my Welcome to Elk review, I predominantly used one button and a stick. The simplicity of the interface is a byproduct of its narrative focus. So, people of all ability levels will be able to play Welcome to Elk with ease. A handful of mini-games scattered throughout the experience offer a few more buttons to be pressed, however, failure is not necessarily an option in any of these. Various distractions such as dancing, karaoke, and What the Golf?-style putting are not shoe-horned in for no reason; they often serve as a complement to the narrative. A singing mini-game played late in the story nearly had me in tears.

Welcome to Elk requires very little skill to play. Some may see this as boring, but it helps to place the stories front and center. And in a game like Welcome to Elk, the stories are really the only thing anyone shows up for. However, with its mini-games and interactive elements, Welcome to Elk goes a step beyond a walking simulator.

Charming Art Design

The devs of this little gem did a remarkable job of juxtaposing charming hand-drawn graphics and ragdoll-style physics with some extremely dark subject matter. One can note this same contrast throughout much of the art style and design of the game. One of the first things to notice when starting Welcome to Elk is the walk cycle. Characters ambulate with an almost-goofy bounce to all of their limbs. This is in stark contrast to the tonality conveyed by many other aspects of the game.

Much of the game holds a profound sinister undercurrent. You notice this underlying dread in, of course, the narrative and more obvious elements. However, the game enhances this effect through little details in the artwork and animation. Everything from the boarded-up windows on the buildings in Elk, to the animated shading of the loading screens exudes that same feeling of inescapable doom. While I found the contrast of the silly and the serious to be artfully done, I can see how it might be considered distracting for some.

On top of all these vague sensations of impending doom lies a cheery and unique hand-drawn art style. The artists drew the world to be monotone, aside from pieces of the world that the player interacts with. Those elements are bursting with color. The character models go on to continue to enhance the contrasting tones — characters follow a Bitmoji-esque style which often does not fit with the words and actions coming from them. I can see how some may find this to be unnerving, but it really fits with the cognitive dissonance of the game as a whole.

A Soundtrack to Fit the Theme

Lacking any voice over for characters, Welcome to Elk relies on music and sound effects to set the tone and convey many of the motions of the characters. Just as in many other aspects of the game, the music represents a jolly sound on the surface, but with an often dissonant and disturbing underbelly.

During live-action portions of narrative exposition, the story tellers speak in their native tongue subtitles to reflect whatever language is specified in the settings. This along with some regional-specific words uses throughout the bottle messages did an excellent job of capturing the feeling of a remote island community off the coast of Greenland.

The Final Verdict

Overall, in my review of Welcome to Elk, I found it to be a very impressive accomplishment. Triple Topping managed to pull off a deliberately dissonant and unnerving experience that placed narrative above all else. With how the short the game is, it left me wanting more from the uniquely disturbing island of Elk and the stories that molded it. If you’re a fan of deeply emotional narrative experiences, this isn’t one to pass up.

Check out Welcome to Elk on the Microsoft Store, and find the developer Triple Topping on Twitter.

Looking for some more of our reviews? Look no further.

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