Indie Spotlight - Éalú
What happens when you blend the creative fun of Super Mario Maker with the precision platforming of Super Meat Boy? Éalú!
As far back as I can remember in my gaming history, level editors have been an occasional feature that I've always found to add immense replay value. And that history goes pretty far back, with the ludicrously fun "Create a Park" system in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2, all the way back to my early days building custom tracks in Excitebike. At the end of the day, if I got a chance to flex my creative muscles in a game I already loved, it was a given that I would dedicate many weeks of gaming time in the hopes of impressing my friends when they eventually came over to witness it.
Fast forward to 2015, and the concept behind Super Mario Maker was blowing my mind. Do you mean to tell me an officially licensed Nintendo game was handing us the keys to multiple Mario games and letting us run wild, with options to share online and explore other levels!? Up until then, that type of concept was usually only possible via level editing romhacks in existing retro games, which would then need to be shared via a gaming community forum.
"The atmosphere was immersive, and most importantly, the platforming was fantastic."
This neverending gameplay loop of creativity and exploration is one that I think many indie games try to touch on but rarely achieve - until Éalú, that is. Developed and published by Harki Games Ltd, Éalú is what you get when you throw Super Mario Maker and Super Meat Boy into a blender - and I have to tell you, that smoothie might sound weird but the result is one of the most thoughtfully made precision platformers I've played in a long while.
Éalú has a story (and a story mode), but like similar games, the meat and potatoes are in the level editor and online modes. However, as I know that playing the story mode is usually a great way to learn some mechanics and rules for how tiles/enemies function, I decided to dive into this first. The story mode of Éalú is fairly brief (I was able to complete it in about 90 minutes), and made it clear early on that tutorials were not a thing. An early platforming challenge requiring an unusually high jump had me checking the settings for a double jump button, only for me to eventually realize that my character's movement was similar to the classic Super Mario Bros approach, requiring that I reach a high run speed before jumping to maximize my jump height. Another hiccup occurred when the game's red dash gems came into play, with no explanation on how to use them. I would've liked to see these placed in a safe area first that encouraged exploration, but instead, the first one I found was hovering over an extended bed of spikes. After checking the controls again, I realized that the dash gems unlocked an extra jump in midair, similar to Celeste.
Aside from these few rough patches in the flow of the story mode, I came away from it very happy. The story cutscenes were brief and kept the action going, the atmosphere was immersive, and most importantly, the platforming was fantastic. Once I got a feel for the momentum-based nature of our silvery-haired protagonist, I really got into a pocket with Éalú that I rarely find in platformers these days. It simply feels and plays great.
Once completed, naturally I took to the level editor to try my hand at some stage creation. Perhaps it is my middle-aged brain that failed me as I went through the vast myriad of tiles and enemies available to me, but I struggled to put together a level I was happy with. Like most level editors, really getting a mastery of it takes time, and I found myself reaching a point where I wanted to stop making and start playing, which led me to Éalú's 100 lives mode.
The premise here is simple, with the player selecting a difficulty and then being tasked with completing as many player built stages as possible before your 100 life stash is depleted. I suspect there is still a need for more players to upload levels because despite trying a run on each of the four difficulties, I found myself frequently encountering levels that were either already in the story mode or additional levels made by the dev team. I certainly can't fault them for that, however, as the building blocks are there for platforming enthusiasts to create some truly incredible levels.
Overall, I had a great time with my playthrough of Éalú. As featured on episode 60 of Quit The Build, Éalú is one of the flagship games for the VoxPop Games distribution platform, which offers a unique take on just about every aspect of the publishing and sales process imaginable. The platform not only offers game developers a competitive cut of all sales but also adds bounties into the mix that allow for influencers and streamers (or really just about anybody) to also make some coin when they refer people to buy games on the VoxPop platform.
You can learn more about VoxPop games here, or discover more about the post-apocalyptic world of Éalú here - additionally, make sure to listen to my interview with Marc Rodriguez and Charles Yu from VoxPop Games: