By Alex Orona
Storytelling for storytelling’s sake
Welcome to the weird wild island of Elk. You are received by a colorful cast of characters, each with a story to tell. This is the premise of Welcome to Elk, the newest indie game out of Danish developer Triple Topping Games. Welcome to Elk brings a unique style of mixed media artwork with a story about stories.
You play as Frigg, a newcomer to this island coming for work. Frigg’s visit to this quiet icelandic town comes with a charming introduction. She is given a place to stay and a warm reception to the town folk in a bright cartoonish art style reminiscent of the old psychedelic cartoons of MTV in the 90’s. Frigg experiences everything the island has to offer: fishing trips, drunken bar nights, amataeur veterinary euthenasia… The normal stuff.
Gameplay is a unique brand of 2D character movement across a small map, with each animated model hopping around joyously as if they were marionette puppets. The game does a lot with very little with it’s simple gameplay. Add occasional mini games that are varied per plot point giving mixed experiences that really punctuate story moments. In one example, a character is recounting the story of her husband’s death at the hands of a gang member. The mini game is the character singing notes (per button input) to a somber serenade before his death with each note bringing a haunting note that is repeated by a child nearby, turning the game into a really grim Simon Says, ending the sequence with a gunshot. Other sequences include stitching up a friend who has had a drunken accident, or creating mechanical traps to capture squirrels.
These interactive moments put you in the place of Frigg performing the tasks but then are shown the full text of the legitimate story that the game is mimicking. That’s what Welcome to Elk is. A set of stories, told second hand and in some cases, FIRST HAND (in a surprise full motion video), and interweaving a minimal base narrative. The videogame part comes second to the stories it wants to tell. With that the game understands this as the premise and proceeds to question what a story really is. Will a story live on after the people have gone? And what about Frigg? Does she really exist like all the other stories do? The game takes that to a meta level and leaves you guessing on the nature of local fables and lore.
Everyone has heard a rumor or local legend about a kid who went OVER the bar at the swingset, but Welcome to Elk has you replay the instance, then ask how it made you feel. It takes icelandic local tales about drunken fishermen and puts them on display, forcing the experience on the player itself. It puts you in uncomfortable positions and twists your beliefs on what is a game vs what is real. This game surprises with each twist and turn, and not all of them are good. One will say that while this game finds its footing in an experimental space. Be warned, some might find some of the topics unsettling and for that this might not be for everyone.
Welcome to Elk brings a unique experience ripe with meta commentary, mixed media, and stories you won’t hear anywhere else. Some may find the topics off pudding but I found them fascinating within a surreal space. I’d suggest this game if you are looking for a collection of equally somber and outlandish fisherman tales because this game is a rarity and brings story telling chops that will hook you in with it’s fishermen’s line and keep you guessing throughout.