I’m normally a big fan of the output from Eastasiasoft, purveyors of retro styled little games that give up their full amount of sweet Xbox Gamerscore fairly easily. I have enjoyed many of their shoot-em-ups in the past, and while they were never destined to set the world on fire, they were solid little timewasters. Fast forward to today, and we have El Gancho limping over the horizon, which looks, from the trailer at least, to be a fun little platformer. As you may have surmised from the tone of this opening paragraph, this isn’t my favourite title to come out of Eastasiasoft, and if you will indulge me a little longer, I will explain why.
Now, the story of El Gancho is the usual kind of throwaway fluff we have come to expect from these types of games. The Pogovon Empire has invaded the Cocodu planet, the bounders, and what is even worse, they have captured the Cocos! Apparently, the unlimited happiness of the Cocos has the potential to be turned into a power source by the Pogovons and so their plan was put into effect. Now, I can see a number of flaws in this plan straight away, chief among them being that people who have their home invaded and are captured don’t tend to stay happy for long.
Glossing over the rest of the issues that arise from my previous sentence, luckily, as is often the case in these games, a hero has arisen to save the day. We play as a Coco that has found an experimental laser hook; one that can be used to swing about the place and reach new heights as we do so. In addition, he also seems to have found a firearm from somewhere, however in order to shoot anything, you first have to collect the bullets that are dotted about the various levels. So, we have to swing around randomly generated levels, with each run being different, and we have to not only save our friends, but defeat the invaders. The stage is set for an epic showdown then – swingy thing of doom versus the forces of the Pogovon empire. Who will we win, and will anyone ever care? Well…
Graphically, El Gancho is fairly appealing in a standard retro style. The Coco we play as looks pretty cool, being a kind of dinosaur looking dude with a bow tie, and while it’s impossible to see any of the details of his character whilst in-game, in the title screen he looks pretty awesome. The rest of the visuals are workable, with no real flair or excitement to be seen. The same goes for the sound, with the notable exception of the music, which is very atmospheric and seems almost out of place when compared to the rest of El Gancho; the sound effects are pretty weak, to be fair, with little to no impact on the gameplay.
Now, obviously, a game like this lives or dies on the gameplay loop, and if the core mechanics hook you in, you can forgive any number of trespasses, such as ropy graphics. However, here, the news is not very good, I’m afraid. The basic controls seem somewhat strange, and were seemingly programmed by someone who has never actually held a controller before. Why, in the name of all that’s holy, is the jump mapped to LB, while the face buttons do nothing? What’s wrong with “A” for jump – like every other game ever. The shooting and swinging mechanics are also pretty poor, with the right stick aiming where the bullet/grappling hook goes, and the two right shoulder buttons being used to action the moves. The button mapping is an issue, there’s no getting away from it, but the actual gameplay mechanic is even worse.
The core mechanic seems to be that our intrepid Coco swings around the place, and as he does so, he leaves some kind of trail behind him. Maybe he’s part snail? Whatever the reason for it, if this trail that he well, trails, comes into contact with enemies, they will die. The faster he swings, the longer the trail becomes, and so on and so forth.
The issue arises with the aiming of the grappling hook, as getting our Coco to swing anywhere, instead of simply shinning up the rope until he is clinging to the bottom of a platform is almost impossible. As is trying to use the grapple to get to higher platforms, as eventually you end up stuck, unable to go any higher. In order to make progress, you think “I’ll release the hook, aim it over there, and then swing higher!” And in theory, that should work, but sadly he either doesn’t attach to the new platform or he attaches and then zooms upwards at a rate of knots, leaving you in the same situation as before.
The waywardness of the grappling hook also applies to the shooting mechanic, as you’ll be able to hit a barn door every time there is a “Z” in the month; mostly you’ll end up wasting the few bullets you are able to collect while you are trying to get the hook to attach to anything, anywhere. All in all, El Gancho is one of the most frustrating games I’ve tried to make progress in, and it just isn’t any fun.
In conclusion, if you are the sort of person who enjoys banging their head on a desk for hours, you may get a little bit of enjoyment from El Gancho. For the rest of us, the slightly shoddy look, poor mechanics and dodgy controls consign this to the “Must not play” pile of games from history. Even the promise of easy achievements won’t be enough to keep you playing, and that is a damning indictment indeed.
El Gancho is available from the Xbox Store