Welcome to Elk isn’t just one story – it’s many.
When you pick up a new game, you usually expect it to have a beginning, a middle and an end. In fact, that’s true for any kind of story. But sometimes it just isn’t as easy as that. Sometimes there are too many stories to tell, and too many ways you can tell them. Welcome to Elk is a game about stories. It’s a game about people and places – and while it does have a beginning, a middle and an end, it also doesn’t. And that’s the best part.
Welcome to Elk may just be one of the strangest games I’ve ever played. It is also one of the most unique and creative. It’s difficult to describe, and yet I feel as though I could talk about it for ages. Starting the game for me was a lot like walking onto the beach. You’re excited at first to feel the warm sand between your toes and to wade into the vast ocean. But once you get further in, you realise that you still need to be cautious and careful.
I gave Welcome to Elk a try a few weeks ago when a demo was available on Steam. The colourful characters and the lovely island of Elk are captivating and I couldn’t wait to jump into the full game. It soon becomes obvious as you play through that this isn’t going to be your average quaint adventure. The reason I mention being cautious is because the stories that Welcome to Elk tells aren’t always cheery. In fact, many of them delve into serious subject matter, and they’re not for the faint of heart. But just because something is hard to hear doesn’t mean it’s a story that isn’t worth telling.
In the game you play as Frigg who has just landed on the island of Elk. She’s decided to leave her old city life for quieter island life, and has found a job working for the local carpenter, a man named Jep. But as the protagonist learns more about the island, she soon learns that Elk doesn’t quite have the small-town charm she was expecting. Most of the island-dwellers are friendly, sure, but each and every one of them has a story to tell.
For the most part, Welcome to Elk plays like a typical adventure game: you control Frigg as she goes back and forth, speaking with the island dwellers and learning more about them. But stuck in-between these moments of exploration are mini-games. The mini-games serve two purposes: the first is to entertain the player and break up some of the more serious moments of the game. You’ll compete in a dance competition, for example, and pour out some drinks in a bar. You’ll even play a wacky game of golf and fish for some beer. These mini-games are all a joy to play and last no longer than a minute or so.
The other mini-games are there to create a real impact and make the player experience something. The more serious moments can be quite hard to stomach, but make a strong statement. Life isn’t always fun and games. It isn’t always pretty, but these moments tell important and impactful stories.
The true beauty of Welcome to Elk is that all of the game’s short stories are based on real events that have happened to real people. The team at Triple Topping have taken the stories from people they knew, and they’re all told from memory with a few detail changes. Players will even get short clips during the game that show interviews from people telling these stories. And while Welcome to Elk tells these true stories through characters on the island, they’re told slightly differently to how the real stories are told. It’s just as if you were hearing it told to you from someone, who had heard it from someone else. Stories change as they’re passed from one person to another – and Welcome to Elk cleverly reflects that.
You can find out more about the stories used in Welcome to Elk on the game’s website.
From a technical standpoint, the game isn’t complicated to play. There isn’t much fumbling that players will have to deal with, apart from getting stuck on the occasional invisible block. A few of the mini-games took me a moment to figure out, and the fishing mini-game was a bit frustrating, but these are tiny details that don’t take away from the overall story.
In fact, Welcome to Elk’s art style and design choice is brilliant. Much of the world is drawn in black and white, with only the characters and certain elements of the background appearing in full colour. The coloured bits are what players can interact with. This makes it so that you’ll never spend ages tapping on random things trying to find your next objective.
Welcome to Elk is biographical adventure that oozes charm. It shines with humility and thoughtfulness, and it covers topics that other game would shy away from. Best of all, though, it does it with a softness and laughter that one wouldn’t expect. The topics dealt with in the game may be difficult for some, but those that shy away from the game will be missing out on an experience like none other. It may be short, but Welcome to Elk is an adventure like no other, and one that everyone should experience.