XEL’s Biggest Challenge Is Its Bugs, Not Its Bosses

XEL’s Biggest Challenge Is Its Bugs, Not Its Bosses

XEL’s Biggest Challenge Is Its Bugs, Not Its Bosses

Posted by Lawrence Rennie

28 Jul, 2022


Since the release of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in 2017 studios have rushed to capture a slice of the magic that Nintendo’s wildly successful open world RPG possessed. Even the early clips coming out of Sonic Frontiers—the latest game in a long-awaited franchise return for the spiky blue speed demon, one that once went toe to toe as an adventure franchise against Link and Zelda—have the unfortunate look of a franchise consigned to poorly imitate its former rival. 

Most BotW copycats can rarely muster up its originator’s genius, leaving a slew of games that feel largely blank, lifeless, and, most egregiously, lazy. If you’re going to shoot for the king then you better not miss, and you sure as hell better be able to offer at least a modicum of a fresh take, else why are we even here.

Which brings me to XEL, a game that has made absolutely no bones about its BotW influence—even its name is a pointed homage (Xel: Zel (duh!)). XEL looks to turn the BotW formula into a top-down 3D isometric action-adventure title with a sprinkling of time bending mechanics for a unique added flavour. However, unfortunately for Tiny Roar and XEL, on its slippery slide toward being yet another generic BotW clone XEL’s actual biggest issue is that the game is currently completely broken on the Switch, leaving the more grating design aspects of the game to falter even further without much chance of redemption despite some of its slightly better tendencies. In its current form it is not even close to being a game that I can in good conscience recommend for purchase until there are some drastic bug fixes and design updates. 

Breath of the Mild

In XEL you play as “Reid”, a space pilot who has crashed landed on the mysterious planet of XEL. During the crash a relic-like stone has lodged itself into her head causing her to forget pretty much everything about herself (including her name) and why she is here in the first place. With the help of her handy bot sidekick our excitable protagonist must begin an epic journey to discover the secrets of her own life and this mystery construct planet. 

Reid as a protagonist is one that I unfortunately severely disliked; her writing amounts to a mash of cringy memes thrown into dialogue, or dull platitudes with a sprinkling of what I can only label as toe curling “teen-speak”—or at the very least someone’s misguided impression of what that is. I dislike the use of contemporary references or indeed memes in writing at the best of times, simply because they age so quickly and poorly, but in a future sci-fi world it becomes even more baffling—why on earth would a space pilot from the future still be talking like a 2010s teenager?

Reid also has the unfair attribute of generally being a million miles behind the audience, dumbly asking grating expository questions that you likely worked out at least 20 minutes prior. Whether your game is skewed for a younger audience or not, I simply ask that you please treat both your audience and your protagonists with respect.

The game plays in a top-down view with you moving Reid through the world, completing environmental puzzles and hacking away at enemies with a very simple combat system—B to melee attack, R to dodge roll, ZR to block with a shield, X or Y to use various pieces of equipment that you accrue throughout the game. Taking damage diminishes your hearts, and you have a BotW stamina circle which depletes during rolls and blocks. While traversing the world you’ll smash boxes to find resources for upgrading and crafting, and can complete relatively simple puzzles to gain access to chests for rarer rewards. These puzzles are pretty good, especially once the time bending aspect comes into play and you have to start stringing together various gameplay mechanics to complete. World exploration is also pretty vast with large areas available and rewards dotted all across. However the map can be difficult to read and quite a few avenues do feel like they are lacking much impetus to explore. 

On initial impressions the game hit me with a huge nostalgia wave, coming across like some of the classic PS2/PSP era adventure games (or, indeed, Zelda) with its colourful world, fun outlook, and relative simplicity. However before long that comparison started to eclipse slightly too well as the game began to show off its more grating aspects—the kind that you would probably have forgotten about in your misty-eyed memory of your old favourites where the game still looks and functions as any modern version would, instead of the clunkier mess that it actually probably is now with time working against it. 

The broken technical aspects, which I’ll get to, are many, but beyond that XEL just has some poor design choices more generally. Each of these design choices on their own wouldn’t necessarily constitute for a poor game overall, but each stacked together makes for a less than thrilling experience. 

My biggest annoyance comes with how XEL deals with jumping; there isn’t a jump button but approaching certain ledges will cause Reid to try and leap over a gap, that way the game can still have a touch of platforming without letting you bypass simple barriers. The problem is the point at which the jump triggers is extremely tumultuous and how it controls also feels very loose, causing your jumps to swing wildly all over the place or indeed happen precisely when you don’t want them to. More often than not a jump would trigger at a random ledge that led to nowhere causing more than a few deaths, or conversely wouldn’t trigger when I needed. It is such a simple aspect of the game that falls (pardon the pun) so spectacularly wrong far too frequently. By sheer coincidence I played Stray in the same week as XEL which has a similar design barrier to cross with regards to limiting where you can jump, however Stray solves it by simply requiring a button press to trigger the jump. 

Despite their relative simplicity the controls are also quite clunky (especially if played in the Switch’s portable mode with the Joy-Cons). This mostly comes down to the small details required of certain actions. For example, you can throw out electrical traps with X or Y (depending on where you assign it to), but to aim requires you to hold the button down while using the left analogue stick and then let go to throw. Because you move with the left stick this control scheme ends up feeling all kinds of off, usually making for some annoyingly slow trap throws that miss the mark anyway.

I also had issues with where Reid would block. Typically she blocks at whatever target you are aiming at, but when there are multiple enemies that leaves you open on other sides, and the switch lock isn’t accurate enough to quickly move in the direction you need to for oncoming attacks. The tightness of the control response is also a contributing factor here; there is about a half second delay between actions, so if you are swinging as an enemy begins to attack then you probably won’t be able to get your shield up quick enough. A lot of functions just feel ever so slightly too slow like this.

There are a few more issues to nit-pick at, but generally the point stands that these slack design choices pool together to create an experience that is all round quite poor. XEL wants to be the next Breath of the Wild, but a portion of the plaudits for that masterfully created game come from its exceptional and seamless design choices which XEL conversely lacks. You can create the guise of a Breath of the Wild clone all you like by pulling at its imagery or mechanics, but without the proper tightened implementation of those mechanics or similarly ingenious design choices then your game is going to look all the more cynical, lazily thrown together to pounce on someone else’s success. 

XELda: The Broken of the Wild

Any cynicism I have for the game’s slack mimicry is severely unaided by its myriad of technical problems. So numerous are its bugs, both small and game breaking, that it is quite simply astounding that this is a game that has been approved for shipping. 

At first I was getting small issues, the kind that make a game look a technically poor and perhaps a little annoying but are generally minor enough to ignore. For example dialogue lines would repeat or play at the wrong time (Reid would respond to enemy attacks that didn’t exist), item descriptions would repeat even after the first time I had picked one up, a texture here or there would take a second to load in. That slow loading texture then became whole objects or characters that wouldn’t load in, and then whole chunks of world that took a few seconds to load in, and then those missing chunks of world became missing areas of map that I could actually fall through to my death, or, worse, a bottomless abyss that required a reload to escape. 

Because objects in the world were unstable, interactions with them became an issue too. Ladders frequently caused animation glitches that would leave my character sliding around unable to perform any actions, or instead ladders and chests sometimes just couldn’t be interacted with the first 2,3,4 times I approached them. Similarly doors that were meant to open just wouldn’t. 

The frame rate is also a huge issue. It frequently stutters with some areas being worse for a complete tanking of the frame rate than others. These areas tended to suffer with even worse bugs too. For example, my first time in “the garden” forced me to restart the game all over again when one save point glitched to give me only a black screen anytime I reloaded back there. On my second save file I made it through the garden however I noticed that some cutscenes didn’t trigger, until they then did way after when they are supposed to. The boss fight here also broke, showing me the cutscene to intro the fight and then not putting me in or allowing me into the combat area.

“The Bog” is where the game became near unplayable with frequent crashes forcing me back to the Switch home screen. Save points in this area were just completely broken; interacting with one would crash the game like clockwork, and sometimes even just being near enough to one also triggered a crash. The boss in this area also frequently slingshot me into the air to land in entirely different sections of the game. The biggest challenge of the game ended up being my constant fight with its bugs, rather than its bosses. 

I’ve read plenty of other reports and reviews of the game to know that this wasn’t solely an issue of my copy. XEL is just altogether completely broken on Switch, unapologetically so. Rightly or wrongly, the market has come to expect a few issues in games on launch these days, usually then smoothed out by a day or week one patch, but XEL’s bugginess is beyond the pale for a purchasable product. Don’t come near it. 

Final Score: 2.5/10







About Author

Lawrence Rennie

Lawrence is a Scottish-born writer with a love of games and films that he fortunately turned into a career grumbling about online. When not firing away the hours buried in a game or film he also co-writes 'Mechastopheles', an original comic series published by the UK’s leading comic magazine 2000AD as a naturally born-grumpy Scot; however, he asks that you don’t ask him too much about it though! Lawrence’s other musings include podcasts, fitness, his cat, and one day developing his own screenplay.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments