When news of the Elden Ring Game Boy Demake broke a few weeks ago, I was drawn to it, drawn to its glow like a tarnish, helpless to follow the wispy luminescence of the guiding light. Having completed Elden Ring a few weeks ago, I felt exhausted from the slow pace of the game’s later stages and enjoyed not putting myself through any kind of Soulslike gauntlet, instead engaging in games that really feel like they want me to finish them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m FromSoft until I die and die and die, but even the most passionate relationships need some elasticity.
And yet, when I saw this old-school Zelda demake, released on Itch.io by indie developer Shin, my flame of ambition was rekindled. I knew it was only the early parts of the game – Limgrave and Stormveil Castle, up to Godrick – but who wouldn’t relish the opportunity to once again take down the tyrannical despot who makes up for his lack of prowess by stitching the arms of poor Wanderers tarnished for himself? I’d happily knock the bastard over again, even if it’s in 8-bit form.
I downloaded the game, ran it on Retroarch and can say it’s pretty good! Its intent to be as punitive as Elden Ring Proper was made clear as soon as I encountered the Grafted Scion – a boss you really are meant to die to at the start of the game (which I duly did).
When it first appeared in Limgrave, it was nice to see the game pile on some of the familiar faces from early Elden Ring, complete with shortened (but still wholesome) dialogue. The witch Sellen hangs out in a basement you walk into, Kenneth Haight talks about Godrick’s tyranny and how “plum-mad” he is (great expression), and you know exactly what to do when you meet Warrior Jar Alexander. The witch Ranni is there too, with her scarred closed eye; for such a limited graphical framework – this game is designed to run on actual Game Boy hardware – the attention to detail is impressive.
But once I got past the procession of friendly faces and started the fight, things got tough. In fact, the very first combat encounter in the game is probably the toughest, even if it’s against two lowly soldiers you’d make quick work of in the main version. You see, even if you have a fancy dodge-roll where you do a kind of cartwheel with no hands in the air, it doesn’t seem to give you those precious invincibility frames (i-frames). This makes enemy sword swings – which have a malevolent 90-degree arc much like Link’s swing in the early Zelda games – extremely difficult to avoid.
A good dozen kills later, I said to myself, “Aim for those guys”, running past them like a real FromSoft player to see what awaited me inside the gates of Stormveil.
If the first part of the Elden Ring demake looks like Link’s Awakening, then the second part is Zelda II, as the game switches to a side-scrolling perspective that works a lot better for that. Your dodge is replaced by a jump button, and suddenly you’re dodging projectiles, getting behind enemies, and getting into a nice rhythmic flow that the aerial perspective didn’t offer.
Fighting my way through Stormveil, my confidence grew as I picked up a few boost runes (which I’m still not sure did anything) and defeated the castle dwellers. In true Elden Ring spirit though, just as you start to get into a groove, the game intensifies its attempts to “put out your flame”. Shortly after, I arrived at my first big test: Margit, The Fell Omen – in all its pixel-blocky glory.
Fortunately, his movements are more predictable than in his original form and well adapted to the Game Boy format. The Demake does a great job of capturing that hypnotic beat of an old-school 8-bit boss fight, and once I tapped into that headspace – deftly dodging her daggers and formidable hammer thump – Margit was not anymore.
In an interesting reflection of Elden Ring lore, Godrick’s fight a few screens later was actually Easier than Margit’s fight. He certainly looks the part – spindly pixel arms extending from a grotesquely broad back, the dragon-headed hand, the creepy little head – but the fight was indicative of just how loose a persona Godrick would be. Again, you have to get into a furrow as he rains fire from above and his ax (hint: hit him a lot after he knocked down his axe), but I managed to beat him the first time.
It was a fitting end for Godrick – a deluded fool far removed from the divine blood of his distant ancestors and barely worthy of the demigod he claims. Margit was decidedly the toughest fight, which of course lines up with what we’ll learn later that he’s a much more important figure in the whole Elden Ring mythos than he lets on.
Godrick’s ending marks the end of the demake, and I have to admit, it opened up those FromSoft neural pathways that I’ve kept closed since Elden Ring ended. Unfortunately, it looks like developer Shin isn’t developing this charming little iteration of Elden Ring anytime soon. In response to a request to further develop the game, Shin said:
“I have to get a real job instead of working on this game,” writes developer Shin. “I would like to expand the game in the future, but no promises.”
And maybe that’s for the best. FromSoft games take it from me, and every time I finish one, I need a bit of decompression time from the grueling journey they take me on. The Lands Between is a special place, but one I want to reflect on before returning soon – even in 8-bit form.