Review is about 8 hours after getting the easiest ending. I want to play more though.
The short review of this is if you were a fan of the nonlinear way Fez's world unravels, or the item gimmick of Link Between Worlds, or the idea of "what if 2D Zelda was isometric 3D, you had access to all the items from the start and you can tackle areas of the world nonlinearly" OR if you're a fan of very technical platformers, you should check this out. (Note in the case of the game being a technical platformer, the game does offer access to cheat codes early on which can be toggled on to get through very hard sections).
If that sounds interesting I would go play it and stop reading this review! This will spoil some things.
-The Early Game-
You can explore the world in any order you want, eventually gaining the ability to try out one of 8 items. The twist that you can only hold one. You're then tasked to find Seven Spirits hidden amongst the world. To do so, you need to poke around, figuring out which area you can explore a bit more of if you have the right item. But it's not as lock-and-key as that - with each area you push a bit more into, and with each time you return to the item-swapping area to try out different combinations of items, you start to get a better sense for what items can work well together. You get better at recognizing situations in the world where you can apply certain items and platforming techniques. Some rooms are solvable with different combinations of items, and by the time you have access to 3 or 4 items, it becomes quite fun navigating the various challenges.
As a simple example, the Ring lets you pick up and throw objects. You can use this to climb higher. But you can ALSO throw objects onto other objects. Objects also bounce slightly if you drop them while in the air, and if you can time it you can get a higher jump...
You also have the Wand, which levitates objects. Now if you can combine the Ring and the Wand, then suddenly you have access to a lot more jump height than you expected.
The economy of Elephantasy Flipside revolves around (abstractly) exchanging items for jump height.
If you design a platformer with jumping you quickly realize that how you offer a player 'height' is kind of a currency system of its own. If access to height is too easy, then everything becomes trivialized. If you hide access to height through moves or entities in the environment, then you can come up with all sorts of situations for players to get higher (or further).
Why Elephantasy Flipside ends up not being a sort of so-so Zelda-like is because the items interact with this "Height Economy" in surprising ways. Rather than a Hookshot meaning "now you can traverse chasms IF there's a hookshot block on the other side", we get stuff like the Herb Bag, which lets you hold a few herbs of various types - one for high jumps, one makes you invincible, another freezes time, another duplicates everything. You can see how each of those moves actually is a way of accessing the 'height economy'.
A high jump is self-explanatory. Invincibility means that you can step on hazards, and thus jump from new positions. Freezing time allows you to navigate impossible hazards, or do stuff like keep a moving pillar in place, letting you reach a certain height.
The Dash Boots at first seem only useful for running faster and getting across wider pits, but you realize there's a tricky wall-jump tech which means that you now have access to more height when near certain kinds of walls. There's a combo of items involving the dash boots that is too good to spoil, but (maddeningly!) the Dash Boots go even deeper, later on.
Even the Magnifying Glass, which lets you shrink down, at first seems like a Zelda-y gimmick. But once you realize your movement physics are slightly different when small, well...!
The other items are a Book (which lets you read glyphs on stones, except the vowels lol) and a Whistle (calls your fast travel bird, taking you to unlocked checkpoints). The Book is "useless" from a Height Economy standpoint, but it has this interesting feeling to it, where you are trading off possibilities for exploration, with the ability to uncover lore in a far-off area (if you can reach it while losing the inventory slot!).
Likewise, the Whistle lets you skip to an area, but of course you lose access to an item slot. I liked this, because it means that if you get from "Grass Land" to "Mountain" and need Item A + B, the game can impose different requirements from "Mountain" to "Sky", because you can now skip to Mountain without needing A and B. I think this lets the levels of the game always stay at a decent complexity.
Lastly there's the underwater ability, which... lets you go underwater. I haven't made too much progress in the underwater bits, but it feels sort of similar to the Book or Whistle, in a way, where it imposes a new 'rule' on you (you can now access water and swim) while limiting access to items. Some of the item physics/movement is different underwater.
E:F gets pretty hard near the "easy" end (the others involve more completionism which I'm in the middle of doing). I would say I didn't personally mind the difficulty, but sometimes I would have to grind for herbs to do some of the challenges... at the same time having to do such a thing did add a certain memorability to it. I guess I prefer it this way, rather than if the challenges just dumped a bunch of herbs near the start, conveniently? The game offers a cheat code for infinite jumping, which I used once when I got tired of one of the grinds (The Volcano escape... lol.. may it strike terror into your heart.)
Later levels have some pretty technical movement, but it was fun to learn and even got sort of surprisingly easy once I got the hang of it. Likewise, the game is an isometric platformer so perspective messes with where you need to aim a jump. Overall I found it to bean interesting logic challenge, as you can always judge one dimension of a platform's position precisely, and have to 'feel' or remember the other two.
I guess there is a little tedium in retrying some challenges and some of the early-game item swapping, but I think it contributes to the game's memorability and texture. And I still feel like with each failure there's a sense of getting a better understanding of the game's mechanics. If you like the feeling of passively remembering the layout and challenges of a game's world then you'll love what you remember after playing E:F!
I guess if I have some personal gripes... some of the automatic dialogue progresses too slowly. Also maybe the fast travel animation could go a bit faster as you warp between screens...? Color-coding the world-map might have been nice, too.
Well... that's all I can think of for now. I'm going to play more, maybe it'll spark some new thoughts. But I really love how this game got me thinking about the ways of which a simple platformer moveset - single jump - can be extended through the use of smart object and item design.