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In-Effie-ctive Surfing

One of my all-time favorite video game gadgets is the jetboard from Jak II. Apart from just being really cool, it made navigating the open world of Haven City much more interesting - it was faster than walking, capable of a variety of tricks and maneuvers, and got brief speed boosts from successful execution of certain tricks. This meant that even just going from one mission to another could be engaging as you practiced stringing tricks together along the way to maintain the top speed boost for as long as possible. This then paid off in the missions that required skilled use of the jetboard.

Effie is a recent 3D platformer by a small team that explicitly takes inspiration from genre classics including Jak & Daxter. It includes a “surfing” ability that’s superficially very reminiscent of the jetboard, as it involves taking your shield (which normally stays collapsed on your back), expanding it, and using it as a hoverboard.

But that’s where the similarities end. Surfing allows you to move faster, but it’s not really any more engaging than walking. You can’t do any tricks, and the only speed boosts are at fixed points in the environment spaced such that you’re not likely to be able to maintain max speed if you’re taking a direct route to your destination. You’re mostly still just holding forward, not practicing anything or getting rewarded for mastery of anything. Even the character’s body movements are bizarrely stiff while surfing, like there wasn’t time or budget to animate it properly (the rest of the game is much better animated).

It’s certainly possible the designers wanted to do more with surfing, but in the end it feels like it mostly exists to justify how wide open the game’s Red Plains of Oblena is - which in turn seems to be so wide open in order to justify the presence of surfing. The Plains’ points of interest are quite spread out and take a while to get between, which is improved by surfing but still not interesting, and this is also the only place you can surf. You can’t do it in the main levels, and the only goal that actually requires it is a fairly easy and dull ring course that’s one of the Plains’ points of interest.

It makes me really curious what the conversations were like during development. I can easily imagine grand plans for both surfing and the open area that there just wasn’t time or money to fulfill, and it would be difficult to remove either late in development (taking out the Plains would require restructuring the game, as it currently bridges all the linear levels, and taking out surfing would make the Plains incredibly obnoxious to traverse), resulting in the unfortunate half-baked state they ended up in. But who knows whether that’s what happened.