It started with a dream: comic artist (and Offworld’s Monster Mii / Superf*ckers Review creator) James Kochalka recently devoted one of his daily diary strips to a game idea he’d fixated upon during a feverish nap, only to find a week later that a fan called SirLondon had created a playable PC version called The Insomniac Elf in his spare time.
Mostly, anyway: while SirLondon’s version doesn’t seem to obey the letter of the node-path law (leaving a node in any direction is allowed, and other nodes don’t necessarily illuminate in the way Kochalka described), and he has added reams of new ideas to Kochalka’s framework, most admittedly quite clever, and some which still need tweaking.
Though still a work in progress (and much improved since the original v0.3 I’d originally played), the greatest thing holding it back is its masochistic difficulty and utterly opaque rules.
You’ll eventually discover, for example, that walking through nodes is necessary to advance to the next level, but 90 percent of the time offers nothing but punishment (more, faster snakes), and the default melee attack is so short-ranged and weak that it establishes a negative-double-whammy: new players are instead encouraged to wander aimlessly, avoiding everything until they accidentally stumble across the boss attack, which, at the first level, will typically kill you almost instantly.
Stick with it long enough to dig up powered up swords (the first of which should maybe be the default), new items (bombs, glasses), other members of Kochalka’s family, and various clever “bad luck” modes — the game truly is just a few difficulty-softening tweaks away from being the first best American Elf game.