It’s common for games to have multiple endings, usually classified as “good” or “bad” depending on their content and the consequences leading up to their conclusions. Elechead is a little different, if only because it turns that paradigm on its, well, head.
I don’t know why you’re even here if you’re worried about Elechead spoilers but stop reading if you don’t want to learn more about the thing I specifically mentioned in the headline (i.e. the only thing most people read anyway).
As of June 23, Elechead is available on Switch, which means I finally had a chance to try out its electrifying brain teasers without resorting to playing the Steam version on the same laptop where I work nine hours a day. I spent my nights exploring its futuristic environments from the comfort of my bed and ultimately finished the game in less than a week.
I loved it. Elechead was everything folks said it was after its 2021 launch, providing hours of adorable puzzle platforming without overstaying its welcome. And then I decided to unlock the true ending.
While playing Elechead, you’ll inevitably stumble upon data chip-like items that serve as the game’s main collectibles. Some are in plain sight, while others are hidden and require some clever manipulation of Elechead’s mechanics to discover. By the time I got to the end of the game, I was still missing a few and thus relegated to watching what I assumed was the “bad” ending.
Pretty melancholy stuff. Elechead the robot puts its electric head in some sort of machine, the space station upon which the entire game apparently takes place goes supernova, and the light of the resulting explosion illuminates a nearby Earth. After a smash cut to a late title screen and some intense music, the short credits roll—Elechead was made by only two people—and you’re taken back to the beginning of the game.
Not wanting to be done with Elechead quite so soon, I immediately set about collecting the last few data chips to unlock the “good” ending (again, its good-ness merely an assumption on my part). It didn’t take long before I found myself walking through a conspicuous door, now unlocked thanks to my brief treasure hunt, and then watching as an elevator carried the game’s eponymous hero towards destiny.
“Elechead basically died in the other ending,” I thought to myself, “so this one might be a little more happy.” It wasn’t.
Instead of the space station blowing up as in the other ending, the “true” Elechead conclusion sees your tiny robotic protagonist activate a gigantic cannon that completely obliterates Earth. Title screen, credits, what the fuck just happened.
I’ve been taught to expect certain tropes from video games. When one has collectibles, for instance, the ending you get after grabbing everything is generally considered “good,” or at least better than the ending you get otherwise. Gathering all the Chaos Emeralds in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 back in 1992, for instance, rewarded the player with a new conclusion to the story where Sonic becomes Super Sonic. It barely changed the story, but watching the Blue Blur go Super Saiyan felt like a great reward for beating all those frustrating special stages.
Trying to fit Elechead into this mold broke my brain. Earth is far from perfect, but is it bad enough to make its total destruction a “good” ending? Maybe in the world of Elechead, the planet’s been taken over by even more dangerous nutjobs hellbent on, I don’t know, destroying the entire universe with some sort of impossibly massive nuclear weapon? In that case, Elechead’s death and subsequent inability to destroy Earth would be a “bad” ending for more than just seeing a cute character bite the dust.
Maybe it’s deeper than that. While Elechead seems like a simplistic indie game on the surface, it’s possible the devs were trying to make a larger point about the medium’s cliched good-bad ending dichotomy. What is good? What is evil? Aren’t we all capable of both great beauty and great destruction? And for that matter, is creating something beautiful inherently good and destruction always an act of evil? I think we can all agree killing babies is bad, but killing baby Hitler is a bit more complicated.
Of course, like most great works of art, Elechead leaves that conversation up to the player. It’s not even a topic you need to consider to fully enjoy the game. Elechead is very much worth your time from a pure gameplay standpoint thanks to its gorgeous presentation and clever puzzles. But sometimes it’s fun to take things a little too seriously to prompt these sorts of thought experiments. I obviously don’t have all the answers, so I’d love to hear how other folks felt about these endings.