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Element4l

Score: 78%
ESRB: Not Rated
Publisher: i-illusions
Developer: i-illusions
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Platformer/ Puzzle/ Platformer (2D)

Graphics & Sound:

We may disagree on whether a particular game plays best on a certain platform, but thereís no arguing with the idea that PC gaming still has the edge for outstanding graphics. Combined with a strong artistic vision, as we see in Element4l, thereís just nothing like playing on a desktop or laptop with decent specs. Element4l wonít stretch your video card to its limits, thankfully. Its design is more influenced by the minimal art of games like Limbo, but with more colors in its design palette. Thereís a relaxing quality to Element4l that begins with these hypnotic visuals and ends with the beautiful soundtrack. The comparison here would be with a game like Osmos, where the game music is so well done that youíd put it on as a backdrop to relaxing at home. Itís ironic that the music is generally so relaxing, since there are moments when youíll definitely find yourself a bit tense because of the challenges built into Element4l. Think of the impressionistic visuals and ambient music as an antidote to clenching up in frustration. Go Zen, baby...

Gameplay:

The premise of Element4l is wonderfully simple to understand and explain, which doesnít detract one bit from its depth. Think of any platforming game that asks you to navigate a level through various obstacles. Element4l is clearly in this category, but with more than a little puzzle-game DNA. In fact, this is more about solving for various conditions in your environment than just stabbing at the jump button. In this case, you have extremely limited movement options, and the focus is on (wait for it) switching elements. Each element confers some special ability or capacity for movement, that can propel you forward when combined smartly with your environment.

That said, the environment of Element4l is really the main obstacle youíll find in the game. You can embrace and flow with it, or try to fight it. Each of four elements (ice, air, earth, fire) can be used, and there are even some sneaky combinations like creating water by switching to ice in a superheated section of the game. For every section of the landscape youíre trying to traverse, there is at least one ideal form to take. An obvious comparison would be the classic Platformer LocoRoco which was one of the first really creative physics-based games. A more modern example would be Tiny Wings, which is much more limited in scope and almost purely about physics. Element4l creates a beautiful world and provides just enough challenge to keep you motivated to continue exploring.


Difficulty:

The learning curve in Element4l is relatively steep. If it were just about an Angry Birds combination of height and distance, Element4l wouldnít be so bad. The challenge here is that you start with four elements, then introduce the possibility for unique combinations, and then stack on the transformative effect of the environment. Turning into an air bubble seems straightforward enough when youíre floating with air currents, but what about when thereís no updraft? In cases like this, you typically need to combine the natural forward motion of a fireball with air, and possibly throw in some back-and-forth motion on the ground using an ice block. Later, but still early levels, introduce some unique qualities of each element, such as the fireballís ability to bounce off of a lava wall. This same lava will melt ice, pop an air bubble, and leave a rock/earth ball unscathed. Keeping all these combinations and possibilities in mind is where one gets the puzzle aspect of Element4l, but remember that itís all happening in real time. Thereís almost a twitch-game element at work here, so donít be surprised when the tranquility of early levels gives way to some rather frantic action in later levels. As we said earlier, itís all about relaxing into the flow from one element to another, since there are most definitely right and wrong ways to surmount each obstacle. If you want additional challenge, you can compete against ghost images of other players from the community.

Game Mechanics:

As with the gameplay, Element4l has some of the simplest controls youíre likely to find. Each of the four elements is mapped to exactly one button, either arrow keys or WASD on your keyboard. This can be changed if you prefer a different layout, but makes good sense as a default setting. We found that the arrow keys on some laptops (MacBook Air for example) are grouped too close together to make practical controls for larger hands, but thereís nothing stopping you from making adjustments to controls. Other than the gameplay setup, the only other twinking is the configuration of graphics that youíll be able to do upon launch. Install, especially through Steam, is ridiculously simple.

The theme of simplicity runs consistently through Element4l. Itís not a game that redefines any genres, but it does a great job filling a niche somewhere between platforming and puzzle games youíve enjoyed on PC and other platforms. The simplicity ends up being a bit misleading, since youíll still get plenty of challenge here before the credits roll. The possibility for new levels and perhaps an editor is exciting, but for now youíve got a solid experience that will challenge solo gamers, with an aesthetic that will make an impression long after those credits do roll.


-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

Minimum System Requirements:



PC: Windows XP or later, Intel / AMD 1Ghz, 1 GB RAM, NVIDIA or ATI - Intel: Shader Model 2 capable, DirectX 9.0c, 500 MB HD space

Mac: OS:10.6 or later, Intel CPU, 1 GB RAM, NVIDIA or ATI - Intel Shader Model 2 capable, 500 MB HD space

 

Test System:



Mac OS X 10.6, 3 GHz Intel Core Duo, 4GB RAM, NVIDIA GeForce 9400, 256MB VRAM

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Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated