While there have been many exceptional games released to the market over the last couple of years, very few of them have been able to offer a truly unique gaming experience in comparison to other games of the same genre. For example while the fast-paced battle mechanics of Final Fantasy XIII may offer a completely different gaming experience to the random-encounter turn-based strategy that was Final Fantasy X… they are at heart still RPG’s that make use of the same core mechanics.
Back in June I launched a new campaign / article series known as Sam’s Quest for Something Different, where I review and/or preview some of the games in the market that are filled with potential unique ideas but don’t always get the attention they deserve. To date I have done two installments in this review series – the first looking at 99 Spirits by Fruitbat Factory that is (To describe it simply) an RPG that swallowed a puzzle game and the second looking at Octodad by Young Horses which is a very tentacly and hard to control game to say the least.
This third installment in this series will look at Element4l, a recently published indie game from the team at I-illusions that is easy to grasp but a challenge to play through and complimented by charming visuals and music backing.
In this game your character is comprised of the four elements – Rock, Ice, Air and Fire. Only able to use one of the elements at a time which are correlated with each of the movement keys, you are left to make your way through increasingly complex environments that test the limitations and strengths of each element. For example the initial element you are given is Air which allows you to float upwards but without a corporeal body touching any solid surface will obliterate it. On the other hand while fire suffers from the same limitation it propels you forward and remains in its tangible form while in lava. Ice and Earth on the other hand each have similar strengths and weaknesses so that using all four in quick succession, logically and (especially in the first few stages) without fumbling up the buttons are all key in ensuring success.
Of course that alone would be just too easy. In response to this the development team added a few tricks and limitations in order to up the difficulty level. For one, switching between elements or using air’s floating abilities drains a regenerating health bar so creativity is required to get past some of the more higher ledges or trickier level designs. Element4l is really a game that needs to be played hands-on to be fully appreciated and with 16 levels (+ four tutorial stages) each has been designed to take full advantage of the elements system. There are moments where you will most probably want to throw in the towel and shows that even with minimalistic gameplay mechanics they can still offer a sizable amount of gameplay for its $9.99 USD price point. Ledges that seem impossible to reach, puzzles that require a combination of form changes, there is quite a bit to challenge you and I would like to see future support with more levels given their evident skill in developing them.
For those who are interested in Steam integration, a simple Race Mode has also been included which features leaderboard mechanics and an incentive to play through the stages a second time.
Featuring a minimalistic backdrop that is used to emphasize the shaded landscape that lies in your path, the best way to describe the visuals of Element4l is as a more colourful version of the 2010 puzzle-platformer Limbo. With the dully coloured if not pitch black environment, the visuals are used to emphasize more gameplay critical elements such as the “Element”, lava and wind that stand out even more than if they were lost in the flurry of colours and trinkets you might see in a platformer like Rayman Origins. The design decision was a good one for a game of this caliber, although it isn’t something I think just any game could pull off.
The game also boasts a simple but effective soundtrack produced by the Australian-based musician Mind Tree (Mitch Nordine) who encapsulates the theme of the game well. Purchasing Element4l also comes with the full 12-track soundtrack included in the games directory for your listening pleasure outside of the game, and makes for good listening to just chill out to.
Overall Element4l is a game that is well deserving of its place in this review series for its simple-at-first platforming mechanics that soon escalate into a challenging experience. While I would have loved more than 16 levels, each offered ample challenge and encouraged players to think outside the box.