From the dawn of written history mankind has harnessed the natural elements and used them towards our own ends. Now you get to play with those elements on the PS Vita, but is it any good?
Element4l is a novel platform game from European indie developer I-Illusions. The premise is fairly simple. You play as four base elements of Air, Ice, Fire and Stone on their journey to shape life.
I have to admit it was the art style that first attracted me to this game. It resembles the same diffused camera imagery reminiscent of the indie hit, ‘Limbo’. There’s just something really eerie yet beautiful about it. Your simplistic cute looking character almost feels out of place but I guess that’s the point. The music score permeates throughout complimenting the visuals. This creates a world full of wonder yet, trepidation.
You are all four elements simultaneously, switching between different elemental forms with a simple button press. Each has different abilities to help you navigate the treacherous landscape. Air, is a bubble form that is primarily used to float upwards and gain height. It can also be used to float over hot air currents. The form you will use the most will be Ice. Particularly good for sliding around and maintaining momentum. It’s the only one that can take an alternate elemental form. If Ice touches lava it will melt and become Water, allowing you to pass through otherwise inaccessible narrow passages. Then there’s Fire, which is used primarily for acceleration forward but can also be used to bounce off hot magma. Finally, there’s Stone, used mainly to provide more momentum when dropping onto a slope. Also used to reduce momentum for more precise drops and break through weak walls.
The game that came most to my mind while playing this game was, ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’. Only, Sonic did it so much better. You see, there are moments of delight as you whoosh around loops and fly over chasms. Inventive moments like using Stone to block a hole so the area fills with water. You can then turn into Air; due to the games physics this will send you flying straight up and out of the water. Those are the best and most fun parts of the game. However, these moments are mired by jarring level design that will have you repeating a single section to a point of monotonous frustration. This can put you simply not in the right frame of mind for the ‘Thomas was Alone’ style of witty dialogue. Which is a shame because with many references to pop culture it’s really quite amusing.
There are many reasons you will be repeating sections. This is due to the inconsistency throughout the game. Remember when I said you could turn from Ice to Water and use Fire to bounce off magma? Well, you can but only select pools of lava that have no real indicator that they’re any different to the others that will kill you instantly. While we’re talking about fire, the Fire element, for the most part, will only go to the right. It all depends on the way your character is facing, which you have no control over. Even if you’re moving in a direction the element will actually be facing the other way for no good reason. I forgot to mention that each elemental form consumes a limited energy bar. How much energy each uses seems to vary wildly from one level to the next.
Re-spawns are very odd as you usually spawn as the wrong element for the job. Every time I needed Ice I’d spawn as Stone, every time I’d needed Stone I’d spawn as Ice. This frankly bizarre spawn behavior caused many instant restarts. Momentum is so important in this game if you don’t get a good start you are bound to fail. I encountered a rare impossible situation where I continually spawned without enough starting momentum to complete a section. I tried every thing I could to accelerate and get as fast as I possibly could to no avail. I didn’t want to but I had to start the level from scratch, as I could see no other way. If for whatever reasons you end up going back to a section with a previous checkpoint and you die, you re-spawn at that checkpoint. Losing all your hard earned progress. Yeah, I admit I had moments I had to put down my PS Vita or it would have been smashed into tiny pieces.
The controls for the most part are fairly responsive. You have no actual movement outside of state changes that, as stated earlier, only require four buttons. My only issue was not being able turn the analog sticks off. Due to how you hold the PS Vita you will end up accidentally hitting them at key moments. This will change your elemental form at the worst time. I don’t even understand why they used them at all when you can use the D-pad if you’re left handed.
As atmospheric and delightful the visuals are the gameplay and certain core mechanics lack the same kind of polish. This game has a very high level of entry, which will be attractive to some but not most. There are time trials and collectables if you wish to replay the game.
To conclude, Element4al will appeal to those who like almost impossible challenges that tend to get easier the more you play it over and over. It’s a game that tries to grab elements from previous popular games. Ultimately it fails upon execution when it comes to keeping game consistency by not sticking to it’s own rules. To quote an old adage, when it’s good, it’s very good but when it’s bad, it’s horrid.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation Vita code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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