Element4l from indie developer i-illusion is a platformer with a twist. The usual control scheme to move your character up, down, back and forth have been thrown out of the proverbial window, movement is now at gravity’s mercy! As you might have guessed from the game’s title there are 4 controllable elements: Air, Water, Earth and Fire and the goal of the game is to recover parts of a fragmented soul. Games like Element4l don’t usual have a strong storyline but this is so gameplay can take precedence and wow, it really is all about gameplay. There are 4 elemental states for the player to choose from, Air is a bubble, Water is ice, Earth is a rock and Fire is a fireball, each with their own unique abilities. The bubble can float or give a slight upward push, being ice allows the element to slide down hills, being a rock makes the element more susceptible to gravity (i.e. fall quicker) and break through thin surfaces and the fireball allows a quick burst towards the right. These states can be selected on-the-fly with a single press of a button and movement is achieved by combining these states successfully.
Confused? Let me give you an example. To move to the right simply turn into the fireball and burst to the right but before hitting the ground turn into ice to keep the momentum going then as an obstacle appears, turn into the bubble to go upwards and over it then either back into ice to keep sliding or fireball to gain more momentum. If immediately after the obstacle there is a slope it could be more advantageous to turn into the rock in midair in order to fall quicker then quickly back into ice to come flying down the makeshift ramp. Trouble is each element’s ability only has a small amount of energy which deplete rather quickly so the bubble can’t just float over everything or the fireball can’t just keep burst forwards towards to end of the level. Each element also have their own weaknesses. The bubble will burst if it comes into contact with any surface, the ice will melt if it touches lava just like water will kill the fireball and the rock is hard to move and can sink in pools. But at the same time, the bubble can take flight over vents of air, the ice if melted can fit through small gaps or float on top of water and the fireball can bounce off lava.
Sounds tricky? Yes it is! Element4l is NOT an easy game. Changing states have to be timed perfectly to the millisecond to traverse the tricky landscape but when (and it will come) you get a flow going – changing states and timing your jumps with maximum efficiency, you will feel like a gaming God! I got a real buzz from doing a level well however when you have a bad run here’s word of advice, put the game down and go get some air before you tear all your hair out. Element4l can become incredibly frustrating, the checkpoints can be very far apart and sometimes the path through the obstacles can be hard to see. Having said that though, Element4l always had me coming back, it wasn’t so difficult that you would want to uninstall it because you just knew the solution was only just a little bit out of your grasp or you can cheat and turn the difficulty down which increases the checkpoints and the elements regain their energies quicker.
Graphically Element4l has a very simple elegance. The landscapes are just silhouettes and the background are simple opaque pastel-ish gentle hues. There is also an ongoing inner monologue that appears onscreen, these can be funny, motivational or even insightful. The elements also all look their part, the bubble looks free, the ice is shiny, the rock looks solid and the fireball delightfully has a cheeky smile! The are four themed chapters each reflecting the elements. The individual levels take about 10 minutes to complete on average if you don’t die too much!
The music however I found is a mixed bag; the songs flow into each other but sound distinct. When the score is in “chill out” mode, all is fine because when you’re stressed out trying to get over a particular obstacle you would want the tunes to calm you down but then when the tempo speeds up to a near dubstep level it just becomes grating and stresses you out further! I would’ve preferred if i-illusion reflected their simple level design in the game’s soundtrack.
I really enjoyed playing Element4l, it has oodles of charm and poses a challenge to even the most hardened gamer. It is a refreshing take on platforming and totally unique.