Proudly boasted on Element4l’s Steam Store page is the claim that “Element4l is a challenge. The first time you play it, you will struggle… just like the first time you’ve learned how to ride a bike.” I’m not sure about anyone else, but I only learned how to ride a bike once–after I had learned, I didn’t need to learn again… anyway. Soon after booting it up I understood why the comparison was made. It took only thirteen minutes to have the first expletive gush from my gob, and it was not to be the last throughout this four hour experience of pretty colours, wonderful music, constant death and fickle puzzle manoeuvring that generated such genuine fun, satisfaction, despair and physical (and eventually emotional) exhaustion. Just like the first time I rode a bike.
Element4l (As in “elemental”, but with this trendy new thing where you replace letters with numbers that look similar and are slightly relevant to the title, in this case the letter “a” for the number “4”, since the game consists of four elements. I feel so hip.) is great. No ‘but’s, no ‘for an indie game I guess’s, and no ‘I’m only saying this because I’m getting paid’s about it. I’m also not getting paid, but that’s another matter to be discussed never (Matt: Hey, I give you the games!). The movement mechanic is simple as can be, with the four arrow keys (or WASD if you’d really prefer) each being used to convert your little entity into stone, fire, air or ice.
The goal (to reach the end of each level, duh) can be met by effectively managing these four elements and the environment to get your speed up, allowing you to smash through walls, land conveniently angled jumps and avoid various lava pits and radioactive no-go-zones that are out for blood. The puzzling is simply fun and constantly developing, with no gaming element being underused. While the ice element is always the go-to safety element since it doesn’t explode on contact with walls (that’s right, air and fire, I’m looking at you guys) and doesn’t affect momentum (yes, I mean all of you now. Even you, stone), the other three are all constantly being used. It’s disappointing to find a mechanic introduced in a game and then never really taken advantage of, so it’s a great relief to see no such neglected element.
The music of Element4l is phenomenal. I don’t know how else to express it but to just say it is awesome. I was and still am in awe of it. Ranging in tone from the soothing to the erratic, with some creepy voices interlaced in parts, there is enough of a variety to make the audio an actually enjoyable part of the game, rather than a passive complementing aspect of the game. Similarly, the sounds for your actual entity (I don’t know what to call it, it’s a cute smiley-face that is sometimes a block of ice and other times a falling ball of fire, so what can I do!?), i.e. the transition between elements and the various whooshing and sliding noises are of a great quality. It is not really a significant part of the game, but poorly recorded or implemented sounds are always noticeable and never preferable. Good job to the sound-department is what I’m trying to say.
So here’s the part where I find something I don’t like about the game and rip it apart… well… I… Honestly the biggest issue I have with Element4l is that silly letter-number swap in the name that I mentioned before. It isn’t like it’s the perfect game, but there’s just nothing wrong with it. Some puzzle sections demand some irritatingly precise timing, but the instant and unlimited respawns and constant checkpoints make even these worst parts at least somewhat comfortable. Ahh, there is something to complain about – the most troublesome of sections always seem to have checkpoints that are just a little bit too far back, before some tamer puzzle that soon becomes mundane when constantly failing on the next puzzle respawns you back before the former. I can’t help but feel that that doesn’t really count as a “flaw” though. Hmm…
For someone who doesn’t like casual puzzle games or cheery, bordering-on-corny humour delivered in basic pop-up text, Element4l would probably be torturous. If pleasing aesthetics, an artistic assortment of music, and simple yet interestingly varied gameplay that all work together to make the entire experience smooth and flow-y (yep, that’s a word. Now.) can’t convince you otherwise, feel free to look elsewhere for your gaming kicks. Loser. On the other hand, if you think you could handle the above features, are madly in love with ragequits and are afraid of greatly shocking surprises, this just might be the title for you.
I’ve just gotten myself a bit confused with the negative-positives and whatnot in the above paragraph. Just know that Element4l itself is better than its title.
Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of Element4l by i-illusions.