Sometimes, I need to play a game that’s on the calm side. As fun as driving cars at speeds approaching 200 MPH and shooting baddies with overpowered weapons is, I like to throw a quiet game into the rotation to mix things up. Lately, that’s been the oddly spelled but appropriately titled puzzle platformer Element4l.
Well, I call this a platformer but that’s a relative thing. It’s a momentum-based game that doesn’t really involve active running and jumping. You play as a character that can swap between four different elements, hence that 4 in the game’s title. It’s by swapping between the four different elements that you can navigate the environment.
Rather than going up, down, left and right using the arrow keys, you switch between elements. The four different elements in the game are air, stone, ice and fire. Air is like a jump and hover mechanic, stone drops you to the ground, ice slides you along the ground and fire propels you to the right. You need to swap between these elements to get through the levels to the end flag.
The unique element-swapping momentum-based platforming is both a blessing and curse. I love that i-illusions came up with something very different than your standard platform fare. The problem is that it’s so different that the learning curve is just massive. There’s a set of introductory levels that introduce the elements one by one but you don’t really figure out what the hell is going on until you get into playing the actual game.
Don’t get me wrong. I like the gameplay. It’s often closer to platformer than puzzle but you need to be able to think but quick and accurate reactions to the situation are the key to victory. That’s because screwing up will either cost you a ton of momentum which can occasionally be a bit of pain to build up or a ton of space because the game can occasionally have an unforgiving checkpoint system. I say “occasionally” because fortunately it’s only sometimes that you get sent back a long way for a checkpoint.
While the gameplay is an acquired taste, the graphics and sound are something that everyone will like. The best way I can think of describing the graphics is to say that it reminds me of Limbo if it was done in colour. Element4l has that animated graphics style that we saw in Limbo but has lovely splashes of colour throughout. The soundtrack is a lovely soothing score that makes me wish I could buy the soundtrack. The game is almost worth it for the audio and visual components alone.
One disappointing thing about this game is the lack of an options menu here. When you start-up the game, you get a launch menu that let’s you pick screen resolution and graphics detail. Your choices for graphics detail are low and high. On the one hand, I would have liked a bit more tailoring for the graphics settings but there’s not much you can really do with individual settings apart from texture and particle effects.
I feel as though whether or not you like Element4l is more up to personal taste than it is with most of the games that I review. Usually, I have a feeling if most people are going to like various gameplay or story elements but I’m just not sure about this one.
It’s a very pretty one but also very difficult. If excessive difficulty was a reason to give a game a low score, I would have given Hotline Miami a terrible score. The difference between this and Hotline Miami is that I often felt lost and frustrated playing Element4l rather than feeling as though it was something I was doing wrong. It’s nice to be challenged but challenged shouldn’t mean having to find a walkthrough to progress.
Element4l was played on Windows PC but is also available for Mac. Your impressions may differ based on your system specs.
Cross-posted from et geekera.