Its commendable to see how many independently made games in the 2D side-scrolling, puzzle-platformer space are able to find that one unique game mechanic that differentiates itself amongst a sea of similar looking games. Developed by European studio I-Illusions, Element4L at first seems to fall in the same trappings. It’s rocking the same silhouette visuals that we’ve come to see in titles like Limbo, but still finds ways to engage you in its subtle use of colours. But what’s most surprisingly is its difficulty, and its probably one of the hardest games I’ve played in some time.
But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. As the name itself suggests, Element4L places you in the role of an entity that has the power to manipulate its shape into the four main elements, sans Milla Jovovich. You initially start off in the prologue as a tiny air bubble with a fairly noticeable face etched on it, whereas additional transformations will later be doled out to you one-by-one. What immediately becomes apparent is that, unlike most traditional platformers, your core means of transport are all mapped to the directions of your keyboard.
For instance, by pressing the “Up” direction, you’ll perform a jump as the Air bubble. If you press “down,” you’ll transform into a rocky boulder and careen towards the bottom. The remaining transformations, Ice (helps you slide along terrain much easier) and Fire (propels you in a forward direction), round off your arsenal. What this all essentially boils down to, is that in order to make it through any of the stages, you’ll quickly need to make effective use of the different transformations and learn to build the proper momentum while moving forward.
There are some limitations to this, however. Your transformations and abilities all consume a magic meter, which is encircled around your character. Change shapes one too many time, and you won’t be able to change again until the appropriate amount regenerates for you. In addition to that, some forms like the Air Bubble and the Fireball are very fragile. They’re also arguably the most important forms you’ll need to utilise if you’ll want to gain any sort of momentum or ascension in the game, and can take your common platforming sensibilities for a toss.
There are some ways around this difficulty curve. Checkpoints are strewn throughout the levels, and you can even enable hints. There’s even an option to enable for faster meter regeneration and even more checkpoints. One of the features I ended up appreciating more was the ability to play against ghosts in the Race Mode. I wasn’t exactly blazing in the leaderboards, but I found it informative to see how exactly are other players able to progress much quicker than me.
The overall flow from platform to platform reminds me a lot of Redlynx’s brilliant Trials series. I was never quite able to figure out the right kind of velocity or shape combos to nail a really narrow pathway, and more often than not, I would just spaz out and retreat back to a previous checkpoint. The margin for error is quite low, and its nothing you can simply power your way through. You’ll need good concentration, patience and quick reflexes… less you start rage-quitting like I did.
The soundtrack is rather well-done, as is the general presentation. Interestingly, you’ll have these moments of worded-narration sprinkled at numerous locations, often giving you tips, complimenting your progress or making some pop-culture references. If I had one complaint about any of the above, it’s that the track selection can be a bit distracting. There were times I felt the music playing didn’t match the tone at which I was playing, and was kinda out of place.
If it hasn’t become apparent enough, I’m terrible at Elements4L. There were times I would immediately quit after trying for upwards 30 minutes on a single stage. Does being a difficult game make it a bad one? Not necessarily. Once I was able to get over my obstacles, it felt pretty darn good. For those who are looking to persevere, Elements4L will certainly challenge you and then some.
This game was reviewed on the MAC.