Element4l is a 2D indie platformer developed by I-Illusions, which has a strong emphasis on flow and smooth gameplay. The developers try to put a unique spin on their game by incorporating the four main elements: air, fire, earth and water (ice). While it does manage to give the platforming genre a fresh take, it’s overshadowed by what it doesn’t do.
The main issue is that the game is simply not that interesting; there’s no story, aside from the interjection of quotes that I’m assuming made the developers feel clever. The graphics are incredibly bland, and after the first few levels there’s hardly any sort of progression.
There’s virtually no context given in Element4l, other than initially finding the four elements and then using them to collect Soulparts. Each chapter ends with the creation of the heart, mind, willpower and imagination, in that order respectively, but beyond that, nothing is ever really explained. At the end of the game, two Pac-Man type ghosts appear, so it’s possible they’re what the player was creating with the Soulparts.
When it comes to visual aspects in indie games, there’s generally a lot of room for forgiveness, but the aesthetics in Element4l feel over simplified, repetitive and boring. Most of the backgrounds are just black shapes, or simple rock formations that look like they could have been drawn by a grade school student. The elements are a circle, square, rock and a fireball with two eyes and a smile. The amount of visual effort put into this game couldn’t have been much less.
The actual gameplay, and transition between elements, is particularly smooth. This allows the game to be good simply for the sake of being a platformer with tight controls, but with so many of these types of games coming out there has to be something to set them apart from each other. Element4l does this by removing the generic running and jumping part of the game. Instead, players have to use terrain and physics to propel their elements forward. Air moves the element up, earth goes down, ice slides and fire jumps to the right and bounces off lava coated walls.
This is a great hook to get people initially interested in the game, but the level design creativity and progression pretty much halt after the second chapter. Very few new obstacles are introduced. Instead, the initial ones are reused and just made more difficult; this makes the learning curve in Element4l very steep and unrewarding. Because obstacles that were relatively easy in the first couple of levels are just lengthened or increased in difficulty, it’s very possible to understand exactly how to complete them, while failing 50+ times at a single checkpoint due to a .5 second timing error or a single misclick. This induces frustration that can only be found in similar games such as I Wanna Be The Guy or Super Meat Boy, with the latter title being a much more polished example.
Upon completion of each stage, a Race Mode is unlocked, and it allows players to compete against each other using a “ghost.” The ghost runs the route of the next fastest player and allows you to race against them for a better time on the leaderboard.
The best part of Element4l is the beautiful soundtrack composed by MindTree. They put together a very nice electronic score that fits the earthly theme of the game. As an added bonus to buying the game, the soundtrack is also available to be downloaded in MP3 form.
Overall, it’s hard to recommend this one. There is some uniqueness to it and I get what the developers were trying to do, but the game lacks too much polish and becomes tired and recycled after a while, leading to a gaming experience that is more frustrating than it is enjoyable.
This review is based on the PC version of the game, which was provided to us.