Element4l, from i-illusions, isn’t like anything you’ve ever played before. Each individual element of game-play might spark memories of another work, but its genre is beautifully beyond classification.
The title is a lovely mix of negative space and vibrant color. There is nothing complicated about the design and execution of this title, and its strength lies in its remarkably restrained and minimal design. I don’t usually enjoy drawing parallels, but Element4l uses negative space in a similar manner to LIMBO. The user interface is appropriately minimal, both in-game and in menus. Really great work here, loads of minimalist style.
The ambient effects are as minimal as its art design, it is as present as it needs to be, and supportive of the work in every way. Mind Tree has provided one of the best soundtracks in interactive entertainment, period. Phenomenal work top to bottom.
You guide, rather than control, the motion of a small mote of transformable matter. You influence the path of this mote via well-timed transitions between elements, properly utilizing the environment around you. The challenge arises when you have to make a series of several of these transitions right on top of each other, and do so with perfect timing. An additional wrinkle is that the transformation into any element save Ice depletes the energy of your mote, which regenerates at a much slower pace and narrows the number of possible actions by the player in any given situation.
For example, the Air variant of the mote will allow you to ascend very briefly, and then glide and descend lightly, when used in conjunction with the Fire variant, you get a quick burst of speed in one direction, and allows you invulnerability to fire-based environmental hazards and to bounce off said hazards. However, if you encounter any environmental hazard of a nature that doesn’t match your current state, you immediately burst and must restart the area. The transition to the Ice mote costs none of your energy, and gives you a relatively heavy element that glides smoothly along surfaces and allows you keep the momentum you’ve gained through utilization of other elements and the environment. Stone allows you to burst through certain barriers, and grants you a godly amount of downward momentum necessary to successfully negotiate many of the obstacles you’ll find in Element4l. It is the marriage of this incredibly simple game-play concept with clean, almost diabolically simple level design that makes Element4l truly memorable.
Game-play is remarkably clean. The dynamics are very simple, and while player-execution often slides into hectic, it’s never outrageous or unfair. Success in this game is incredibly satisfying, and failure is never explosively frustrating. I found in my experience with Element4l that frustration usually resulted from completely missing the actual solution and beating your head against a wall trying to do it a different and usually harder way.
The save system is particularly pleasant, with well thought out checkpoints and instantaneous loads. A mid-level quick save option would be a great addition. As it stands right now, leaving a level sets you back to the beginning upon reload, but as the levels are themselves broken up into relatively small chunks, this is less of a concern than it would be.
Element4l runs really well across a number of systems, and I have yet to see a glitch or hiccup in the visual or audio performance. Controller support isn’t quite as intuitive as it could be, but using the input config built into the launcher allowed me to get a gamepad up and running with about five minutes of effort.
Almost everything about this title shines. It’s a ball from start to finish, and the narrative is charmingly handled. It is truly more than the sum of its parts. The light fourth wall commentary of the ‘Narrator’ is worth a wry grin, and the satisfaction from successfully navigating a particularly insidious section of Element4l is up there with the greater joys of gaming.
This is an excellent title. It’s beautiful, it’s charming, it’s easy-to-grasp yet very challenging, and the minimalistic elements of graphical and audio design, coupled with a clever narrative, and a really potent wow-factor to the game-play, make this one of the hidden must-plays of the year. In short, Element4l is both brilliant fun and a remarkable step in the forward progress of the platforming genre.