Overall Score 90%
Alchemy. It was considered a fool's dream; the quests to master the elixir of life, or to transmute lead into gold, have long since been dismissed as impossible. But just imagine, if you will, that they were not - that, were we to interact with individual particles, we could purify the elements and gain mastery over matter. Many have given up, claiming the task too difficult, but perhaps a determined young alchemist like you or me could succeed where they have not.
Elementum is a puzzler of a different breed. In traditional fashion, we complete a level by eliminating all the particles within it (bar one - your paddle always holds a particle of some kind) and we do this by matching three or more of the same type. There's a catch, however - you can only position your particles by firing them into the centre of the screen - and, as the law of the conservation of momentum observes, a particle will not stop unless it hits another particle, in turn propelling that particle out of the play area. Particles must not escape - each level has only a limited number of spare particles with which to replace them - so escaping particles need to be caught by your paddle. You have a trick up your sleeve, however - you can use your supply of spares to fire a "magnetic" particle. This will collide with another particle and then "stick" to it rather than throwing it out of position.
As you solve each level you'll encounter new objects, like the steel spheres that cannot be matched, the barriers that bounce particles, the colour changing gates that only allow particles through of the same colour, the cannons that fire out particles for you to catch... and more besides. I'm only part of the way through the game and there's plenty more for me to see! The basics are easy to learn but learning the strategies that allow you to win will take a little longer. One Thing Studios have aimed to make Elementum a little more challenging than your standard casual game, and they've certainly come up with something to make you think!
Controls are almost entirely mouse (a few keyboard controls, such as Escape to bring up the ingame menu, are used) and the tutorial level quickly introduces the basics - move the paddle with the mouse, then hold down the left button (regular shot) or right button (magnetic particle) and aim with the crosshair. Release to launch! Be sure to catch any particles ejected from the puzzle. This unusual interface is not unique - Cornutopia Software operate a similar system in their Future Snooker / Future Pool games - but it will be new to many players.
I have to say - this is a good looking game. The overarching theme resembles a sleek clockwork engine, with loading screens animated as locking and unlocking cogs and wheels. Particles are brightly coloured spheres that bob and bounce around with graceful ease. The map through which one selects levels is very stylish - each set of levels unfurls as a miniature galaxy of lights. Sound is professional and detailed, with a range of sound effects and a range of delightful background music. The level of attention to detail with both graphics and sound is immense. There's a full screen/windowed option and the volume for music and sound effects can be individually adjusted.
I've already mentioned the simple controls. I haven't mentioned the way particles fall into set positions, so they "tile" rather than randomly flop about the place (I suspect this game would be nigh impossible if they did). While there is a timer in play, for most of the time it counts *up* - you can take your time and use as many moves as you wish in your quest, and your time is only relevant with regards to score and setting records. Mouse sensitivity can be adjusted as needed, though I found the default setting quite well balanced. There are options to go back up to six moves if you have an "oops" moment, replay the level as often as needed and you also have a limited number of "skips" - if you get stuck on a level, you can skip ahead to the next one. Skips are regained when you revisit skipped levels and complete them. This alone is a brilliant touch! Your game is automatically saved and multiple profiles are supported.
Puzzles grow in complexity and introduce new items gradually, so early levels will become steadily more challenging over time. You aren't just matching particles - there are a few minigames that also appear, such as catching particles fired from a randomly rotating cannon (a particle gun?) or bouncing a particle off lamps to light them all. Complete the last level of each set to purify one of the elements (the four classical elements, and five metals) and there are awards for doing so without skipping levels, as well as awards for combinations of matchings and the "Icarus shot" - keeping a shot in play for ten seconds or more.
The developers state that they have tested this game half to death - and it shows. Polished, smooth, I've encountered not a single hiccup throughout my play time. Elementum has been tested on a variety of platforms and seems to have succeeded on all of them! It is rare that I cannot think of a single thing that could be fixed in a game. Well done! If Elementum has anything going against it, its target market is most likely - this game's a bit tougher than most casual games, without needing the high speed reflexes of more hardcore offerings. Will this middle of the road approach attract gamers or put them off? I hope the former!
Elementum is a professional and well-crafted game which has clearly been given a huge amount of time and attention. Simple to operate but soon quite tricky to master, it's also unique enough to stand out. If you're fed up with the typical match-3 clones, this is definitely worth a look.
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