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Eric Heimburg
P.S. Your desktop theme is a travesty

Elemental

Puzzle game thatís sort of a cross between Tetris and Polarium. Very nice polish level, but limited to 640x480.


Overview

Pieces move up from the bottom of the screen, and if they reach the top, you lose. The pieces come in two colors and you can swap them between these two states by clicking on them. Match four in a row and they disappear. Things get more interesting because you can select multiple pieces at once (up to five), and swap their colors all at once. This sets up the potential for combos.

As the game progresses, it starts to penalize you for small moves by dropping little "penalty pieces" on the board if you flip only one tile at a time. (And later, you get penalty pieces for flipping only two at a time.) These clock-shaped penalty pieces cannot be used; they just take up space for a while until eventually they become normal game pieces.

If there arenít enough pieces on the board to make a match and you donít want to wait, you can press a button at the bottom of the screen to push more blocks up on the screen. However, this button overlaps onto the game screen, and is a bit in the way of regular gameplay.

In addition to the obvious things like combos and chains, thereís a "Balance" bonus if you make matches of alternating colors. (Because youíre "balancing" the forces of nature.) This is never explained, though; itís just a depth feature for advanced players to notice and figure out.

You might expect the elements to play some part in a game called "Elemental", but you would be misled. The elements are merely colorful backdrops for the game and never affect gameplay.

Though the game boasts exciting-sounding two player networked action, it doesn't actually work. At least not at the time I analyzed it... the screenshots have more info.

Fun Factor: Entertaining. It gets you into ďthe zoneĒ very quickly and keeps you there.
Pacing: Pretty good. Itís actually a decent bit tougher than the average casual game.
Story: None

User Interface

Simple, pretty. All screens have some animation, which is very nice. It makes the game feel polished even in areas where it isn't. And the fact is that the "animation" involved is just streaks that fly by. It shows how simple an effective animation can be.

Menus: Menus are simple and pretty. I especially like the sound effects made by GUI buttons; they make chiming noises, and itís almost as if youíre playing a song by mousing through the menus.
Pre-Game Instructions: An animated page of explanation at the beginning of first game
In-Game Tutorial: Step-by-step in-game tutorial for first level
Other Instructions: Yes. You can re-access the pre-game instructions from the Options screen, and if you do, you have access to a second page of information about in-game powerups.
Save Game: No, but remembers highest level beaten in Classic mode (so it saves level but not game)
Player Profiles: Typical
Alt+Tab Works: Yes
Alt+Enter Works: No
Lefty Swapped Mouse: Yes

Art

Great art direction. Looks great for a 640x480 game.Uses very simple art with pretty light effects to give it vibrance and movement. Occasional obvious jaggies do show up, owing to the low resolution, and they really should have used a specialized cursor -- the hardware cursor is HUGE and very jaggy in 640x480.

Backgrounds: The backgrounds are always dynamic. There are, however, only four different backgrounds (one for each element, more or less). They work great, have lots of animation (swaying tree shadows, flowing waterfalls, etc.), and they have nice ambient noises.
Game Pieces: The game pieces are very simple 2D pieces. They are well drawn, though.
Fonts: Stock, easy to read fonts with a ďfluidĒ feel. One of the fonts has a Photoshop-enhanced texture.

Sound

Good use of a small number of sound resources.

Music: Thereís not a lot of music here, but the two tracks sound good. They are kept from getting monotonous with ambient noise loops that play in the background.
Sound Effects: The sound effects are great. Even the loud boom of the dropping blocks seems to be appropriate, somehow.

Technical

Resolution (Windowed): 640x480
Resolution (Full Screen): 640x480
Quality Settings: Thereís a ďBackgroundsĒ checkbox. Turn this off and the background animation is completely disabled, becoming a bland (and blurry) static image.
Cursors: Hardware cursor only. It looks big and jaggy in 640x480, too.
Engine: Unknown. Uses .OGG files for sound but doesnít credit a library. No sound-engine DLLs are present. Uses PNGs for transparent things; JPGs and TGAs for the rest. Directory has no packed data file, just a whole bunch of small files. This is interesting because there are several files in there that clearly shouldnít be, such as a batch file the devs used to generate sprites, plus some sound effects that arenít used in game.
Size Downloaded: 10.9 MB
Size Installed: 28.2 MB
System Requirements: Windows 98/SE/ME/2000/XP
Pentium III 500
64 MB RAM
128 MB free HD space (weird)
OpenGL or DirectX Compatible 3D Graphics Accelerator (OpenGL?)
DirectX compatible Soundcard

Miscellaneous

Developer: Gastronaut Studios
Publisher:
Distributer: Oberon Games (as of this writing, in "Soft Release", which is apparently code for "networked play doesn't work")
Year Published: 2006
Credits In Game: Yes, but only if you beat the game. (I assume. I found them in the strings.xml file; never saw them in-game)

Links and Reviews

Credits

Programming and Design:
Jacob Van Wingen
Don Wurster

Art:
Misael Armendariz

Sound and Music:
Make Caviezel

For Oberon Media:

Executive Producer:
David Nixon

Producer:
Robert Adams

Screen Shots


Loading screen. It animates into place while starting up, and has nice background music. However, note that a full-screen "Oberon Games" logo shows up before this screen for several seconds and canít be skipped. During that time I guess itís loading the main loading screen... or maybe itís just wasting our time.


The main menu. The pieces slide into place when this screen is first shown. Little bubble things go by constantly, keeping the scene from being static.


Options Screen. Same bubbles go by from the main menu screen.


Screen you see at beginning of first game (or if you click "Instructions" from Options screen). This screen animates and is fairly nice, teaching you all you need to know, assuming you are patient enough to watch. Thereís no "Donít Show This Again" checkbox; it just stops showing it to you once youíve beaten a level.


Initial level. It has a little interactive tutorial built into it. The tutorial is always there, even if you later go back to level 1-1 to replay it. See that little empty tube on the right side of the screen? I have to fill that by blowing up blocks. (Then I can leave the level by clearing bricks to a certain line level that the game shows me.) The meter is pretty hard to see in-game, so itís good that itís not actually important.


Screen shown at the end of each level


Gameplay from a later level. Iíve selected five pieces and am about to release the mouse button, flipping all five of these tiles. The result will match lots of green pieces, including that little bomb piece, which explodes in a fairly mute fashion. (All the power-ups are pretty subdued in this game.)


The same level. Iíve made a big shattering combo, and floaties are appearing.


Iíve made another move, and as my pieces are exploding, this big block falls from the sky. Why does it fall? I do not know. Anyway, it obscures the board until I clear all the pieces under it, causing it to go away. Also note in this screenshot that I was about to lose Ė there are pieces up to the top of the screen. But this combo cleared some away and I didnít lose.


One more level. I guess this is "air" element. Clouds roll by.


The Pause screen. The background from whatever level youíre on continues to play and animate.


The Game Over screen. Pressing "Try Again" lets me retry this level.


I chose "Online" from the main menu and Iím trying to create an account. I can tell this is an embedded web page because I hear the IE "click" sound of pages loading. The error message appears because my original name choice was already taken. Nice use of operator== in an error message.


Oh, too bad. Itís broken. This screen would have been infuriating if I was in full-screen mode and didnít know I was in a browser window, because thereís no way out! However, Alt+Left Arrow got me out of there, and back to the signup screen. Iím going to have to say the online play part of the game is ... less polished than the rest of the game.


I went to the account management screen, and am creating a new account.


The second page of the instructions. This page is only accessible from the "Instructions" button on the "Options" screen.


This is the "choose a level" screen, shown between levels, and at the beginning of the game (assuming youíve beaten a level already).


The big blobby things on the "choose a level" map correspond to optional Boss Battles. Here the computer plays against me directly.


High Score screen


Popup tip in Challenge Mode. This mode is non-stop; the pieces and background just change automatically as you play. It doesnít start out very hard, though, so it takes a good while to complete a game of Challenge Mode.


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