September 3, 2008 by Chuck Miller
A fantasy-themed puzzler, 4 Elements offers a magical mix of match-three, hidden object and spot-the-difference gameplay, nicely blended to provide an engaging, enchanted experience. The supernatural fairytale has been lovingly concocted with all the ingredients necessary to endear it to gamers. So, skip the review and buy it! Okay, don't skip the review. Read it first, and then scoop up your copy of 4 Elements.
As the tale unfolds, calamity has left an ancient kingdom in dire straits. The magic of the four elements, its lifeblood, has been corrupted by evil and its altars lie in ruin. To bring restoration, you must unlock four ancient books of magic and collect 16 mysterious cards. Only then will you be able to bring back the elements of earth, fire, air and water, and restore the kingdom to life. And, lest you think the task too great, you’re not alone. A diminutive yet powerful fairy will accompany you on the perilous journey.
4 Elements is primarily a match-three diversion, but capably blends in a dash of seek-and-find and scene-comparison gaming to add extra interest, and does so with some innovative twists. The four books that need to be unlocked contain four magic cards apiece that are revealed at the conclusion of four gem-matching levels each, a total of 16 levels per book and 64 for the entire game. Further, it’s all tightly woven together via an excellent storyline that’s actually engaging and well written.
As play begins, your initial task is to remove an evil spell to unlock the first book of magic (unlocking each book entails the same process). This requires a special key, revealed only once you’ve completed a prescribed object hunt. In a given scene, you’re required to locate four items piece-by-piece, assemble them, and use the objects to restore an altar. Once done, a key appears, the spell is broken and the gem-matching levels commence.
The majority of play in 4 Elements is contained within the game’s 64 match-three levels. As in traditional fashion, chains of at least three matching gems are required to remove them from the playing field. When you do, tiles beneath are cleared making a path for energy to flow on its way to an altar at the end of the level. Complete a level and you advance to the next. Of course, it’s not quite that straightforward.
As you progress, the task increases in difficulty. Extra tile layers are added under the gems that require multiple matches to clear. Also cast into the mix are frozen jewels, stones and unmovable blocks, as well as special game pieces that help clear the way. Four power-ups appear, too, as you advance through the earlier stages of the game, consisting of the Spade, Bomb, Swap and Reshuffle. The Spade clears a single tile, the Bomb explodes removing multiple game pieces, Swap changes the position of two adjoining gems and Reshuffle, well, reshuffles all game pieces. Creating matches of associated gem colors recharges each power-up.
As an added twist, as you create matches and energy flows, the playing field moves. Each map is quite large and scrolls along with the flow of energy. So, you’re actually creating paths as opposed to clearing the entire field of tiles. A handy Map feature lets you see exactly where you are in relation to the end-level altar.
After concluding each of four four-level segments, a magic card is revealed that you must restore by identifying several key differences between the original and its corrupted form, initiating 4 Elements’ spot-the-difference gameplay. Disparities can be subtle, but are usually not too difficult to identify. Fortunately, hints are available if you get stuck.
A treat to the eyes and ears, beautifully animated artwork, lush graphics and hauntingly ethereal music bring the game to life. It’s an indulgence to the senses as much as to the mind. The fantasy-based story, viewable any time, can be re-read from the pages of the books already completed. And, play, while not extraordinary, is highly addictive, making this one of those just-one-more-level diversions.
As 4 Elements is, overall, a well-designed and executed game, weaknesses in its spell-casting play are sparse. It could use an extra dose of object-hunting pleasure, as once every 16 levels is insufficient. Other than that, the only chinks in its armor are play that gets a bit repetitious (something a few more object hunts would help alleviate) and a scarcity of jewel colors and associated power-ups (just four of each). It would also benefit by the addition of a couple of challenge stages, match-three levels requiring you to clear all tiles.
When all’s said and done, however, 4 Elements is a pleasure from start to finish. Packed with hours of enjoyment, it will cast its spell over all who enter its world.
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