PSN Review: 4 Elements HD



A high-def reworking of the PC puzzle game, 4 Elements HD takes the familiar ‘match three’ gameplay of Bejewelled, sprinkles in some unique design twists and filters it all through a Lord of the Rings style fantasy setting. As the story goes, a once lush and prosperous kingdom has been sapped of all its life by evil forces, leaving the land a barren husk. With the aid of a helpful fairy, you’ll have to harness the elements themselves to help life bloom in the kingdom once again and restore hope and joy to the people. Which you’ll do by matching up coloured stones, naturally.

It’s not the average ‘match three’ puzzle game that starts off by crafting a narrative with an opening crawl of lofty exposition, but that’s exactly how 4 Elements HD begins. And while it’s not an especially complex tale, and quickly vanishes again for most of the game, the fantasy flair helps set 4 Elements apart from a very crowded pack, and paves the way for some engaging and more original gameplay mechanics.
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Instead of simply matching coloured jewels for the high score, here there’s a concrete floor under the gemstones and the aim of the game is to divert power from the start of the level to the end by cracking a path in the concrete to let the elements pour through, restoring life to the land. Each successful colour match-up will break the brick underneath those gems, clearing a space and widening the path of water. To make things even more interesting, you’re equipped with special skills which power up with each combo. There’s a spade power, used to crack a single square of brick, the bomb skill, which explodes a section of jewels to give you a potentially better selection to match, the swap move lets you trade a single gem for another on the board – handy for those times when a major combo is missing one link in the chain – and the shuffle power rejigs the entire gem layout on the board.

Making things more complicated, there’s other tricks and traps to impede your progress along the way. Rock barriers crop up and can only be removed by arrows, meaning you’ll have to guide the magic element to a handily-placed crossbow to activate it, firing a bolt and clearing the block. Gems frozen in ice take a couple of combo shots to crack or need bombing free, and some barriers need cracking with your shovel. As the game presses on, you’ll need to use all the tools in your arsenal and quick-thinking reflexes to clear a path to the end in time. It’s great fun once you get a handle on the skills at your disposal, and it all amounts to a match three puzzler that’s more complex and original than the average game.
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But while the goal-orientated race-to-the finish mechanic certainly sets 4 Elements HD apart from the pack, it’s also to the game’s detriment in a way. Though there’s a high score and extensive leaderboards, the nature of the game itself dissuades you from going after high combos. While you can string together epic, serpentine selections of coloured gems, resulting in a more powerful explosion of force when they explode the bigger they are, the quickly depleting timer means there’s really no time to stick around and have fun lining up the biggest possible chain reaction. The viewpoint also stays fixed on the power element’s current position, meaning even though you can see combos to be had just out of your reach, you can’t move the camera to snag them, and it often lurches your view away from lines you’re queueing up to follow the flow of water. It does add a challenge in and of itself as you’re forced to weigh the risk of scoring combos with the quickly vanishing time left to reach the end, but the game’s structure means that combo-scoring isn’t as fun as it should be and the game’s never as eminently addictive as other, more simple match three puzzlers like Bejewelled.

Also unfortunate is the general lack of variety on display; there’s plenty of enjoyment to be found, but once you’ve unlocked all the skills, there’s not much more that’s different throughout the numerous levels aside from slight changes in colour and layout. There’s an added ‘upgrade your castle’ extra, but it’s little more than a glorified interactive dress-up picture, and serves to highlight that 4 Elements HD could really use some more substantial extra game modes. Move Support is bundled in and works fine, but isn’t a great alternative to the more fluid and comfortable regular controller.
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In an age where match three puzzle games are abundant, free-to-play and easily found on every corner of the internet, those that charge for the experience need to go the extra mile to entire prospective players. 4 Elements HD certainly has a lot of fun, engaging gameplay to offer, while the fantasy flavour and unique design ideas mean it’s a nice change of pace from the average dime-a-dozen ‘match three’ game. But sadly it’s plagued by a lack of variety and never manages to be as immediately or inherantly addictive as similar games with more simple gameplay and aspirations like Bejewelled. It’s a fun game, just not an especially great or essential one.

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4 Elements HD is available to buy on PlayStation Network now.