Friday, January 13, 2006

Elasto Mania Review

Elasto Mania, developed and published by Balazs Rozsa.
The Good: Unique puzzle gameplay, simple graphics are beneficial, tons of downloadable levels due to the level editor, split-screen multiplayer
The Not So Good: Slow pace and high difficulty may turn some off
What say you? A distinctive physics-based puzzle motorcycle game: 6/8

Before Speed Channel got its current NASCAR deal, they pretty much showed two kinds of racing: random sports cars and motorbikes. Motorbike racers are pretty nuts, hurtling around concrete tracks or dirt arenas at speeds not meant for man to attempt. Obviously, motorcycle racing is ripe for computer simulation, since most people don’t have the cash or the guts to try the real thing. Elasto Mania is a combination of motorcycles and puzzle gaming with realistic physics, challenging users to traverse gravity-defying levels by the seat of their pants.

The graphics in Elasto Mania are in simple 2-D, but this does not disappoint me. Elasto Mania is one of those games where 3-D cutting-edge graphics would work against the game, making it more difficult than necessary. Elasto Mania looks low-budget, but not sad low-budget like we’ve seen. They are simplistic but effective. The sound is almost non-existent: no music to speak of, and only a couple of motorcycle sounds to cut through the silence. Elasto Mania is certainly behind the curve in terms of graphics and sound, but you won’t care.

The goal of Elasto Mania is to pilot a motorcycle through the game’s 53 levels. Along the way, you must collect apples, avoid crashing (defined by your head touching the ground) and “kill” objects, and make it to the exit (a sunny flower, of course): very straightforward. Elasto Mania uses an accurate physics model, which models suspension and gravity with annoying realism. The game’s controls are simple, and just consist of accelerating, braking, flipping around, and leaning the bike forward or background in order to hit the ground at the desired angle. There is some inherent difficulty in controlling the bike because of two factors: rear wheel drive causes the bike to pitch up and the bike turns cannot be fine-tuned. Thus, it takes some practice to learn how to get the bike to do what you want. Half of the game is figuring out how to drive each of the levels, and the other half is successfully driving it. Elasto Mania is one of those games where it can frustrate you to the point of quitting, but you’re back five minutes later trying to master that level again.

Elasto Mania also has some cool features that puts it above and beyond comparable offerings. First, a level editor is available to make you own levels (providing you have beaten five levels); aspiring designers have taken a shining to the editor, making over 15,000 levels available for download across the Internet. While you’re progressing through the levels, you can skip up to five at a time (and go back and finish them later to free up a spot) to get beyond those couple of levels that are giving you problems. Elasto Mania also has split-screen multiplayer (something that has almost died in PC gaming) where you can play co-op, competitive, or tag. It’s nice to see that Elasto Mania has various components that you can enjoy once you complete the main game.

Elasto Mania is a simple but very effective idea: a physics-based motorcycle puzzle game. The game’s controls are simple to use, but the realistic physics require a bit of a learning curve to master and add to the overall difficulty of the game, which may discourage some gamers. The game is quite addictive despite its difficult nature, always calling you in to complete just one more level. And there will be a bounty of levels to play, because the included level editor has lead to over 15,000 user-made puzzles. Add in multiplayer and you’ve got a pretty complete and intriguing game, despite budget-level production values in the graphics and sound departments. Elasto Mania is certainly a memorable and unique experience with the right amount of difficulty and simple but addictive gameplay.