Tower defence games are a genre that has fascinated me for a long, long time. I don’t get what makes them fun, yet history has proven, time after time, that their addictive power brings me back to them again and again.
And the Keeper Of Four Elements is no different. It’s addictive, fun, and offers a diverse range of level designs that mix up each stage to the extent that I wanted and was happy to come back again and again. And I don’t think the fact that things feel different can be understated: it would be so easy to simply rinse and repeat, having the same pattern or formula to expand the number of possible levels, but that hasn’t happened here, and the game is arguably better for it.
While that certainly isn’t a problem the game suffers from, I think the challenge presented by some of the different stages is. Think back to the days of the Atari 2600 and even early Nintendo titles, when games were hard so they could be long. They weren’t hard for the sake of it, but merely to extend the overall play time and, presumably, for developers to satisfy their bosses that they’d made an actual game worth paying for, not something 15 minutes long; this is exactly Four Elements’ problem.
To be clear, it isn’t the challenge I have a problem with – I actually found it refreshing to have a properly challenging tower defence game, where I actually had to think over strategy and what I was doing from one moment to the next. For me, the problem lies in the fact that there simply aren’t that many stages – something I noticed when first looking at the map – and that they don’t get repetitive. Often, tower defence titles do feel repetitive if there are a larger number of stages, because similar mechanics are reused. Here the problem is the opposite: there aren’t a large number of levels, so they don’t feel repetitive, but, to increase the overall play time, they have been made harder than is probably necessary.
However, my main problem with the game is the fact it doesn’t run well on the Vita at all. My game crashed twice, for reasons I couldn’t work out at either point. Additionally, at certain moments when lots of enemies appeared on screen I experienced a huge amount of lag. Not only was it incredibly frustrating, but it became impossible to build more towers or activate traps at these crucial moments, when one activation could spell success or failure.
Equally, it doesn’t seem to have been optimised for the Vita in a more traditional sense. Everything – as far as I can tell (the game does a tremendously bad job at telling you how to play) – is based purely on touch, with the face buttons and triggers being superfluous and essentially useless. In principle, I have no problem with this – if that’s the way that makes most sense, that’s the way I’m happy to play it. Rather, to me, it seems as though this was done out of either laziness or not properly understanding the Vita as a platform, and that it’s different from a PC web-browser game and should thus be designed differently from one. In fact, having briefly looked at the original web version, I can see very little difference in the outward facing portion of the game – of course, I’m sure the backend of things had to be changed to a much greater extent.
Speaking of which, I don’t understand why, if you simply wanted the tower defence experience, you’d play the game on Vita and pay for it, when it’s free on the internet. Of course, there’s something to be said for having this kind of game on the go, but I don’t think it’s good enough, or has enough to set it apart from the competition, to warrant the (albeit small) price tag.
Despite it’s fun, colourful visuals and entertaining blend of level designs, The Keeper Of Four Elements struggles to not simply fall into the trap of being another generic entry in a genre plagued with clones of the same game again and again. That’s not to say it isn’t fun – it really is – or that its easy, medium and hard difficulties drew me back again and again, but if you’re looking for something that spices up tower defence, look elsewhere. If, however, you want something fun, easy to dip in and out of, and that feels very much like comfort food, Four Elements should be a perfect fit. Equally, if you’re a newcomer to the genre, it’s a great place to get started.