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Clash of Elementalists - DSiWare Review

Game Info
Clash of Elementalists

DSiWare | Teyon / Amzy | 1-2 Players (local multiplayer) | Out Now | 500 Nintendo Points
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16th April 2013; By KnucklesSonic8

Cartoons featuring comic book heroes and the like often have at least one episode where the main character is just about incapacitated, due to poisoning, sleeping gas, an uncared-for injury or another impairment of some sort. It's an unwritten rule, really. Trying to spar with a well-trained minion under such a disadvantaged state always sees to a breakdown in refinement. Someone known for a signature move -- say, a mean leg sweep or roundhouse kick -- will now have to resort to other methods to not find themselves on the receiving end of unforeseen techniques. But they remain unfazed regardless of what might rightly be described as a losing battle. (I imagine the rarely-broken rule of not killing them off entirely gives them the security they need to pull through.)

    Clash of Elementalists might as well be in the same predicament, blindfolded and struggling to deliver in a reliable capacity -- only, there's no hope of it recovering back to its former strength, seeing as it was never top-game to begin with. Almost in a spirit of arrogance, the game adopts a similarly unfazed mindset towards the systems so clearly holding it down. The thing is, sitting from the sidelines will paint this picture of a strong contender armed with the right materials and flavour. But in truth, its spirit betrays its true nature -- a game severely undermined by its regressive battle system.

    Creating a forum for fierce one-on-one combat, Clash of Elementalists stars four manga-style warriors, each having a command over a different element: fire for Celsius, ice for Fahrenheit, rock for Mole, and thunder for Biot. While these play into their attack arsenal in different ways, all characters are powered by the same attack sources -- wide, normal and power. Through the game's Arcade Mode, you'll systematically take out your three rivals, culminating in a final confrontation against a doppelganger in the same likeness as your chosen character. It is not until seeing this progression to completion that you'll learn some minor background about what fuels each member of the cast. But these aren't characters you'll really get attached to anyway.

Fisticuffs take on face-to-face and long-range contexts both on the ground and in the air, with the latter plane being limited to a quick spurt before you're forced to land and reassume your previous stance. The four available arenas -- set in the sky on a ruined slab, atop a building with an overlooking nighttime cityscape, and elsewhere -- are completely open with no environmental hazards or obstacles to speak of, and with them being as flat as they are, battles really are no-holds-barred and require consistency in the attacks you unleash.

    Standard movement patterns involve the use of the D-Pad for movement, X Button to jump and Y to dash or strafe, while the shoulder buttons are your dedicated attack inputs -- L for wide, mid-range executions; R for a normal strike; and both L and R for a powerful blast, with an accompanying stall in movement. The frequency with which you can use a given move is limited to three gauges along the header of the Touch Screen, with the game adopting a cooldown system to encourage variation and strategy in how you string attacks together. Even just in the basic functions, some take on different forms up-close versus when they are executed from afar, and openings created through two-to-three-second recovery faints enable you to set yourself up for these penetrating moves.

    There is definitely a player progression that takes place the more you play -- as with most well-made fighting games -- and it is because of this factor that the game will be found really clunky in the initial stages. Advanced techniques are learned as you go, of course, with the B Button used as a small protection against attacks or to drop early from a mid-air leap. And too, the Y Button (the same used to dash) can add to your attack power in small doses (not the best configuration choice, mind). But this is only citing a few of the many tactics you can perform. Seeing how frenetic and unbreakable the action is leads to a quick conclusion that Clash of Elementalists has the makings of an intense fighter with a rapid, show-no-weakness pace. But then reality hits you.

Being built upon a system that presents opportunities for growth is positively another means by which the game lures in unsuspecting players, but it is this same system that seriously damns Clash of Elementalists to, not a temporary, but really an everlasting state of clunkiness. This is a case of not one culprit but really an entire whole being muddled and improperly handled. Battle mechanics are increasingly reliant on a lock-on system, which in itself isn't bad, but its mystifying properties are. The problems arise not when your opponent is in your direct line of sight -- during these phases, attacks are landed without a great deal of fuss. But no one remains in one designated spot, and it is when your rival's movements trail to the sides of or even off the screen entirely (as is the case 80% of the time) that your attacks must constantly be re-directed.

    Lost lock-ons are automatically reassigned when your rival is on-screen once more. To do so manually will require a lot of jumping, which has less to do with the lock-on mechanism and more the camera -- the most incomprehensible of all elements in the way that it's not very responsive to your movements. Encroaching on the game's dynamic, it's something that must be dealt with on such a regular basis that it interferes with your concentration on attacking. Camera inputs can be applied manually by holding the A Button and, once you've come to a halt, repeatedly pressing the D-Pad to re-adjust yourself. Wait... Read that again... Yes, players are expected to stop in the middle of all the crazy going-ons and the onslaught of attacks, just to change their frontal viewpoint. By the time you do this, your rival will already be out of your viewfinder (i.e., the Touch Screen)!

    This isn't, however, the main course of action required to be in a position you can actually attack from without sustaining damage yourself. That rests with the dash ability, which -- just to drive home the point -- involves leaping into mid-air, strafing in an arch, or making 90-degree angle turns. If you also press the shoulder buttons during these shifts, you can find a loophole of sorts to better manage the camera system. But even this still presents a headache-inducing lack of steadiness that can only be corrected through button-mashing, of all things. Clash of Elementalists tries to put out there that it's governed by a highly complex system, but the only way to make sense of things and to actually stand a chance when taking on Hard-level CPUs is through aimless, combined button presses. There's nothing natural or remotely intuitive about the camera being in so close conjunction to player movement, and besides just the upsetting limitations imposed by the position it is set to, its reluctance to change and adapt along with the player makes it incomprehensibly problematic.

To say that engaging with Clash of Elementalists is quite the undertaking wouldn't accurately cover the serious lack of co-operation and responsibility in the system's design. Yes, the models, settings and special effects, while lacking polish in many places, do contribute to a semi-thrilling atmosphere, and the sporadically electric soundtrack does convey a sense of aggression suitably. And too, the tame yet stylistic approach is one that will resonate with players who appreciate niche endeavours. But for all its charisma, these serious issues make the game borderline maniacal to come to grips with, and while it is still possible to defeat the most energetic of computers, all these demands of redirecting and repositioning are a strain, ultimately overloading the game with far too much sloppiness and far too little enthusiasm. The real shame is, again, that there are semblances of an acceptable system, but these characteristics are so far gone and the dynamic is so inconsistent against the sheer intensity of the affair.

    This late in the game, it's a pleasure to see localizations streaming in from Japan's online stores. If this paves the way for more, I'm all for it, and so with genuine appreciation, I wholeheartedly encourage Teyon to continue down this path. Nevertheless, Clash of Elementalists is a game where, once you've made the distinction between the high-energy air and what actually makes up the core of the experience, the flawed design and all that it is plagued by prove hard to shake off. What casts doubt on the formula in face of a believably hyper physical form is the messy fusion of gameplay mechanics, which ultimately create too much friction and no points of solace to provide ease in the face of these blunders. And it is due to what is very much an ineptitude on the game's part that the experience remains in a seriously shallow slump that isn't nearly as well-fortified as what it is made out to be.

13/30 - Very Poor

Gameplay 3/10 - Drastic camera and lock-on issues, direction has led to messy design, lacks consistency, clunky gameplay that doesn't come together well
Presentation 6/10 - Connects to the dynamic with its soundtrack and the nature of its visuals, special effects during attack phases, lacks polish in areas
Enjoyment 2/5 - Challenging AI, elements are out of touch due to flawed design, leads to aimless button-mashing, intense but dominated by frustration
Extra Content 2/5 - Arcade, Free Battle and Training, wireless play offered through Versus mode, no secular gameplay options

Equivalent to a score of 43% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System

Review by KnucklesSonic8

Clash of Elementalists
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