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Review: Eliss

2:00 PM on 05.04.2009 // Brad Nicholson

I love it when developers “get it.” The iPhone isn’t a toy and shouldn’t be treated as such. I get grouchy whenever I play a title that uses an on-screen directional pad and buttons. I tend to get especially testy when developers choose to clutter the game with moronic and complicated controls.

Eliss’ controls are simple and as a result, the game is better than most available on the App Store. You touch and flick without obstruction -- no silly tilt functionality or on-screen shenanigans.

For that, I’m appreciative. But I have to say immediately that Eliss has a problem. It’s an ancient problem that has plagued mobile gaming for far too long.

Hit the break for the review.

Eliss (iPhone)
Seller: Steph Thirion
Released: March 6, 2009
MSRP: $3.99

[Editor's note: It appears that the update for "Eliss" is finally out. The patch allegedly makes the difficulty -- my greatest problem with the game -- much more manageable. I originally wrote this review over three weeks ago and waited for the patch to hit to see if it changed my perspective and experience. Towards the end of April I decided to go ahead and post this review since the patch still wasn't available, however, our review schedule became very busy. As a result, it wasn’t posted until today. As a commenter pointed out, this is extremely unfortunate timing and I'll definitely take another look at this title in the future.]

I have a problem with Eliss. I can see its splendor -- responsive touch-and-flick controls coupled with simple, yet compelling puzzle design -- but I can’t latch on to it. The game is simply too hard to enjoy. Every time I make the leap to the next level after countless attempts, I’m greeted with another preposterously rough level. Eliss isn’t Mega Man -- there is no trial and error or memorization. It’s just a frustrating game.

But let’s take a step back for a moment. Eliss is a 2D puzzle title set in space. The goal of the game is to drag a circle (a planet or star) into a similarly sized and colored gate (denoting a supernova or “squeesar” explosion) in order to clear it from the screen.

New circles of varying colors constantly appear on the screen. If two different colors meet -- a collision of sorts -- the health bar at the top of the screen quickly depletes. However, if two like-colored circles meet, they combine to make a bigger circle that will fit in a larger gate. You can also break down these larger circles by spreading two fingers while pressure is applied on the circle.

Each level requires a certain amount of circles to be cleared. The progression of these levels often brings in new obstructions as well, such as black holes, which suck spheres into inky darkness with an immense gravitational pull.

The game may sound confusing on paper, but it isn’t in practice. Within a few minutes -- without the help of the tutorial, which is awful -- you’ll quickly get into the flow of clicking and dragging spheres. The controls are where Eliss really shines. It’s a simple game that uses the platform’s touch screen in a natural, unobtrusive way. It’s flicking bliss, and I’m thankful for that.

The problems with the title quickly come about after the initial stages. The game gets quite hectic as new spheres pile onto the screen with little warning and a deadly speed that becomes entirely too frantic to follow with your fingers. Spheres will begin to spawn on top of other spheres, drawing down your precious health rapidly, ending the experience much too quickly for my tastes.

Even when I thought I “got” the level -- understood exactly what the developer was trying to get me to wrap my head around -- I still felt like everything was moving at an unneeded breakneck pace. The evidence is in my inability to pass level seven after hours and hours of play. The speed simply becomes unfair and the game’s brilliance quickly sputters when frustration steps in.

For what it’s worth, Eliss looks great. It has serious retro flair and a soundtrack that backs up its flavor. Unfortunately, the bonus items tend to break the vibe with their odd shapes and design.

I think Eliss is a prime example of an iPhone game that needs some tweaking, and inevitably, it will receive an update. But as of right now, you may want to avoid the title. It’s pretty and built with hands that are familiar with the limitations of the iPhone’s touch screen, but the frustrating difficulty will keep you from progressing and truly enjoying the title.

Score: 4 -- Below Average (4s have some high points, but they soon give way to glaring faults. Not the worst games, but are difficult to recommend.)

Brad Nicholson,
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