Never in our iDevice gaming careers did we think we would see the message, ‘Too Much: I can only handle up to five fingers at the same time. Sorry.’
This was during a catastrophic black hole experience in Eliss, a game we would describe as a very un-relaxing action-puzzler, with gameplay that is both innovative and fascinating. It was almost as if our iDevice was personally apologizing to us. It’s alright little guy, we’re just trying–and failing–to stop a universe from ending. It’s not your fault.
Eliss puts players in control of a universe of chaos. The object is to match different colored planets with a corresponding “squessar”–a hole with stars around the edge, each a specific size and color, spawning at different times. Planets can can be moved, joined with other like-colored planets or split apart to match the corresponding shape of the appropriate squessar. But if different-colored planets touch, they will shrink, red waves will emanate from the collision, and damage the health of the universe, which is an unlabeled green bar at the top of the screen. Planets spawn continuously with a short warning to add to the difficulty. For example, when you are busy elsewhere, planets can spawn into other planets, collide, and quickly sap the strength of the universe.
After a squessar is filled, a supernova will occur, throwing out little triangles, or stardust, which can be collected to regain health. The level is complete after a certain number of supernovas is collected. The goal is set at the top of the screen, next to the health bar, also unlabeled. It just fills gray bars with the color of each supernova until it is full. It’s confusing and distracting, but thankfully each supernova is also tallied numerically as it occurs.
By the third level, a terrifying element is added–the aforementioned black hole. Cue appropriately terrifying sound. This hole starts to whirl all of the planets together, meaning you have to reach out to all of your planets–but remember, no more than five fingers!–to keep them separate while trying to avoid spawning planets, and doing other things… if you dare.
A word of warning, though. Off the title screen, the “how-to” provides little information through nine pages of vague instructions. Only after playing through the first level do you start to understand what is going on. While the design and concept of the bare-bones “how-to” section give style, they don’t exactly ease you into… well, anything at all.
The design and innovation of Eliss is unparalleled, and it is put together extremely well, though the number of times we’ve seen the words “Retry this sector” is astonishing and we haven’t progressed very far. It’s no walk in the park, and the progression of difficulty seems on par with an attempt at managing chaos. But that throws off the balance of the game, and an exciting but short-lived experience results.