Many kids might crave the latest and greatest living room consoles and games, but Elementals: The Magic Key, a new hidden object game featuring heavy dashes of strategy and puzzle solving, proves that you need not spend a small fortune to find fun and engaging interactive entertainment for your children.
Featuring plenty of beautiful hand-drawn mystical environments and fantastical beasts, this game draws inspiration from books like The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter in its telling of a tale about young a boy enlisted at a magic academy who wakes up one day to find the school ransacked and his sister missing. With the help of a magical creature named Felly he begins exploring the building, soon discovering that some strange evil is afoot and that he must begin a quest for the shards of the Great Key of Eiron to set things right.
It's a compelling little story ideally suited for tweens and early teens (as well, perhaps, as adults with a bit of kid in them) made all the more interesting by the way in which the game's puzzles fit within the framework of its story.
Take, for example, the woods players visit when first leaving the academy. We immediately find an injured "forest baby" in need of help, so Felly tells us to begin searching for dewdrops, magical flowers, and golden leaves scattered around the area to create an herbal remedy-which, of course, initiates a hidden object puzzle. Once all items have been found, we place a cauldron atop a nearby fire, toss all of the ingredients into it, and create a potion that heals the forest baby.
But our job here has hardly begun.
In order to carry the baby to its father, the Forest Master, we must collect twigs-cue another hidden object puzzle-and then create a basket with our wand by drawing specific shapes on screen with the mouse. And when we pick up the baby it becomes apparent that our path is blocked, and that in order to clear it we'll need to complete a spot-the-differences-between-pictures puzzle.
The bulk of the game is composed of these pleasantly contextual conundrums and hidden object challenges. But there is another facet as well: strategy-based battles between elementals. Every so often an enemy-such as a golem, a worm, or a fire beast-will throw itself toward the center of the screen, sending players to a grid-like battlefield filled with elemental pawns.
Player pieces are lined up on one side while enemy pieces are on the other. Each turn consists of the movement of one piece plus an attack. It's very simple at first and not particularly challenging, but as the game progresses players learn new tactics, such as lining up three or more similar elementals in a row to cause them to turn into one or more higher-grade elements. And as time progresses we gain access to new elementals and spells that are charged during battle and can cause massive damage on enemy elementals.
These tactical elemental battles are no substitute for a good game of chess, but they are a welcome break from all of the searching and puzzle-solving done in the rest of the game. Plus, the mixture of magical creatures and strategy is just the sort of gaming experience that youngsters with a passion for fantasy trading card games love.
One thing the game lacks, unfortunately, is the ability to ramp up difficulty-which would have been nice, as it's pretty easy. Felly is constantly providing exhaustive instructions, our goals are always spelled out plainly in the top left corner, and a hint button gives away the exact location of the few items players might have a hard time finding during hidden object segments (what's more, this button can be used an unlimited number of times and takes just 20 or 30 seconds to recharge). Plus, you can simply skip any of the elemental battles whenever you like.
These extremely helpful aids will undeniably be appreciated by some players but might disappoint others who are looking for more of a challenge.
Another small gripe is that the game's interesting and well-penned dialogue moves along of its own accord. If players are slow readers or get distracted by something they may well miss some important plot points, which would be a shame.
Still, these are quibbles. Elementals: The Magic Key is a great little hidden object/puzzle/strategy game for kids, and just the sort of game that cash-strapped parents working through our troubled economy might want to consider instead of investing in pricey consoles and their $60 software.
- Beautiful hand-drawn fantasy art. Interesting narrative about a magic school and its pupils. Diverse selection of puzzles. Fun strategy-based elemental battles.
- Perhaps too easy for some players, thanks to an excess of aids. Worthwhile dialogue flashes along at its own pace (sometimes too fast), with no way to pause.