Bob would be a broken Pokemon character. At a moment’s notice, he can move from Wind to Ground to Fire and even Fighting elements. It’s not just for show: each of these elements gives him powers and – in one case – some snazzy-looking shades. The only downside is that no self-respecting Pokemon would be called Bob.
There’s only one thing to do if you’re an element-switching little goomba. You step into a puzzle-platformer of course, where each element is needed to traverse a single game-screen of traps and enemies. Bob’s mission? To get all of the elemental gems in a room, so that humanity can survive another day. We’re not entirely sure how those two things are connected, but we’re in.
Collecting all of the gems in a given level is a left-turn from most budget platformers we play on the Xbox. Most have you navigating to an exit. It gives Bob the Elementalist a slightly different flavour, which is partly refreshing and partly a nuisance. Grabbing every gem means exploring every corner of the screen. That’s not a problem until death hits: those gems return to their corners once you die, so you’re having to grab them all again. Most of the time it isn’t a problem, but when gems are in blocks that take an age to blast, for example, it can feel like your time is wasted.
What it does allow is for some nuanced puzzling. If you’re collecting all the gems, the conundrum quickly becomes ‘in what order do I collect them, and which do I leave till last?’. Because Bob the Elementalist knows what it’s got, and stashes gems in areas that will leave you stranded or, in worst cases, kill you. Those are the ones you should probably pick up last.
That aspect of the gem-hunting is great. We started mentally ordering the gems, working out a racing line between them. Because we died and restarted in equal measure, and there was no shame in that. Bob the Elementalist is a puzzle-platformer where death is the norm.
A note to potential indie devs, as it’s something that is becoming increasingly common: please, please let a player restart quickly. Even a couple of seconds of death animation or interfaces will stack up to become a ball-ache. Bob the Elementalist isn’t egregious in this area, but it’s still a few seconds between death and moving Bob about again.
Bob himself controls superbly well. For an unwieldy little gloop he’s surprisingly nimble, and there’s never any real issue with movement, latency or collision. The platforming clipboard has plenty of ticks running down it.
And then of course there’s the elemental potions, the concoctions that shift you into different Bobs. They are all transformatively different, which gets the brain whirring. Most of these potions are given dedicated levels, which is almost a shame: it’s only when you get to the last fifteen levels or so that more than one potion appears on a screen. This is when Bob the Elementalist feels most creatively untethered, and we’d have liked to see more of it. Maybe in a sequel.
Wind Bob can fly directly upwards, stopping only when he hits a ceiling (or enemy, natch). Then he drops, giving you a short window of time to nudge him to the side and – hopefully – onto a platform. Fire Bob is the shades-wearing beatnik, and he can wall-climb and wall-jump, as well as melt through ice platforms simply by standing on them. Ground Bob can plop down suspiciously poop-looking bricks: Fighting Bob can hadouken at enemies: and Ice Bob can turn enemies into floating glacial platforms.
As you might expect, they are all leveraged in different ways to create puzzles. Better, Bob the Elementalist is pretty good at this, creating puzzles that are skewed less to ‘how can I solve this?’ and more to ‘how am I going to pull this off?’. It’s an important distinction as Bob the Elementalist can be a bit of a precision platformer. It’s less for casual puzzle solvers and more for intense platform enthusiasts. But there is a splash of both.
The elements are double-edged. While they offer benefits that are necessary to complete the level, they also come with quirks that stop Bob the Elementalist short of the really big scores. Each one has a little footnote, a rough edge, that makes them annoying to use. They’re never so annoying as to be painful; but they do snag.
The Wind element needs to be perfect. Clip a platform with a pixel on the way up and you can plunge to your doom. You need a strong notion of how far you can glide sideways, too. The Fire Bob will wall-climb onto something you rather he didn’t wall climb on, and wall-climbing the ice blocks leads to all sorts of oddnesses and unwanted deaths. Fighting Bob has an annoying habit of punching platforms as he punches enemies, and there’s a large number of platforms that disappear if you do that.
Fighting Bob has the hidden gems in his level, as he can punch slightly cracked blocks to reveal them. These are the worst levels as a) it’s entirely possible to forget about hidden gems until the end of the level, when you grab the last gem and curse a block that you missed and b) they take an age to destroy. You can spend a minute clearing them all and then die to a spiky-hatted enemy. Now you’re doing it all over again.
But these are minor gripes in a game that has just enough entertainment and momentum to pass them by. The sixty levels on offer in Bob the Elementalist are generous, and the £4.99 price tag is even more so. We’ve put a note in the suggestion box for more than one element per level next time, and no more hidden gems to find, but we otherwise reached the end credits with a smile on our faces. Not bad for a few Bob.