Version tested: PlayStation 3
With a hat collection of extreme repute, logic suggests Ellie would be the best reviewer for the job of critically eviscerating Elefunk. But then again, how many Sly and the Family Stone and Funkadelic records does Ms Gibson own, hmm? None, that's how many. Yow! Good god! Hit me! Etc. Anyway, an initial glance places this latest quirky PSN puzzle offering somewhere between PC indie hit Pontifex and the mortal chaos of Lemmings, with the idea to construct bridges strong enough to carry the weight of freewheeling elephants with scant regard for their safety. Their funk credentials remain unproven, however.
In what amounts to a prettified physics simulator, you start each of the 20 levels with a finite number of girders and the freedom to place them where you like around a skeletal support structure. Displayed in good old-fashioned 2D retrovision, the controls are similarly minimalist, with little more to figure out than selecting and rotating your chosen girder in increments of 90 degrees, and either placing it with X or removing it with triangle. Then later you might need to zoom in or out (by moving the right stick forward or back) as the environments become bigger and more complex. Once you've placed all the bits to your satisfaction and you're confident your bridge is ready, you press Start and watch in nail-biting anguish as elephants (and, sometimes, monkeys) march across, stopping occasionally to jump up and down to stress-test your creation.
More often than not, you're going to fail horribly. Painfully. Repeatedly. Bafflingly. With no in-game hints system to bail you out of your bridge-collapsing malaise, giving the animals the green light to march forth into certain doom is a necessary evil, with a purpose to expose the many weaknesses in your construction. Failure is all part of the process, and might seem unkind, but, being a jolly cartoon caper kind of affair, balloons spew forth from nowhere and spirit your elephants to safety. And because trial-and-error is an inherent part of the design, the game quickly returns you to the point you were at previously, and with the extra knowledge of the weaknesses you can get on with the business of shoring up your creation.
Eventually, of course, you'll figure out where best to allocate your resources and, at some point, it will all click and your hapless elephants will trumpety-trump safely to their destination. Later levels change the premise slightly, with other tasks layered on top and new materials like wood and rope to factor into the equation. Not only will you be required to figure out how to get your charges safely to the goal, but you may have to collect designated items en-route. Sometimes this forces you to make your ramps and bridges weaker so as to send elephants off at specific angles, or to ensure their momentum carries them at a desired velocity. Success is always a rather dark art, and there's room for experimentation as there's rarely one set way to complete a level.
And the more you start to become comfortable with Elefunk's non hand-holding approach, the more you appreciate it. You might even start competing on the worldwide online leaderboards for personal fame and glory. With a score 'timer' ticking down from 100,000, each piece you use from your inventory deducts points, and so, logically, the fewer pieces you use and the quicker you can build your bridge, the more points you'll end up with. It's a fun, well-thought-out byproduct that adds a subtle extra dimension for the hardcore. The rest of us will merely be happy to get past some of these levels at all - especially the larger later levels, which take an almighty amount of tinkering with before you get past them. 20 levels might not sound like much, but, trust me, you won't power through them quickly.
The super time-rich hardcore might even find themselves exploring the ever-changing demands of Time Attack mode. Although you might assume it's a chance to replay existing Puzzle levels as quickly as possible, the reality is a little more taxing because the pieces are entirely rejigged when you fail. As such, you could quite feasibly end up replaying the same level dozens of times before it all clicks into place. Is it worth it? Not really.
Local or online multiplayer is a tad throwaway, too, placing you in a Jenga-style turn-based scenario where the idea is to pull one girder away at a time without it toppling over. Playable as a one-off, or over a series of rounds, it's mildly stressful in an entertaining way for a few goes before its initial lustre wears off. Still, it's something I can imagine my two-year-old warming to in the near future.
And that's Elefunk: a cutesy bridge-building game with a surprisingly moreish appeal. 8bit Games' unassuming effort is yet another interesting addition to the PlayStation Network that anyone with a longing for patient puzzling will warm to, but one that comes with an unforgivingly steep learning curve. As we've come to expect from Sony, getting to grips with its unusual demands won't break the bank (it's just GBP 4.99), so if you're hankering after something satisfyingly different from the mainstream that doesn't resorting to being willfully obscure, this fits the bill.
7 / 10