Digital media designer Steph Thirion may be more artist than coder.  He has won awards for "best experimental website," told beautiful stories with interactive type, created a workshop that challenged people to get creative with code--without any knowledge of programming, and generated artistic 3D data visualization cityscapes.  His latest project, a multitouch iPhone game called Eliss [App Store], is no less impressive.

Eliss is a finalist in this year's Independent Games Festival mobile division, up for the Innovation in Mobile Game Design award--and it's no wonder.  Simply stated, Eliss perfectly demonstrates what iPhone gaming can be.  It's a highly challenging game that's near impossible to put down and it could not exist on any other platform.

As the author describes it,

Your job is to keep up harmony in an odd universe made of blendable planets. Touch-control multiple planets at once, join them together into giant orbs or split them up into countless dwarf planets, and match their size with the squeesars. Wipe off the stardust, resist to the attraction of the vortex and other space phenomena, and slow down the passage of time. Each of the 20 levels will require creative ways and strategies in using your fingers. Warm up your hands, you’re up for some serious finger gymnastics in the bizarro galaxy.

As soon as the app launches, Thirion sets the stage for challenge in a world of simplicity.  "Pure" is a word that springs to mind.  The sparse vector text start menu puts little between app launch and gameplay.  And these past weeks I've appreciate that, given how often I've been tapping that little pink and white icon.

The universe that Eliss presents is a place of entropy.  The game challenges the player--in mind and body--to apply order to this universe.  Into this dark void spring planets of varying size and color.  Like colored planets can be combined to make a larger planet (pinch) or pulled apart to create smaller planets (spread).  The goal of the game is to eliminate the planets by dragging them into the "squeezars" (think black...err...multicolored holes) of matching size and color that blink in and out of the universe.  After a set number of planets have been eliminated it's on to the next level.  And the most important thing to remember?  Don't let planets of different colors touch!  Failure to heed that warning will result in a rapid drain of energy levels and a chance to see the Game Over screen.

Making the task harder are the space vortexes that draw planets towards them (and one another) as well as a red giant star that meanders its way in and out of the playfield, draining energy on contact with any planet.  Happily, all is not set against the player in this universe.  When a planet is dragged into a squeezar, as it goes supernova and blinks out of existence, stardust briefly dances about the screen and can be swiped to recover lost energy.  A powerup that slows down time for a period, as well as one that restores energy, cross the playfield periodically, as well.

I've been playing the final release of Eliss since its launch and a pre-releaese beta for weeks before that in connection with the IGF awards competition, and the longer I play it the more impressed I am with just how perfect this game is for the iPhone platform.  There's no game in the App Store that uses multitouch so fully.  I've found myself laying my iPhone flat on a table and struggling to keep the planets away from each other and that cursed, wandering red giant with as many as five fingers on the screen at once.  (Twister for the mind, perhaps?)  Show me that on a DS or a PSP!  That kind of gameplay is truly a new experience.

With its simple, basic graphics and dreamy, playful soundtrack, Eliss puts its unique gameplay at front and center.  It requires serious concentration (as well as finger dexterity) and, as a result, draws the player in much deeper than the typical puzzle game.  If you've got 10 fingers and a mind that multitasks, Eliss is not to be missed.

See the developer's gameplay video for a closer look.

Game Details
Name: Eliss (v1.0) Price: $3.99 [Buy]
Developer: Steph Thirion
Size: 15.0 MB
Device: Tested on iPhone 3G
Eliss is a unique puzzle game that makes extensive use of the iPhone's multitouch screen and is extremely hard to put down.  This game could exist for no other platform and is not to be missed.

TouchArcade Rating

  • http://www.blakespot.com Blake Patterson

    Somehow I love that this game is not anti-aliased. I guess it's the retro lover in me. Superb game.

  • http://www.blakespot.com Blake Patterson

    Somehow I love that this game is not anti-aliased. I guess it's the retro lover in me. Superb game.

  • Adams Immersive

    Pretty neat. Reminds me of some of the old multitouch table demos (pre-Microsoft) that looked like such fun to play with.

  • Adams Immersive

    Pretty neat. Reminds me of some of the old multitouch table demos (pre-Microsoft) that looked like such fun to play with.

  • dcescott

    Bought it upon the embedded youtube video. I owned a Vetrex at one time, it reminds me of those type of graphics, except in color. It looks like a winner to me! Support the Indy devs!

  • dcescott

    Bought it upon the embedded youtube video. I owned a Vetrex at one time, it reminds me of those type of graphics, except in color. It looks like a winner to me! Support the Indy devs!

  • http://www.blakespot.com Blake Patterson

    Something about the music and presentation reminds me a little bit of Everyday Shooter (X360 and...maybe PS3?) -- but it's a rather different game. Just slightly, I guess - in spirit, maybe?

  • http://www.blakespot.com Blake Patterson

    Something about the music and presentation reminds me a little bit of Everyday Shooter (X360 and...maybe PS3?) -- but it's a rather different game. Just slightly, I guess - in spirit, maybe?

  • spiffyone

    If the video of the gameplay didn't sell me, if Blake's praise didn't sell me, then those links to the developer's art certainly did. Particularly the links to the breakout game mod (which led me to the link for the Processing programming language) and the link to Dehors i Dedans (the developer's story told through interactive type). Great stuff, and I'm putting this on my "buy soon" list.

  • spiffyone

    If the video of the gameplay didn't sell me, if Blake's praise didn't sell me, then those links to the developer's art certainly did. Particularly the links to the breakout game mod (which led me to the link for the Processing programming language) and the link to Dehors i Dedans (the developer's story told through interactive type). Great stuff, and I'm putting this on my "buy soon" list.

  • http://trsp.net Steph Thirion

    Hi all.

    Thanks so much for the review Blake. Eliss been a long and complex project, it's simply thrilling to receive such praise. You have stated the most important reason I got into iphone gaming: the iphone/ipod touch platform has unique characteristics, and allows interactions and designs that would be impossible on other platforms.

    It's also very cool to get my previous projects revisited, and to see the love for aliasing lives on.

  • http://trsp.net Steph Thirion

    Hi all.

    Thanks so much for the review Blake. Eliss been a long and complex project, it's simply thrilling to receive such praise. You have stated the most important reason I got into iphone gaming: the iphone/ipod touch platform has unique characteristics, and allows interactions and designs that would be impossible on other platforms.

    It's also very cool to get my previous projects revisited, and to see the love for aliasing lives on.

  • http://www.blakespot.com Blake Patterson

    Thank you for commenting Steph. It's so nice to have so many devs interacting with readers here on the site. Wonderful game, hats off.

  • http://www.blakespot.com Blake Patterson

    Thank you for commenting Steph. It's so nice to have so many devs interacting with readers here on the site. Wonderful game, hats off.

  • dunkee

    Inspired by Pinch 'n' Pop? (Though this one has way better gameplay)

  • http://deleted dunkee

    Inspired by Pinch 'n' Pop? (Though this one has way better gameplay)

  • Anduril_ukr

    well, just took the plunge and bought it . . . its downloading now.

  • Anduril_ukr

    well, just took the plunge and bought it . . . its downloading now.

  • foolishwolf

    This game is endlessly addicting. Love the retro feel and look. Well done Steph!!

  • foolishwolf

    This game is endlessly addicting. Love the retro feel and look. Well done Steph!!

  • http://www.metroccolis.com your personal robot

    Here an early adopter :)
    I absolutely love this game!!!

  • http://www.metroccolis.com your personal robot

    Here an early adopter :)
    I absolutely love this game!!!

  • Dudehuge

    I got it, and it's unique and fun but not for everyone. So you might ask "Should I buy it oh mighty Dudehuge," if you felt intrigued by the video you should. It's an odd way of recommending a game, I know, but that's how I felt with this game.

  • Dudehuge

    I got it, and it's unique and fun but not for everyone. So you might ask "Should I buy it oh mighty Dudehuge," if you felt intrigued by the video you should. It's an odd way of recommending a game, I know, but that's how I felt with this game.

  • http://whitenights.free.fr mkt

    I bought Eliss teased by the review and comments.
    The mood is pure love.
    this game is clever and beautiful.
    And it's challenging enough so you can enjoy success . (I'm not so good at games)
    Thanks Steph !

  • http://whitenights.free.fr mkt

    I bought Eliss teased by the review and comments.
    The mood is pure love.
    this game is clever and beautiful.
    And it's challenging enough so you can enjoy success . (I'm not so good at games)
    Thanks Steph !

  • http://forzamotorsport.net chespace

    I'm about to buy this on the app store. Your trailer sold me. BTW, what's the song that plays in the trailer? Is it one of your pieces? And is it in the game?

    Congrats!

  • http://forzamotorsport.net chespace

    I'm about to buy this on the app store. Your trailer sold me. BTW, what's the song that plays in the trailer? Is it one of your pieces? And is it in the game?

    Congrats!

  • Jamie

    I just bought this and... well it looks cool etc but... the help is minimalist, the explanation of onscreen indicators is non-existant (or decipherable). So now I'm scrambling around what reviews I can find to figure out what I have to do and how - and what everything means. A game shouldn't be like this - it should at least explain clearly the objective and how to achieve it.

    For example, there's one 'help' screen that I think is telling me I can swipe the screen to move stardust... but... what IS stardust? What is it's effect on the game? Why do I *need* to move it?

    I have to say, after reading the review above, I was psyched about this and bought it on the back of what I read here - and of course, it might still be great... once I figure out what to do, exactly.

    Maybe I'm just thick.

  • Jamie

    I just bought this and... well it looks cool etc but... the help is minimalist, the explanation of onscreen indicators is non-existant (or decipherable). So now I'm scrambling around what reviews I can find to figure out what I have to do and how - and what everything means. A game shouldn't be like this - it should at least explain clearly the objective and how to achieve it.

    For example, there's one 'help' screen that I think is telling me I can swipe the screen to move stardust... but... what IS stardust? What is it's effect on the game? Why do I *need* to move it?

    I have to say, after reading the review above, I was psyched about this and bought it on the back of what I read here - and of course, it might still be great... once I figure out what to do, exactly.

    Maybe I'm just thick.

  • Jamie

    I was just tired, I guess. Figured it out. Was me... being thick.

    Nice game and kind of soothing to play, too. Apologies for my frustrated rant.

    Jamie.

  • Jamie

    I was just tired, I guess. Figured it out. Was me... being thick.

    Nice game and kind of soothing to play, too. Apologies for my frustrated rant.

    Jamie.

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  • Somebody

    Cool game. Too difficult. Should read the iTunes reviews before downloading it. I love the design.

  • Somebody

    Cool game. Too difficult. Should read the iTunes reviews before downloading it. I love the design.

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