It’s not often that a game comes around that can be considered both a deep, strategy-heavy game, and a vertical-scroller. Yet, that’s exactly the sort of game that Elemites [Free] claims to be. Dubbed as a “Real-time Scrolling Strategy (RTSS),” Elemites combines the forced movement of a vertical-scroller with the inherent strategy of minion management and wraps it all together with a robust spell and upgrade system. It certainly sounds like an odd game, but Elemites manages to nail this combination and should definitely be on the list of any strategy fan.

In Elemites, you play as Relph, a wanna-be wizard that stumbles upon a magical book of summoning. In addition to teaching Relph how to summon Elemites, golem-like creatures that will attack anything in front of them, the book also convinces Relph to go on a rampage, destroying every village in the land.

So how exactly does a real-time scrolling strategy game play? Relph stays at the bottom of the screen, slowly moving forward (you can only control whether he goes left or right). Meanwhile, tapping anywhere on the screen conjures up Elemites at that location, which will slowly move forward attacking peasants, fences, buildings – anything in front of them. Summoning Elemites uses mana, however, which also doubles as Relph’s shield. Your goal, then, becomes to micromanage your mana by summoning Elemites at the right place and time, while recouping mana earned by downed foes and avoiding enemies gunning for Relph.

Relph also has access to a wide variety of spells that are progressively unlocked throughout the game. Spells range from damage boosts to your Elemites to life drains to chain lightning. In addition, each spell (as well as Relph and the Elemites) can be upgraded numerous times throughout the game by cashing in ‘Vengeance’ points, which are earned every time an enemy is killed or building is destroyed. Even though there are 16 total spells that are unlocked, you can only take five into battle, which means that choosing which spells to upgrade becomes that much harder.

The beauty of Elemites is that there are tons of different ways to play the game. Sure, summoning your minions is going to be a big part of your strategy regardless, but spell selection definitely affects the way you use them. Will you focus more on resource management and keep your active Elemites out there longer with healing and defense spells, or will you take matters more into your own hands with spells that directly affect your enemies? The upgrade system also opens up the door to a variety of strategies, as you’ll have to decide whether to make your spells more potent or invest more heavily in resource management upgrades.

Of course, variety wouldn’t mean much if the game didn’t play well. Thankfully, Elemites takes care of that as well. I appreciate the way that the developers have managed to boil the controls for what could be a complicated game down to simple touch-based mechanics. In fact, the controls may be too simple occasionally; if you don’t pay attention, you could easily exhaust your mana conjuring up Elemites. However, I’d rather the game be hyper-responsive than plagued with delayed input.

Another aspect I loved about Elemites was its overall presentation. The artwork in particular deserves a special mention, as everything from the menus and story illustrations to even the enemies are just well done. It’s obvious that a lot of effort was put into the overall visuals and it definitely shows. One minor complaint involved some strange graphic artifacting that would occasionally show up while playing, but it did little to detract from the gameplay. I even enjoyed the story writing, which does a good job of weaving the tale while not taking itself seriously. My only gripe is with the banner ad at the top of the screen that is present even while playing the game. Granted, the ad gets removed if you purchase the whole game (as a $0.99 IAP), but it still detracts from what is otherwise a great experience. I would have also liked a universal version of Elemites as well, as I think the gameplay would work well on the iPad.

Considering that Elemites is available for free with the first world unlocked, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be checking this out. It’s simply an entertaining game that manages to test both your reflexes and strategy IQ and offers enough diversity to distinguish itself from the pack.

TouchArcade Rating

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Elemites Reviewed by Eric Ford on . Rating: 4