It's always a little nice seeing that original titles still pop up on the old DSiWare service from time-to-time, fully compatible with the 3DS, opening new titles up to both DSi and 3DS owners. Clearly, some developers are still finding the service to be a nice outlet for their ideas, so how does this small original fighter from Amzy turn out? Maybe it will be worth the £4.49 price tag.
The game loads and starts up with minimal fanfare, no sort of intro or setting. If seeing any of the eShop banners, the anime-styled heroines may have caught people's eye; but unfortunately there's not much more to them than their vibrant appearances. Once over the shock from the loud and sudden menu screen music, there are a number of options to choose from; Arcade, Free Battle, Versus, and Training modes, as well as easy access to the game Credits and, of course, the Help manual and DSi menu options. While this may seem like a lot, Free Battle Mode is essentially just Training Mode but with less options. Versus, of course, is the player vs. player mode, only possible if two people have a copy of the game. Arcade Mode is also what anyone would expect; pick a character and then one-by-one take out the cast of four, with the fourth and final battle being a shocking twin-double (read: 2P re-colour) of the player character.
The crux of the game is one-on-one fights on a 3D plain. Giving the developer credit where it's due, the visuals aren't bad at all and are in fact pretty impressive for a DSiWare game, and the choice of trying for an original battle system where it could have just as easily gone for a tried and tested formula was a pleasant surprise. However, in a lot of ways this is where the pleasantries end. Without any sort of real guidance or tutorial for how to actually play the game, figuring out the already over-complicated actions is difficult; and the so-called "Training Mode" involves no training whatsoever, merely offering practice without any health limits. Handy, but "Practice Mode" likely would have been a better name just in case people hoped the game would be teaching them how it worked...because given the over-complex controls, it probably should do just that.
Once familiar with the gameplay through the use of the Help manual, it's time to try what has been learned on the battlefield! There are four heroines to choose from: Celsius, Fahrenheit, Mole, and Biot, with designs inspired by fire, ice, earth and air, respectively. The girls have a bit of diversity, some attack quicker than others or hit heavier, and their attacks all have different patterns to them, but essentially they play the same. Pressing the L button activates a Wide Attack, R button activates a Normal Attack, and both at once uses a Power Attack. Using them over and over depletes their usage, forcing a little more variety in play and discouraging reliance on spamming, but once the characters' shield weakens a certain amount it won't be long before any kind of attack sends you or the opponent packing. With bullets, rocks, ice and lasers flying all around the stage, it can be genuinely hard to stay tactically out of harm's way leading most battles to seem luck-based more than anything.
The enjoyability is hindered further by previously mentioned complex controls, using separate face-buttons for dashing, fast-falling, camera panning and jumping. The most frustrating is the camera control - or almost total lack thereof. It's very unclear why the game is so keen to keep the player character facing one direction, making it so hard to turn, when the game would have been better if the character simply always locked onto the opponent; something that can be managed by constantly dashing (Y button) while attacking, and something that isn't mentioned at all in the Help manual. Thanks, game. The Y button is also how more powerful attacks are used by pressing it at the same time as an attack button.
This also calls into question the total lack of touch screen controls. All the action takes place on the touch screen, with the top screen only ever being used for art or health displays. Despite this, the menus and battles are all lacking in any touch screen usage where even simple camera control with the touch screen could easily have made gameplay a little more streamlined and much more accessible. In order to keep an eye on the opponent while dodging their attacks, it really seems like the most effective way to play at times is to mindlessly mash the Y and attack buttons until the opponent falls. Otherwise the player character could get hopelessly surrounded by barrages from a CPU enemy that, unlike the player, doesn't have to put up with controlling a camera that shouldn't need controlling in the first place.
With Clash of Elementalists, what you see is literally what you get. While it has potential to be an interesting concept for a fighting game, the lack of playability, as well as frustrating camera and control issues, make it hard to get attached to. It might be the sort of thing that is fun in multiplayer, with both players able to experiment without the feeling that their opponent is unfairly free of the camera's grasp, but considering the game lacks a much-needed download-play versus option, where is anyone going to find someone else willing to pay almost £5 for this featureless experience?