What we liked:

+ Engaging gameplay
+ Unique experience on PSN
+ Hella cheap

What we didn't like:

- Not so much a learning curve as a wall
- Presentation lacks polish
- No trophies

DEVELOPER: 8bit Games   |   PUBLISHER: SCEA   |   RELEASE: 07/17/2008

The best (and only) one of its kind.
Engineering stable viaducts for the populous not keeping you busy enough? Always dreamed of working with animals? 8Bit has the game for you. Elefunk combines the elements of bridge construction with plump, pink, elephant transport in a, dare I say, educational game.

Players must ensure the safe travels of elephants from point A to point B, namely through bridge building. At your disposal are a variety of shapes from simple perpendicular or diagonally oriented rods to triangular and square supports to rope. You will have to master the principles of both support and suspension to sustain the animals’ not unremarkable heft, and the aforementioned tools can’t be used willy nilly, either. Each variety comes in limited (or no) supply for each bridge, and they need to be anchored to a fixed point. These come in the form of large bolts in rock or flora, however you can also use the points of other pieces used, though this is generally a bit more wobbly.

The premise is straightforward enough, execution is another matter. After one of the longest opening sequences to a downloadable game ever – screen after screen of agreeing to everything from auto saves to wireless controller safety until you’re so numb you’re giving away your firstborn – the game begins with a tutorial. It effectively explains the controls, however for those of us lacking in oh, say, bridge construction experience, there is far too little explanation of what makes a successful bridge. This meant my success at the first five or so levels was largely a mystifying bout of trial and error and a whole lot of finger crossing. When things did fail miserably on a large and complex bridge, more often than not it was just easier to scrap it all and start over.

In Puzzle Mode time is essentially unlimited and the pachyderm will wait with relative patience until you’re ready to test the construct. Bonus points are awarded for completing the task more quickly, so a well-thought out and successful round can be replicated quickly afterward for a higher score. There is an obvious amount of improvement that can occur from a successful bridge creation to a recreated one, however there was the occasional replicated scenario that didn’t, well, replicate. In other words, crossing my fingers became a large part of measures taken against catastrophic failure. Additionally, I’m not sure what kind of super humans are getting these ten second scores I see on the leader boards, I can’t even get the pieces to move across the screen in less than twelve (it is a painful kind of slow). The time trial bit is a challenging facet, and a secondary objective is to complete the task with as few supports as possible. However, reducing the number of pieces used is, again, not so much challenging as trial and error until you have a firmer grip on the physics.

The bonus rounds are either so skill dependent that it’s over my head like a stunt elephant, or just completely playful. By adjusting a ramp for lift-off and shaking your controller to accumulate boost the objective is to land the daredevil pachyderm squarely on a target. It’s a fun and refreshing break from the serious work of bridges, though if such lighthearted fare isn’t to your taste the Time Attack mode caters to a more serious palate. Available for unlocked levels, Time Attack properly switches things up by removing certain critical pieces and starting the clock. Failure to return the pieces to their necessary place before the Elephants start their journey results in the plummeting to their death sequence. Multi-player is available both locally and online and is like a turn-based version of Jenga. One at a time players remove pieces until critical failure is achieved, with the option of timed rounds. The multi-player magic pretty much ends there; the single player experience is far more engaging.

The game has a cohesive look and sound, from the stray jungle animals bounding over the bridge to the birds sending elephants for a tumble. All of it though – from the elephants’ animations to the already cyclical music – is repetitive. I will grant that the focus is the bridge building, but nobody ever complained about some good bridge building music. There are three zoom levels to choose from when completing stages, and three just isn’t enough. The wide view was too imprecise for finer points, while the two closer zooms were just too close for efficiency. Also lacking in polish are the menus, provided you endure the endless disclaimer screens. They’re awkward, not particularly intuitive, and generally create the feeling that 8Bit didn’t afford them much thought.

Elefunk is both challenging and educational, though it is not so much a progression of concepts as an assembly of levels. That’s not to say you won’t learn something, just that it is erudition by immersion rather than instruction. Levels do increase in difficulty, but with just over twenty levels it seems that the game ends just as your engineering skills are really blossoming. Without the option to create levels the gameplay more or less ends there, though I suspect an add-on isn’t out of the realm of possibility. Trophy whores beware: Elefunk has none, but as this is the only bridge builder on PSN it’s worth the unrewarded victories.

Oftentimes troublesome enough to make you throw up your hands in frustration, you’ll walk away still thinking about that unsolved bridge only to return the next day with a fresh strategy. As unpolished as some aspects of the game may be, there’s no denying its overall charm and at five dollars it’s hard not to recommend. At the very least, you’ll have greater respect for the next overpass.

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