Heavy elephants encounter flimsy bridges time and time again in 8bit Games' new puzzler, Elefunk. This combination poses quite a predicament, and in tasking you with designing a solution to the problem, Elefunk provides an unusual, challenging experience that will try your patience but is also very rewarding.
A series of illustrations sets the stage for the game's main single-player mode, called Puzzle mode. As a young elephant sleeps, the rest of his herd is captured by a villainous circus ringleader. When he awakes and discovers what's happened, the elephant begins his long journey to the big top to rescue his family. Unfortunately, the bridges he must cross along the way just can't hold his weight. That's where you come in. Using the limited pieces available to you on each level, you've got to figure out how to support the bridges the elephant and his friends must cross as they make their way through the game's 20 levels. Although the concept is simple, Elefunk is anything but easy.
Elefunk is a game that relies heavily on trial and error. Because it gives you as much time as you need (and you'll probably need a lot, at least at first), it typically moves at a pretty slow pace. You'll build a support structure for a bridge from an assortment of pieces, trying to make smart use of the anchor points provided on each level. The number and variety of pieces at your disposal varies from level to level. Typically, you'll have some right triangles and some cross braces to work with, each of which you can rotate and place as you see fit. Placing and removing pieces is a snap. The game lets you zoom in to get a close look at certain parts of the structure and zoom out to take in the whole level. When you think you might have a workable solution, you cross your fingers and push the start button to release the elephants. If you've failed (and you will), the bridge will break under the weight of the elephants, sending them plummeting and sending you back to the drawing board. You then have the option of modifying your existing design or scrapping the whole thing and starting from scratch.
Undoubtedly, some players will find this process frustrating, but those who enjoy grappling with this type of problem will find coming up with a design that works very satisfying. Don't expect much help from the game, though. The first level is a tutorial of sorts, but it's entirely inadequate, not touching at all on the concepts you'll need to keep in mind as you design the supports for the bridges and other structures that make up the game's challenges. When it comes to figuring out these puzzles, you're on your own.
The game's 20 levels are broken up into four sections, each of which offers somewhat different challenges. The first section is the most straightforward, requiring you to support the metal bridges that the elephants must traverse. You'll also need to account for the weight of some oddly suicidal meerkats that come along and jump on the bridges. In the second section, your elephants are dropped from the air by birds and go tumbling through the levels, which changes up the physics quite a bit. In the third area, your metal pieces are replaced with more flexible but weaker wooden pieces. Here, you'll need to lay the floor for the bridge yourself in addition to supporting it, and you'll need to make use of rope to hold things together. The fourth and final area brings all of the concepts from throughout the game together. It introduces mice into the mix that can spook your elephants with disastrous results. Twenty levels may not sound like many, but some of these levels are likely to take you quite a while to solve, and by the time you're done, you'll have gotten more than your money's worth from Elefunk. Between each section, you'll play a bonus level where you'll have to tilt and shake the controller to help a daredevil elephant soar across a chasm on a jet-powered motorcycle, which provides a silly, fun little diversion from the more cerebral challenge of the main game.
It's often hard enough to come up with a solution using all the pieces the game places at your disposal, but in fact, it's always possible to get by using considerably fewer pieces. For those players who take their elephant-bridge-building seriously, there's additional enjoyment to be had in going for a high score on the leaderboard for each level by finishing it as quickly as possible, using as few pieces as possible. Finishing a level also makes it available in the game's Time Attack mode where the structure is nearly complete but is missing a few crucial pieces, and you are tasked with finishing the job in a limited amount of time. And lastly, the game's multiplayer mode, called Deconstruction, draws an obvious comparison to Jenga, having players take turns removing girders from a structure that holds a few precariously placed pachyderms. The player who removes the piece that sets the structure collapsing loses. This mode can be played locally or online, and while it's not likely to hold your attention for very long, it's a neat little addition to the package nonetheless.
Elefunk's graphics are simple but attractive. The elephants are cute, and there are some nice effects in the backgrounds of the levels, such as raging sandstorms and mist rising off of waterfalls. Unfortunately, while Elefunk delivers plenty of elephants, it's severely lacking when it comes to funk. Instead of a soundtrack that would make George Clinton proud, the music here is mellow, atmospheric stuff, which isn't remarkable but suits the game's visuals and methodical pace just fine.
Elefunk's concept isn't an entirely original one, either. Anyone who has played the Bridge Builder/Pontifex series of PC games will see the obvious inspiration Elefunk has drawn from them, and like those games, Elefunk is a game that will probably end up with a relatively small but enthusiastic fan base. This is a puzzle game for people who enjoy applying their minds to a very specific kind of problem: the problem of how to get an elephant across a chasm. If this sounds like you, you'll find a lot to enjoy here, and at just five bucks, you'll find that the price is right too.