Elefunk Hands-On

We try out Sony's funky PS3 puzzler featuring...elephants?

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Elefunk is a quirky new puzzle game from Sony that is equal parts Erector Set, Lemmings-style brain teaser, and stunt racer. You're tasked with reuniting the kidnapped members of a tribe of elephants as they lumber across various locales to safety. Unfortunately, this journey takes place primarily on high ground, which isn't exactly their native environment or a smart place for heavy animals to be roaming. Your job is to build up or reinforce the structures the elephants walk over to ensure they make it across. As if this isn't challenging enough, you'll have to contend with various environmental hazards such as troublesome creatures who'll spring up to try to break your structure or spook the elephants into jumping, adding additional stress to your handiwork and possibly breaking it. Oh, and you'll also have to help your pachyderm buddies make massive jumps on a motorcycle. Yes, motorcycle. While this may all sound like a hot mess of a game, after spending some time with a work-in-progress version of it, we have to say there's quite a bit of charm and challenge here.

Looks safe enough.
Looks safe enough.

The first thing we need to do is explain the gameplay since, although it's simple, it requires some setup. Each stage plays out like dominoes in the sense that you set it up by prepping the level for the elephant's journey and then hitting start, at which point all you can do is watch and pray. Every stage of the single-player game starts out with you getting a look at an area and the elephants you'll have to save, which is typically a minimum of one and a max of two. You'll then make use of various pieces in your inventory, which will number differently in every level, to shore up the path they're walking across in order to reach the goal point on the opposite side of the screen. You'll be able to lay down, rotate, and collect the pieces in your inventory to ensure that you get it right. This work varies per level and will entail either fortifying the support on existing structures or making your own on the path to ensure Dumbo and friend don't fall to their doom.

You'll also have to take into account one key factor based on each level, trouble in the form of native critters. In our time with the game we saw two types, piranhas and meerkats, that can seriously screw up your carefully laid plans. The meerkats will actually run out onto your structure and jump up and down on it in the hopes of breaking it. If their jumping doesn't break your structure it might weaken it enough to have the weight of your elephant charge finish the job. Piranhas are a somewhat more challenging problem, as they don't affect your structure but do affect your elephant. The problem there is that you might do a solid job of supporting everything, but if a piranha happens to pop up and spook your elephant, he'll jump back a step or two in fright. The resulting added burst of weight is a potentially structure-breaking hazard you'll need to prep for.

If you manage to succeed at saving elephants you'll eventually come to the game's bonus levels, which lay out a different and surreal kind of challenge. For reasons that aren't entirely clear, one of the elephants you're working so hard to save will don a presumably spandex bodysuit and motorcycle helmet and get on a motorcycle positioned at the top of a precariously laid-out ramp. Your goal here is to assist the elephant in making a jump off the ramp and landing on a bull's-eye target that is inevitably an uncomfortable distance away. The level plays out in three parts that we'll call setup, initiation, and landing. The setup section has you using the PS3's Sixaxis motion-sensing feature to adjust the angle of the last part of the ramp by moving it up or down. The initiation section has you madly shaking your Sixaxis to fill up a turbo meter as a clock counts down to zero, at which point the elephant will start his ride. While he heads down the ramp, it's up to you to decide when to use the turbo you've built up by pressing X for an added boost to help the elephant get enough momentum to nail a landing. The landing section has you watching your little guy sail through the air and, if it's helpful or possible, pressing X to use turbo to help guide his landing to the right spot. The bonus rounds offer a good challenge and ample opportunity for horrible things to happen to your elephant.

In addition to the single-player puzzle experience, you'll find a Time Attack mode that challenges you to build like the wind, as elephants are released when the countdown reaches zero, whether you're ready or not. The multiplayer game is an opposite take on the single-player game and challenges you and a friend to remove pieces from an existing structure, Jenga style. Whoever pulls a piece that causes the whole thing to collapse loses.

The visuals in the game are simple, featuring a side viewpoint and detailed environments. The elephants look cartoony and have a bit of personality, holding up signs when they're impatient or reflecting the damage they take from your poor constructions. The environments are set around the world and feature art and music taken from their respective settings, which gives the action a nice bit of variety.

From what we played, Elefunk is looking like goofy but surprisingly challenging fun. The deceptively simple puzzles get tougher and tougher as you go. We like the way the setup works and the amount of thinking and preplanning that goes in to it. If you're looking for a more cerebral puzzler, you'll definitely want to keep an eye out for the game. Elefunk is due for the PlayStation Network this May. Look for more on the game in the coming months.

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