Review – Domestic Elementalism

I played with this game for about a half hour trying to get the hang of it, and while I like the premise of changing the elemental nature of items to alter their function, and while I appreciate all the innovation that went into both writing the puzzles and coding the game system, I just could not get into this game.

The game screen is subdivided into multiple panes, and has almost the look and feel of an integrated development environment. Maybe that’s the intent: your house is complicated piece of engineering that needs fixing. Perhaps it is supposed to come across as an engineering interface.

I found it awkward to navigate. A main window give the view of a room and contains hyperlinks that bring up nested windows with detail about the hyperlink. Bottom-tabbed windows allow the user to go up a level of detail or jump back to the room description. Sometimes other windows pop up with information in front of the display. To the right, there is an inventory window. I found all that very visually busy and thought it buried the textual elements of the game.

[Some spoilers follow beyond this point]

When the game starts, you can access four rooms associated with elements, plus the basement level, aka engineering. At that point, clicking through all the descriptive material in all the rooms yields three items that can go in inventory. When these items are found, a button appears on the bottom of the main window indicating that these objects can be picked up. Once picked up, they go into inventory.

These items are the nouns of the game — the first class objects; they can be transformed to different elemental states, carried about, etc., whereas everything else in the game is just there to serve as predicate, i.e., to be acted up. Once the nouns make it to inventory, buttons may appear indicating what you can do with them — the verbs in this analogy. These buttons may change depending on the elemental state of the item.

In the early game, I found this frustrating. There’s a chair — you can momentarily sit or stand, but will immediately get off it. If you bring any portable item into the bathroom, a button is enabled for the action of throwing that item at the shampoo (as if of all the actions you could imagine, that’s the relevant one) — but if you click the button to do so, you are told that it’s risky, and it never happens. That sort of bait and switch restraint of player agency irks me.

One thing that I did not realize until I looked at the walkthrough is that it is necessary to re-examine items in the various rooms, because certain actions only become available when a specific item is selected in inventory.

For example, once you have a sharp knife, if you look at the bed, the “cut” action becomes available. The next action according to the walkthrough is to slice up the bed. What? Yes, you need to do that to get to the next tool. I’m sorry, but even in a magical logic world, why would that occur to me?

From a mechanical point of view, as a player, I might do it because I have a knife and I decide to examine a bed, and a “cut” option becomes available. But does that make any sense? It’s not like I knew that the cutting the bed was the right thing to do and searched the house for a tool to do it.

I didn’t feel it would be entertaining to continue to click my way through the game trying to see what new buttons would become available depending on permutations of what I had in hand, what element was selected, and what object had focus in inventory.

I looked at the hints and found them helpful in a generic way. They explained the game world in more depth, but did not really lead me towards a course of action. The walkthrough does give that sort of detail, but is of course spoilery. I do appreciate that the author provided both.

This may be a matter of taste. Some people might really enjoy this mechanic, but it was not for me. Because I did not get very far into the game, there may be more here in terms of story than I appreciated from seeing only a few rooms, but I’ll have to leave that to other reviewers. I can say that of the text I read, it was well edited.

Evaluation:

Story: 6 (mostly for concept)

Voice: 5

Play: 4

Polish: 9

Technical: 8

JNSQ: 0

Preliminary Score: 6.6

 

 

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