So the first question we must ask is, what exactly is The Keeper of 4 Elements? Well, in simple terms, it is a wave-based tower defence game. Tower Defence games used to be very popular in 2009/2010. With the emergence of the hugely popular Bloons Tower Defence games on gaming websites such as Newground, Kongregate etc, it was no surprise that this genre of game became a hit amongst the casual gamers of that era. Personally, I have fond memories of games in the Tower Defence genre. I remember sitting in school during Information Technology lessons, playing Bloons Tower Defence, trying desperately to hide the game window behind the "work" I was pretending to do. Good memories.
However, that was 2010, this is 2016. The gaming industry has changed massively in the past 6 years, and Tower Defence games have really fallen by the wayside. The Keeper of 4 Elements brings back that same genre into the modern gaming era, but, does it stand the test of time? Lets find out.
Graphics & Audio
So the first thing that hits you straight away is the graphical style. It's very simple and colourful, using basic shaders and simple character models. This was a good choice, as Tower Defence games are known for not being too graphically intense. In my opinion, if the graphics had been amped-up to suit the power of the PS4, it would have broken some of the immersion for me. Tower Defence games never used to be graphically heavy because of how they were made. They were made and published on websites that aimed for easily accessible games, and having simple graphics meant that they could be ran simply and easily within the browser. Using this same graphical style, even though the technology is much better, shows a nice amount of restraint from the developers.
The audio however, is a bit of a mess. Firstly, I first started this game up when I was in a party chat with a few friends. Even though I had my audio balance set all the way to party so I could hear my friends, the game was so loud I could hear nothing else. The main menu music is a force to be reckoned with, and the enemy of eardrums everywhere. So, of course I went to the settings menu to turn the audio down and… there was no volume slider. It's off or on, no options to maybe put it to 25% or anything like that. Why is this such an issue? Well obviously the music is meant to compliment the theme of the game, and can really make things more intense and immersive. Forcing you to either turn it off or leave it blasting is a bad choice, and can ruin any atmosphere the game could have had. Apart from that, sound effects are decent. Lightning makes zapping noises, water makes splashes, Tornadoes bring the sound of a crushing wind, it's basically what you'd expect. No audio really stands out as impressive, but none of them are bad by any means.
The story, from what I have experienced so far, is little more than a premise for the game, and not a driving factor. The Dark Lord invades your island home to find ancient magical secrets for his own nefarious means. However, you are the defender of the Island and you control the forces of nature; the 4 elements, if you will. The question is, does this game even need a story? In my opinion, not really. It is nice to have a premise to set up why we are fighting people, but further development into what happens really are quite unnecessary, and the developers realize that. Popular Tower Defence games of 2010 didn't really have much story, if any, yet were still very popular because of how casual and easy they were to pick up, play, and enjoy. Sometimes, you don't want to delve into a deep story, complex gameplay etc. You just want to sit down, play a simple game, and enjoy yourself.
The lack of story really isn't a downside, and if the game presented too much of a story, it would feel artificial, forced even. The developers give us a premise of why we are defending the island, and that is all we need.
So with a suitably reduced focus on story, gameplay is clearly the meat of the game. Lets start off with talking about the early gameplay, and how it feels and performs.
Honestly, the early gameplay is, unfortunately, a bland offering. First impressions are incredibly important, and The Keeper of 4 Elements doesn't make a good one. The first few levels are bland, and offer very little in terms of customizing your experience. Tower Defence games were good because you had to upgrade your towers as the threat got more and more present on the battlefield. Whilst the first level is easy, the lack of customization can easily trick new players into thinking this is all the game has to offer. Upgrade menus in the first level tell you the upgrades are locked until the second level, third level etc, and again, whilst the first level is easy, it sets a bad starting precedent for the game.
On the subject of upgrades, lets talk about them. For each level you complete, you are awarded stars for completion, and these stars are used as currency to buy upgrades. Upgrades are where the game starts to get more interesting, as you can start to specialize certain tower types for certain tasks. Personally, I took to upgrading the Water Towers, which offer huge enemy damage but are awful at crowd control, whereas later I upgraded the Earth Towers, which don't do as much damage per-target as the Water Towers, but they do offer multi-target damage. Upgrades really are the meat of this game, and later levels will be impossible unless you indulge in this system.
Along with upgrades to your towers, you can upgrade your abilities, which are highly damaging attacks with long cooldowns. These abilities can turn the tide of battle. The Storm slows the horde, the Tornado does short but massive damage to crowds, meteors do a massive burst of damage with a small area of effect, and the Earthquake pushes enemies back, perfect for a last-minute save. Whilst going through the more difficult levels, you will encounter situations that almost require the use of these abilities, which is a nice skill curve that can really help at higher difficulties.
So you have all these upgrades and abilities, what are you fighting? Well, quite the variety of enemies. Where Bloons Tower Defence brought a variety of opponents, The Keeper of 4 Elements capitalizes on that by bringing even more to the table. Standard foot soldiers, Shamans that heal other units, Ninjas that disappear, Giants with a massive health pool, these are but a few of the massive variety of enemies that do a wonderful job of diversifying gameplay and forcing you to compensate ahead of time for the possible appearance of some seriously fearsome enemies.
Overall, gameplay is too simple at the start of the game, and can be really monotonous. However, once you get a chance to delve into the lengthy upgrade system and truly utilize all of the available tower types and abilities, you can start to truly enjoy this game as it was intended.
The Keeper of 4 Elements costs £3.29 on the PlayStation Store, and can be purchased for either the PS4 or the PS Vita. This is a very small cost for a game that offers a decent amount of gameplay. However, there is an issue in this that I only came across when researching the game.
This is NOT a new game. Far from it, in fact. This game was released previously on Kongregate, Newgrounds etc. I've referenced these websites previously in this review, because these were the main place to play indie games such as these back in the day. The worst part is, this game was released in September 2013, and guess what? It's totally free to play! you don't even need an account on the websites I've visited to play this game.
So what warrants paying £3.29 for a console version over playing the browser version? Well, by buying it on PS4, you get access to trophies instead of the website-based achievements that the browser versions offer, and the game starts about 30 seconds faster due to the lack of browser-based load times. Apart from that, I have found absolutely nothing that warrants spending any amount of money to play this game, and it's a bloody shame that something like this taints what is otherwise actually a fairly enjoyable experience. I cannot see any reason why this game would have been monetized at all, perhaps due to the lack of micro-transactions, something which a lot of the Free to Play titles on the PlayStation Store have.
It is also not clear exactly who monetized this game. It could have been that the developers wanted to re-launch it on a console and make a profit, it could have been that Sony wanted to port it over and sell it, seeing as they'd make no micro-transaction money on it, we just don't know. Its just a shame that a decent game had to be monetized for no real reason.
Is The Keeper of 4 Elements a good game? I had my doubts at first, but yes. Yes, it is. It harkens back to a simpler time, and does it well. If, like me, you have fond memories of playing these sorts of games in school, or perhaps rushing home to play them on your Toshiba laptop, then you'll most likely enjoy this title. However, in an era of gaming where Micro-transactions are everywhere, and monetization of almost everything plagues gaming titles, it is a severe shame that this game had to be sold for a profit when it is available elsewhere completely free. It isn't a question of how much it costs, but rather integrity and respect for the customer.
However, aside from that glaring issue, the game is pretty damn good. Aside from the generally average audio design and monotonous first couple of levels, the later game is very engaging and really brings the feeling of nostalgia back to people who used to love Tower Defence games back in the good old days. Will it work for a modern audience? It's hard to say. Strategy games nowadays have so much micro-management and intricacies that perhaps a Tower Defence game is just a little bit too simple for today's audience. However, it really could bring a lot of people back to a genre forgotten by time. It might not be a massive hit, but it serves its purpose well, and that is a wonderful thing to see.
|+ Deep upgrade system||– Can be played elsewhere for free|
|+ Satisfying difficulty curve||– Music either off or on, no slider options|
|+ Massive enemy variety||– First few levels are monotonous|
|+ Simple but enjoyable||– Might be too simple for fans of complex strategy games|