Review by Chris

To those who follow gaming culture, the debate as to whether or not the media could be considered art is an inevitable encounter.  True, if you stretch the definition of art, you will find that most efforts, both intentional and unintentional, fall into this increasingly nebulous label.  The Simpsons best addressed this on their 222nd episode where the result of Homer’s failed attempt at making a barbeque (and his following tantrum) was deemed “outsider art”.

Of course, we are hoping our claims can pass with less liberties taken.  But that still leaves us with one important question: For which games do we reach if we are to make the case for video games being art?  For this effort, I will offer you el., published by GREE, Inc.

el5You play as a child waking in an abandoned dungeon.  You are visited by an umbrella which gives you the ability to fly, and set out to explore the world, level by level.  The game utilizes touch controls (a button to increase altitude and a flick to force your character forward or backwards.  Imagine Balloon Kid in mechanics meets Limbo in aesthetics and you have the essence of it.

The storybook atmosphere and the piano soundtrack were enough to charm me.  I figured that it would be a delightful afternoon game, as there are twelve levels on three difficulty settings.  By the time the first cutscene was finished, I realized that I had underestimated this game.  This misapprehension was due in large part to the fact that, as of right now, the game is offered for free in the App Store.

el3Where el. is distinguishable is in its visual storytelling. With only a modest piano track accompanying it, the picture-by-picture story unfolds and ties each world together.

When praising a game, one has to be careful not to raise unrealistic expectations.  I’ve deliberately avoided specifics in this review, as I don’t want to spoil the experience.  I mentioned art in the opening paragraphs not because el. left me contemplating the greatest questions of our time, but because it reminded me, in a gentle way, of the elegance of games that have their own soul, if you’ll pardon the phrase.

I hope that the coming months will bring me more reasons to examine games for the artistic merit they offer.


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