Are you ready for a magic system based on the four elements? It may be overdone in pretty much everything, but some things are cliche for a reason. These pillars let you categorize pretty much every type of attack you could want in a game. For a game all about systems interacting, this common base gives players a head start on understanding mechanics and gets them to the fun. For a game like Alchemic Jousts, the fun is in the discovery. Take two basic elements, make a more complex one, and then keep combining from there as the numbers go up.
Alchemic Jousts is a 2D action strategy game that combines the elemental reactions of Doodle God with a single lane tower defense. Every match sets your base of operations across the way from your opponent. You summon minions based on Fire, Air, Wind, and Water, and they make their way across the field. If they engage in combat with an opponent’s forces, a simple rock-paper-scissors setup decides the victor. Once one player gets enough units through their foe’s defenses, they win the match.
This may seem less than complex, but the jousts of Alchemic Jousts can be surprisingly puzzling. Beyond the elemental split, your soldiers split into different groups that determine when you can summon them. Everything is based around a ticking cooldown, so timing your summons is as important as having a sizable army.
Complex units bypass the normal rules or split into multiple parts when attacked. You can also cast buffs on the field of battle, like a snowstorm that slows down the advancing forces. These are further improvable by environments that appear in the background and boost different categories of units.
Of course, all this comes with time. You start off with just the four basic elements, each without special powers. To get more units, you’ll need to combine them together using attempts you earn from completing missions. As you start, most any combination will produce good results, but you’ll soon need to use logic to keep progressing.
These combinations are really the most fun you’ll have with Alchemic Jousts. It is admirable that the developers thought to dream up gameplay applications to these dozens and dozens of elemental hybrids. However, a lot of the more complex units and mechanics seem unnecessary in the long run.
Initially, it’s thrilling to load in with a whole set of new toys to take on your latest challenge. Then, the AI will start to summon their forces at a fast pace. More complex soldiers take longer to charge, of course. Therefore, it’s easy for the basic units you start the game with to overwhelm you in a weenie rush.
The easy solution to this issue always seems to be to counteract with those same basic units. Of course, that robs the gameplay of all its complexities. Combat is a simple rock, paper, scissors affair, so it’s only logical that the simplest path forward is going to be a basic element. It’s not the solution all the time, but it is enough of the time to make the game feel repetitive even as you progress.
Unfortunately, this isn’t even the most frustrating aspect of Alchemic Jousts’ combat design. The random order of unlocks often leaves you confused when asked to use them in combat. It’s entirely possible to unlock later abilities before simpler ones that combo with them. There are no good tutorials on why you’d want a mud creature that splits into two when hit, just gameplay descriptions that are tough to get a handle on.
None of this is helped by the level structure, which is confusing in its own right. There is a linear series of levels you must complete, which introduce you to a trio of game modes and other aspects of the proceedings. However, stuffed in at random, is access to arcadey endless modes, and these stay on the level progression even as you conquer them. You also access online multiplayer through the level select screen, but local multiplayer is found on the main menu.
The game’s lack of hand-holding isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it mixes poorly with the other systems and hobbles the entire game’s structure. As a player, you’re cast adrift, forced to trudge through samey tower defense battles in order to get to the enjoyable logic puzzle of combining elements. At a certain point, you start to wonder why you’re going through the slog at all, and the game loses its grip.
It’s surprising that Alchemic Jousts never made its way to mobile, as it has the presentation you’d expect from a port. There is some charm to the units as they crawl across the screen, but the world is simply flat and uninviting. The “three stars” system of rewards for each level in the campaign also clearly mirrors mobile design, even if the progression is a bit more sensible than your average Clash of Clans-like.
Should you buy it?
It seems that the disparate parts of Alchemic Jousts just don’t mix together into a cohesive whole. The unfortunately shallow strategy cancels out the fun of guessing and creating elements. This is fixable by a trip to a wiki for reference. However, that would serve to reveal all the elemental combinations and undercut the game’s discovery. Either way, you’ll soon find that there aren’t enough ingredients to warrant further trials.
Alchemic Jousts was reviewed on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the developers.