‘Eliss Infinity’ review: see beyond the chaos (iOS)

February 19, 2014

If you've never heard of Eliss before it can look completely alien. There really is nothing else like it. But it's not really complicated; just chaotic. And if you stick with it for a while you'll find that it's a manageable chaos.

"Planets" form in pastel shades of red, blue, yellow, and purple. You can combine them or pull them apart with intuitive gestures, dragging them around the screen. The goal is to guide planets of the correct size and color into corresponding "warp gates" that appear intermittently, while avoiding obstacles and preventing planets of different colors from coming into contact with one another. If they touch, they shrink, and your green health bar begins to drain. Run out of health and it's game over.

Eliss has been around for almost five years. The original version launched for iPhone in 2009, and smartphone gamers hailed it as the first game that was really unique to the platform. With its multi-finger gameplay, Eliss requires a multi-touch display, and thus can really only exist on smartphones and tablets. I always thought it was strange that its creator, Steph Thirion, never ported it to iPad; in fact, I coincidentally featured it in my list of iPhone-only games that you should try out on iPad, ignorant of the fact that Thirion would unveil Eliss Infinity mere days later.

Eliss Infinity is part sequel, and part update. It features more or less the same 25 levels from the original Eliss, but the main attraction in Infinity is the new endless mode for which the game is named. There's also a brand new tutorial to ease new players into the action, but if you're familiar with the original then you'll have no trouble getting into Eliss Infinity. The graphics have of course been updated as well, and the whole aesthetic, from the menu sound effects to the music and the art itself, is very minimal and really gorgeous. And playing Eliss on a big tablet screen is infinitely superior to playing on a phone.

The original levels, here called "Odyssey" mode, are just as varied and challenging as ever. The difficulty ramps up as you progress through them, but it's not a linear or predictable ascent. In fact, one of the secrets to Eliss's appeal is that Thirion is able to add so many different wrinkles to this simple concept of planets and warp gates.

One level might spawn a lot of large planets and small warp gates all at once, requiring you to pull the planets apart and guide them to the warp gates while keeping them from touching. The next level could add a black hole that sucks all the planets toward the center of the screen, requiring you to use both hands as you try to keep planets in place while combining and separating them to be the correct size. Then the next level changes it up entirely; this one might spawn huge, infrequent warp gates, forcing you to juggle planets for a long time without letting different colors touch. If they touch and shrink too much, they won't fit in the warp gate anymore, and you'll inevitably lose.

Every level feels unique, and the difficulty increases substantially as you progress. I have to confess that I'm stuck on sector 17, which I've so far found more or less impossible to beat. But when I moved on to the endless Infinity mode I realized that it's so good because it shifts seamlessly from pattern to pattern, requiring you to change your strategy quickly and often.

The best moments come when the chaos begins to coalesce and take shape into something like a rhythm. Sometimes, just for a few moments, your finger swipes become graceful and your hands dance across your iPad.

You get tunnel vision, or your vision becomes unfocused, as you take in the whole screen at once. Your heart beats loud in your ears, singing with the game's music. Your fingers slide around each other, twisting and reaching, and you can see five, six, seven moves ahead. It's really something else. And then the pattern dissolves in an instant, shifting into something you don't recognize, and once again you're scrambling to catch up.

Your continued success in Eliss Infinity depends on looking past the chaos and understanding the patterns underneath it so you can continually reach that zen-like state of concentration. Moving in and out of these mind states, from frustration to elation and back again so quickly, is exhilarating.

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There are other new features in Infinity, like leaderboards for the endless mode, a sandbox-style "Space Box" mode, and an amusing "music arpeggiator" that lets you combine different music notes based on how many levels you've completed. Infinity also uses Game Center for cloud saves so you can switch between devices on the fly.

Most of the Odyssey levels last a minute or two at most. And even my best run in Infinity mode (19,950 points—I'm ranked 58th globally!) spanned only a few minutes. But Eliss Infinity is not the kind of game you play in line at the store or even while you're watching TV. It's not a casual game. It demands your full attention. It will test your dexterity. So if tablet gaming is more than just a distraction to you—if you demand more from games on any platform than a timer ticking down to your next meaningless tap—then Eliss Infinity might be the game you're looking for.

  • Eliss Infinity
  • Developer: Little Eyes
  • Platforms: iOS
  • Price: $2.99
  • In-app purchases? No


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