Game

ElecHead review: a clever puzzle platformer with real spark


ElecHead is one of those devilishly clever puzzle platformers that delights at every turn. Developed by solo dev NamaTakahashi, you play as the titular Elec, a tiny robot whose body can electrify whatever surface he touches, causing it to light up a dazzling shade of yellow in the dark halls of a strange, underground facility.

Technically, it’s his head where his electrical currents stem from, which you quickly learn how to throw in order to flip switches from afar, create new platforms and dodge deadly obstacles in order to get from one side of the room to the other. The catch? Elec’s body only has ten seconds of power left when he’s without his head, causing him to explode if he doesn’t reach it in time. The result is a stunningly good puzzle game whose bank of brilliantly conceived ideas is executed to perfection, and it left me with a big fat grin on my face for the whole of its three hour run-time.

Split across six loosely-defined stages that seamlessly blend into one another (and which you can warp back to at any time to mop up its twenty collectible calculators), ElecHead is a perfect example of a game that teaches by design. You learn everything you need to know simply by completing and engaging with its perfectly paced puzzles. Most of them are contained in a single screen, but sometimes they bleed over into other rooms as well, creating some properly good interplay between ElecHead’s different environments.

To give just one early example, you might come across a room, say, that contains a floor of spikes and lightbulbs chained on the ceiling. The only way forward is to climb a set of platforms leading to the room above. However, if you step on a platform in that upper room that’s chained to a lightbulb down below, you’ll cause a deadly surge of insta-kill current to flow through it, exploding Elec and sending him back to the last checkpoint (which are usually generously located at the start of each puzzle). As a result, you’ll need to clock which platforms have lightbulbs attached to them before heading upstairs in order to cross safely – and sometimes you’ll need to chuck Elec’s head across first if the jump’s too large to cross with it attached.

A tiny robot runs toward his detached head in ElecHead
Run, little body, run!

Sure, this kind of show don’t tell approach can sometimes leave you feeling a bit stumped in later levels, especially when there’s no text, hint system or anything to let you skip ahead to the next puzzle (heck, even the menus are all pictorial as well). There were definitely a few occasions where I was staring dumbly at the screen thinking, “How on earth do I possibly solve this?” In a way, though, I also love puzzle games like this, because it also makes me feel like the smartest person on the planet when the penny finally drops. And man alive, that penny will drop several times over the course of ElecHead’s bite-sized play time, and there was one particular late-game revelation that had me applauding the ingenuity of it all. Those warp points aren’t just for show, folks, that’s all I’m saying.

Thankfully, even when you do hit a temporary brick wall in ElecHead, the answer is never far away. This isn’t a game where you’re chucking everything at the wall to see what sticks, as you’ve literally only got one thing to throw – your own head. As such, even its most elaborate puzzles must be solvable within Elec’s ten second timeframe, giving everything a sense of immediacy that other puzzle games sometimes lack. Plus, the instant resetting on death (and insta-kill button on your controller) makes it very easy to experiment and push against these tight restrictions while you’re figuring things out.

A tiny robot runs toward his detached head in ElecHead
This one had me stumped for a good couple of minutes.

Eventually, you’ll come to marvel at how some of these puzzles are constructed around the exact timing of Elec’s head throw, with platform speeds perfectly matched to the brief moment your charged noggin makes contact before falling back down to the ground again, along with other joyous run ‘n’ jump moments that are too good to spoil here. So much of ElecHead’s genius comes from the thrill of solving it, and describing it in any more detail here would rob your brain of its own precious cog-turns.

Ultimately, ElecHead is just an absolute treat from start to finish. It’s clever, beautifully designed and it’s all accompanied by a toe-tapping soundtrack by composer Tsuyomi. It’s an essential purchase for puzzle platforming connoisseurs, and an excellent way to spend an evening for less than a tenner. It’s not often I say this, but chucking your head against a brick wall has never been so much fun.



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