Alchemy – A Game of Discovery

Alchemy is a fun little puzzle game about discovery.  The premise of Alchemy is that you start with four basic elements (Air, Earth, Fire, and Water), and you combine elements two at a time to create new elements (for example, air + water = steam).  Each new element you unlock is added to your inventory, and can then be combined with other elements as well.  The aim is to unlock all the hidden elements.

Alchemy apparently has roots as a DOS game (one version can be found here), but these days you’re more likely to find it in your smartphone app store.  There are several incarnations floating around, and it’s not clear whether any of them could be considered the “original” or authentic version of the game.  The main differences across versions seem to be the graphics and other superficial options like sound and music (superficial for this kind of gameplay, that is).

The version I’ve played is just called Alchemy, by Andrey “Zed” Zaikin, and is found on the Android app market. The game is free, but there is also a Premium version available for $4.95 which removes ads and has an Undo function.  The interface of this version of Alchemy is very simple:  a black background with small, labeled icons for each element.  You drag and drop to combine elements, double click to duplicate an element, and double click an empty space to call up your original 4 elements again.  The phone’s vibrate feature gives a satisfying *thud* when you create a new element.

The elements themselves are fairly sensible, though some are silly (ectoplasm) and some strange (walking tree?).  It is easy to get stuck, as is the nature of a game that is purely about discovery, and you might find yourself with a big pile of elements in the workspace, brute-forcing your way to unlocking something new.  But the frustration just increases the satisfaction of advancing.  One neat feature that might help you get un-stuck in this version of the game is the info button, which accesses the Wikipedia article for any element.  Reading Wikipedia’s thorough description of an element sometimes helps jog my brain into trying some new combos.  This Droid version has 360 elements to unlock and should keep you busy for quite a while (I’ve had the game for a few months and have only unlocked 173).

Overall, I think this is a really clever game and perfect for the smartphone platform.  Unlocking elements is extremely satisfying since each new element opens up new possibilities, and the game really makes you think outside the box.  If you have a smartphone, I definitely recommend looking this one up.