Elasto Mania

Today, for reasons I’ll mention at a much later date, I’ve been playing a few old and difficult videogames. Not as straightforward a task as it might have been as a few of them involved MAME and the joy of trying to find the right ROMs for my version. Here’s my handy tip for finding the correct ROM if, like an idiot, you’ve upgraded from a really old MAME version to a more recent one only to find that a huge proportion of your ROMs don’t work: run the game and then, when it throws an error message about missing files, note one of the more interesting filenames down and then Google that. Works every time.

So I’ve had a bit of fun with MAME today and some really rather difficult old arcade games, as well as a quick go on Robotron because it’s there. Score in the 400Ks and a place on my all-time high score table; mustn’t grumble at that, especially as it was my first game in absolutely ages. And besides MAME I’ve had the chance to revisit one of my old obsessions.

Oh, Elasto Mania. Lord knows how much time I devoted to this about a decade ago. Probably at least as much as I devote to Trials HD at the moment, which is unsurprising as they share something like 99% of their DNA. Trials is obviously shinier and faster with more explosions, Elasto Mania is made of coder art and is more sedate with a distinct lack of explosions, but they have in common a control scheme that seems idiotically hard at first but that keeps on giving as you get your head round its subtleties.

And whereas Trials is a straight A-to-B run (more or less), Elasto Mania’s a lot less linear. Its levels seem like something out of a platform game rather than a motorbike game, with apples that need collecting before you can hit the exit. Often placed in seemingly impossible locations, they encourage you to feel the full ranges of your bike’s elastic qualities – it has a suspension seemingly made of, well, elastic, and a stretchy frame that’ll distend quite impressively in the right circumstances. That apple that’s hidden right underneath a floating platform? You get to it by hooking one wheel on top of the platform and hanging upside down. Mental.

The game has this peculiarly slow pace that makes it feel like one of those running away dreams where the air’s impossibly thick and soupy and hard to claw your way through, but the beauty of this is that it enables – indeed, encourages – you to try the impossible. Idiotic somersaults and mid-air changes in direction are the sort of things you need to get to grips with if you’re going to stand any chance of completing even the early levels. The later levels will simply make you swear blind that they can’t be done, in much the same way as your first glimpse of one of Trials’ Hard levels will. Ha.

It’s all doable though. Eventually. The levels are made with the same level of precision and knowledge of what your bike’s capable of that Trials has, and if anything Elasto Mania forces you to reach an even higher level of mastery. I can’t remember how far I originally got in it before deciding that it was consistently demanding more skill and effort than I was willing to devote to it, but it was quite a way. Today I’ve managed to get up to level 11 and if it weren’t for the fact that my 30-year-old self had got much further, I’d be insisting that it can’t be done and the designer is an idiot.

Of course, had I spent the last ten years playing nothing but Elasto Mania I’d probably be capable of something like this:

See what I mean? Apologies for the terrible music, by the way.

Have a go yourself! The shareware version lives here, the full version’s just $9.95 and should you ever manage to complete the full game’s levels there ‘s a terrifying number of free levels available as well. I can feel a new (old) obsession coming on.

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