Little Alchemy is a little bit of a problem…

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Little Alchemy on mobile, night mode. You start with four basic elements.

It feels odd to get started on a game, at least two years after it was first published. Still, it’s not as though Little Alchemy is ancient enough to feel outdated or irrelevant, and I can gladly report that it’s every bit as enjoyable and engaging in 2017 as it probably was when it was first released. The only downside is knowing that it’s unlikely to receive any more updates. Once you’ve exhausted the 500+ existing alchemical elements and their combinations, that’s it. And given the habitual nature of the game, you might find yourself marathon playing it for hours at a time, and end up running out of game within a day or two.

Little Alchemy is a lightweight and fun alchemy simulator. Beginning with the four classical elements, it allows you to combine two elements to create a third, sometimes with additional byproducts. Simple as that. To my great delight, it can be played out of any browser through either the official site or indie game outfit, and also has a mobile version. After messing around with the browser game for entirely too long, I downloaded the Android app and lost several hours of potential sleep to it.

The app offers occasional advice if you seem to be stuck without discovering any new recipes for a while. It links to the official site, where there is a script that offers a random tip, and also allows you to look up the recipes for specific elements, if you know what they’re called. It does not, however, provide a full list of all available elements (560, as of this writing), or offer advice as to how to use them as reagents. The only tip in that regard is that “final” elements are underlined in the inventory list. The interface also allows you to hide final elements, if you’re playing total discovery style. Of course, there are external cheat lists for those who want them.

Little Alchemy Final Elements
Some final elements include “JAM”, “POPSICLE”, and the last element I needed to complete my collection, “AARDVARK”.

Since the full list of elements is quite long, it’s good to know that the app counts the total number of elements you’ve discovered, not counting the secret easter egg elements. The inventory also has an extra alphabetical scroll bar to use as a shortcut. I think it might ave helped me through the middle parts of the game if the elements had been categorized, so that I could, for example, know how many more plants or animals I had left to discover. It’s clear, though, that categorizing the type of elements that appear in this game isn’t always so clear-cut. Among the plants and animals are such elements as “TIME” and “IDEA”, and devising a list of ingredients based on categories would have given the game a totally different feel.

Some recipes are intuitive, others less so. Often, I found myself struggling with intermediate elements that should have been simple enough. The first time I played I got inexplicably blocked on “STONE”, “CLOUD” and “TIME”, although I had no difficulty discovering “CORPSE” or “ATOMIC BOMB”, for some reason. When I downloaded the app I self-corrected by making sure I checked mixing elements with themselves (“WATER” x 2 gives “SEA”, for example), and paying more attention to mixing second-level and first-level elements.

The first-level elements are the four classical elements, as I mentioned. The second-level elements are more-or-less what any RPG player has come to expect: “EARTH” + “FIRE” = “LAVA”, and then later things like, “AIR” + “STEAM” = “CLOUD”. The game will provide helpful tips to the next possible level of complication. The progression of these also makes sense. There is life, there are plants and animals, and then there are humans, and humans make tools. Tools become more sophisticated as you introduce electricity, and the next thing you know you’re creating “SUPER NOVA” or “ASTRONAUT ICE-CREAM”.

Day mode on mobile fails to produce the right kind of wizard.

That last one, by the way, is one of the secret bonus items. The others are just as geeky as you’d expect. If you’re wondering how to create the “GEEK” element (oh, yes, that exists too) I won’t spoil it for you, only hint that you should maybe take a look at that electricity thing again. Once you start modifying the humans of the game, you get supernatural elements by the armful, ghosts and vampires, mermaids and centaurs.

A list of possible outcomes is handy in this respect. There are a lot of oddball elements that I would have expected, based entirely around the oddball combinations that are already in the game. If “JEDI” + “VOLCANO” exists, why not “ELECTRICITY” + “GLASSES”? If combining a human with a goat creates a faun, why not combine a human with a butterfly to get a fairy. But of course, by that logic you could end up with an infinite, infinitely expanding list of elements. Delightful in theory, but completely untenable in practice.

Instead, I am left looking at other available alchemy games. I always have the option of resetting my progress to zero, and watching how long it take me this time to figure out how to create clouds.

Crossposted to Dreamwidth.


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