elegear1.jpg['Bastards of 32-Bit' is a weekly column by Danny Cowan that focuses on overlooked, underrated, and inexplicable titles from the era of the PlayStation, Saturn, and Nintendo 64. This week's column covers Elemental Gearbolt for the Sony PlayStation, published by Working Designs and released in the United States in June 1998.]

Our elementals go to 11!

Working Designs' legacy is built on the "*sigh*"s and "ugh"s of a legion of disaffected gamers. Though the company translated and released dozens of titles in the United States during its 14-year run, Working Designs' distinct brand of humor and penchant for adding or changing content during localization earned it the ire of what seems to be the entire Internet. Complaint has been registered with practically every title Working Designs has published, ranging from legitimate concerns over difficulty rebalancing to essay-length screeds over how a game is completely ruined if its script contains the word "Wheaties".

Elemental Gearbolt has one of the smallest localization footprints of any Working Designs-published title, and is consequently discussed less often than many of the company's other games. The title remains one of the best lightgun shooters to ever be released, however, and few games in the genre have yet to match it in terms of depth and originality.

elegear2.jpgLike Dirge of Cerberus, except it's a game.

If you've played any modern lightgun shooter, you know what to expect from Elemental Gearbolt on a basic level. The game takes place in a first-person perspective, and all movement occurs on predetermined rails. Enemies pop up. You shoot them. Avoid dying for high score.

Elemental Gearbolt takes this basic formula and then further simplifies it, adding its own twists and subtleties. You have unlimited ammo and never need to reload, but you can't just go around blasting everything as fast as you can. You can only fire one bullet every half a second or so; attempting to shoot faster will result in your gun jamming momentarily. This deliberate pacing gives the game a curious sense of rhythm, and necessitates the use of a greater amount of strategy and accuracy than most other lightgun shooters.

Once you get into the beat of firing as often as the game will allow, Elemental Gearbolt becomes a soothing experience, somehow exuding an aura of calm amidst all the explosions. The game's fantasy setting and orchestral soundtrack contribute in a big way; it's easy to be lulled as the view soars over mountaintops, the music swelling as you rhythmically blast away at biomechanical creatures in the distance. Despite the game's difficulty, Elemental Gearbolt is always more relaxing than it is frustrating, yet remains just as compelling as the more frantic titles in the genre.

Just ignore the anime crap and you'll do fine.Warning: sweaty palms corrode gold plating.

As with many of the best games, Elemental Gearbolt accommodates and welcomes expert play. A trade-off sequence at the end of every level presents the opportunity to either upgrade your weapons or add bonus points to your score, meaning that the highest scores can only be earned by playing with crippled weaponry. Working Designs further refined the game's scoring system for its English release, and also ran a series of high score contests for a short while. Winners of the Elemental Gearbolt contest at 1998's E3 received a gold-plated GunCon -- a prized item that has now become one of the most sought-after collectibles in the PlayStation's library.

Despite what your opinion of Working Designs may be, Elemental Gearbolt is well worth checking out. The game's atmosphere is unlike anything seen before or since in the lightgun shooter genre, and its elements of strategy make it stand out among its peers. The possibility of winning a golden GunCon may have long passed, but Elemental Gearbolt's excellent gameplay remains.

[Danny Cowan is a freelance writer hailing from Austin, Texas. He has contributed feature articles to Lost Levels Online and 1up.com, and his writing appears monthly in Hardcore Gamer Magazine.]