Here's a beaut new puzzler on Xbox Live Arcade in the vein of The Incredible Machine (for those who remember it). If you haven’t experienced this type of game before, the puzzles are based on Heath Robinson contraptions — or for the Americans, Rube Goldberg machines. Such constructs use incredibly complicated means and expert timing to achieve a relatively simple task. If you need a visual example, go and check out OK Go’s "This Too Shall Pass" video, to witness the mother of all Rube Goldberg machines. Crazy Machines Elements is actually the third title in the series, but this is the first time it’s not PC exclusive.
The controls are simple enough for even the most co-ordination-challenged to master, and while the analogue stick proved a little too sensitive side at times, everything performed rather well. As mentioned earlier, the idea is to build wacky, complicated devices from various items to achieve an objective, such as dunking a basketball through a hoop, knocking something over or causing an explosion. In Puzzle mode, each level is already partially constructed, and your task is to fill in the blanks using a number of objects in your inventory. Some of the items at your disposal include platforms, drive belts, bowling balls, ice cubes, combustibles, crash test dummies and loads of other gadgets – many of which could have been raided from a child’s toy box. Correct placement of objects will ensure the chain reaction, once initiated, brings about a successful result.
The laws of physics do apply here, and are very realistic. The point of difference between this game and earlier titles is the introduction of ‘elements’ (fire, water, air and earth), which can be utilised to help achieve your objective. Weather also features in some levels, and must be taken into account when constructing your machine. Wind, for example, will provide resistance or extra momentum, depending on which direction it is blowing.
The first few levels introduce the game mechanics at an easily digested rate; however, the difficulty soon ramps up, and you’ll find yourself having to think outside the box. Some of the levels are tricky, but you’re not racing against the clock or limited to a certain number of lives, and can restart/rebuild a machine as often as you like. When you do finally solve them the feeling of achievement is immense, and it’s difficult to resist the temptation to check out ‘just one more level’.
Each level features a number of golden nuts (the threaded, metal variety), with the secondary objective being to collect them on the way to your goal. It is entirely possible to achieve the primary objective without collecting any nuts, but since you’re already expending all that mental energy to solve the puzzle, why not burn a few more brain cells and go for the clean sweep?
Once you’ve completed the first 50 levels (of 100), you’ll be able to access Challenges mode, which is tailor made for puzzle veterans. Here you are given much more flexibility and freedom to manipulate components, and as the name suggests there’s far more challenge and thinking involved in achieving your objective. There’s also an Editor mode, which allows you to create your own devious contraptions from scratch. Initially, you can only access a limited number of parts, but playing through Puzzles mode will unlock more toys to play with. We spent a lot of time tinkering with this — mostly blowing stuff up, but there’s plenty of scope to build some truly amazing machines... provided you have the budget for it, since each part costs money. Unfortunately, there’s no means of sharing your creations with others, which is what we’ve come to expect in this age of online communities. Surely it wouldn’t have been too difficult to implement?
Graphics are bold and fanciful, with lots of primary colours. Soft focus backgrounds convey the look and feel of a backyard or neighbourhood setting, while the homemade contraptions take centre stage in the foreground. The accompanying music tracks are whimsical and easy on the eardrums, and never intrude on your concentration.
The game as a whole is a charming package suitable for all ages. With its user friendly interface, addictive gameplay, generous number of levels and multiple modes, Crazy Machines Elements is worth the download.