mikelemmer's Crazy Machines Elements (PC) review

An Incredible Machines Clone That Just Seems Off

Download Size: 256 MB

Time Played: 4 hrs.

Puzzles Solved: 54/100

Puzzles Solved Using Walkthroughs: 2

What I'd Pay: $5

Steam Price (2/11/12): $10

Price of The Incredible Machine Mega Pack on GOG.com: Also $10

I have fond memories of The Incredible Machine 3. When I saw this game, I hoped it would fill its footsteps well. It didn't, but I'm not quite sure why. There's a lot in this game they get right, but there's a couple minor missteps that add up to a frustrating experience.

Each level consists of a Rube Goldberg device with a few pieces missing; your job is to arrange them properly so you can complete the given task. Once you arrange them, you can hit the Play button to run the machine and see if it works. If it does, you complete the level. If it doesn't, back to the drawing board.

Each piece snaps to a tiny grid. Many of the pieces can only be placed where there's a back wall to bolt them onto. Some of the pieces can also be rotated. The pieces also have properties, like Conductive or Flammable. Others have special qualities, like soap sliding easier when it's wet, or a Generator producing electricity when a belt attached to it turns.

The game also has several environmental effects. In addition to the standard "Gravity or No Gravity" settings, it also has different wind speeds and weather affecting your machine. It sounds like it could be interesting, but in practice it wasn't as fun as I expected.

That's the first strike against the game. For calling itself "Crazy Machines", many of the machines really didn't seem that crazy. That may have been because I have only played the first half of the game, but I suspect it's because many of the puzzles have you arranging the boring parts. For example, one puzzle needs a rocket to flip a ramp as it launches. Do you place the rocket? No. The rocket's pre-placed; you end up placing electrical sockets and rotary belts for a conveyor instead. Boring.

Even when you do get to arrange the interesting parts, the game can be very finicky about placement. Bowling balls roll when you expect them to stay still, balls don't press the buttons you expect them to, things you think are close enough to ignite aren't. There's quite a few puzzles where I couldn't tell if my solution wasn't working because I was barking up the wrong or because one thing was a bit out of place. For example, on one puzzle a bar of soap had to slide down a ramp to push a button, but it was hitting the button & not pushing it. It took a minute of experimentation until I realized I had to drop it from the very top of the screen to give it enough speed to hit the button with enough force to press it. On another puzzle, a tea kettle was very obviously set up to push a tennis ball, yet no matter where I set the heater below it, it wouldn't push the ball with its steam, even when the ball was right next to the spout. Was the placement off a bit? Was I supposed to just let the kettle fall somewhere else? I couldn't tell.

The (nearly) free rotation and "need backdrop to bolt onto" requirements make placing objects similarly hard. I got elongated fuses that needed to be rotated and placed in very specific ways to fit on the backdrops properly, or flammable platforms that needed to be rotated just right to catch the flame without blocking the tea kettle. There were too many puzzles where I knew the solution, but had to constantly retweak parts until they worked, or I persued a wrong solution for 5-10 minutes because I thought the problem was one slightly-misplaced object.

The game's award system exasperates the problem. You're not graded on how fast you solve the puzzle, or how many parts you use, but by how many golden bolts you pick up on the level. They served as hints on too few stages, and served as reprimands for not using the developers' solution on too many. There was one stage I bypassed the whole contraption by hooking the victory object directly to a spare plug I placed. I got a bronze medal for noticing the developers' oversight.

All these little things added up to a mostly boring & annoying trek through the game. The games' graphics & music (both forgettable) contributed to it. I can forgive the workhorse graphics; it's tough to do the pastiche backgrounds The Incredible Machine 3 had in a 3D game, and the clean graphics help you understand the puzzle. I can't forgive the wholly unmemorable music; The Incredible Machine 3 had some great music, and similarly-priced indie games have CD-quality tracks. You can't rely on sound effects to carry the game's audio when you spend 3/4ths of the game looking at the screen and thinking.

Despite all that, the main puzzles were entertaining enough I was going to give it 3 stars out of 5, but then I decided to check out the Editor. That was a humongous disappointment, a clear indication it was a straight port, and the reason its score dropped 1 star. Namely, it doesn't have any way to trade puzzles online.

Let me repeat that. You have a level editor in a puzzle game... without any way to easily trade them to other players. This is not acceptable on a computer game nowadays, especially one connected to Steam. There are indie games out there made by 1-man teams that let people upload, trade, and access mods from a central server; why does a Rube Goldberg game, where half the fun is building your own puzzles to stump people with, not have a way to share them online?! I won't even get into the crazy system where it limits how many items you can put in a puzzle with a spending limit, a lack of online sharing just scuttles the puzzle editor for me.

This game could've been much better with a few tweaks. As is, I just have an urge to get the old Incredible Machine games running on my computer and see if I'm just being nostalgic about them or if they really are better than this imitation.

...Wait... *checks GOG*

The Incredible Machine Mega Pack costs $10 on Good Old Games.

My opinion? Get that instead; you'll probably enjoy that a lot more, for a lot longer, than this imitation.

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