Another great puzzle game for a budget price
Puzzle games such as Lemmings and Lode Runner used to be a huge staple of PC gaming, but they have gradually disappeared in favor of more complex experiences offered by genres such as the first person shooter and the MMORPG. You can still find action/puzzle games like Bejeweled and you can solve puzzles in action games such as the Half-Life series, but true puzzle games are almost nonexistent nowadays. If you miss the days when you could wrack your brain for 100+ of puzzling goodness, then you will want to check out the Crazy Machines series. Specifically, Crazy Machines 1.5 is a great puzzle game for a budget price. The presentation would be at home in about 1999 and about half of the game is a tutorial, but once the game takes off the training wheels, it's one of the better puzzle games on the market.
A quick summary of the series is in order if you did not play the first game. The game throws hundreds of simple challenges at you with a task like "turn on this light" or "put this ball in the basket". To accomplish your task, you are given some simple devices or tools such as weights, ropes, fans, robots, batteries, and dozens of other possible trinkets. Stringing together these devices in a sequence and testing your setup is how you complete challenges.
Like any good puzzle game, the strength of Crazy Machines 1.5 is that it gradually introduces concepts to you and layers them into progressively harder challenges. One by one, you get to see physics principles like gravity, friction, momentum, and electricity introduced in straightforward ways. The game also includes some advanced concepts, like using steam to generate electricity. Once you have learned the basics, puzzles start mixing and matching them together. The physics engine is realistic and robust – an eight ball, for example, is far less dense than a ping pong ball, and thus has different uses. It's an excellent formula, and the game is very challenging once you get about halfway through it (Crazy Machines 1.5 is harder than the first game). It is one of those rare games that is challenging for adults, but educational for younger gamers as well.
The simpler puzzles typically only have one solution, but as they get harder and more complicated, the game becomes more open-ended. Many of the game's later challenges look impossible at first and require some experimentation before you figure out what you need to do. A perfect example of this kind of brainbuster is a late puzzle that requires you to build a bridge out of dominoes. Each puzzle limits the items that you can place and where you can place them, but they still leave you a lot of freedom in how you use them. It is a common experience to come up with an ugly, brute force solution to a puzzle, and then look at the recommended solution and find that it is surprisingly elegant.
Crazy Machines 1.5 isn't going to win any awards for it's graphics or audio. It uses flat, 2D graphics that are simple, but adequate. The audio consists of basic but realistic sounds like metal hitting wood, a balloon popping, electricity arcing, and so on. There is a small selection of music that loops endlessly, and a professor character that pops up and provides comments or taunts occasionally. Some of them don't make much sense, which is probably a result of the game having originally been made in German.
With so few quality, creative brain teasing games on the market nowadays, the Crazy Machines series is a refreshing find. Crazy Machines 1.5 is another excellent entry into this criminally underappreciated series at a budget price.