[Originally posted on PopMatters]
There’s no mystery behind Crazy Machines Elements. Everything is laid right out on the surface. There are machines based on the elements that could quite fairly be called: crazy. This is a physics-based puzzle game that uses Rube Goldberg inspired machines to solve each puzzle. The titular twist is that most puzzles involve using at least one of five elements (fire, water, ice, wind and electricity) to solve each problem. Crazy Machines: Elements promises complex, interesting puzzles with cleverly simple answers, and for the most part, it delivers. Unfortunately there are a few missteps in the delivery.
For starters, while the game is at home enough on the Xbox 360, it would probably work better on the PC, on a DS, or on a smartphone. Using a joystick for precise cursor movements doesn’t work as well as a mouse or a touchscreen and finding one piece of the puzzle just a pixel off from where it’s supposed to be can be frustrating, especially during longer puzzles in which it takes three tries to make perfect placements for a solution you figured out five minutes ago. The game could also benefit from a fast forward function, some of the slower moving machines can become tedious and without the option to speed them along, many puzzles end up taking longer than they need to. Furthermore, sometimes object get lost on a larger screen, and a few puzzles are unnecessarily difficult because a part of the solution appears to be lost in the background.
As for the backgrounds, they’re surprisingly pleasant. Most backgrounds feature a rainy backyard, a hazy beach, or a foggy street. They’re enjoyable to look at but aren’t so detailed that they distract from the puzzles. What is perhaps even most striking, though, is the soundtrack. Not only are the tracks very calm and soothing but also level appropriate. Levels with a beach in the background are accompanied by the sounds of the soft lapping of waves on a beach and a solo acoustic guitar. Other levels have more of an upbeat sound to match a sunnier setting. It doesn’t affect the game any, but it’s a nice aesthetic touch that deserves to be mentioned.
As for the puzzles themselves, they’re satisfyingly challenging without being unreasonable (except when a vital cog or ball bearing disappears in the glare of a sunset). Unfortunately, it takes a good dozen levels before the game really starts to become challenging. However, there are enough levels in the game that there’s plenty to get out of once the game really gets going. Each puzzle is solved using a set of tools that must be used to solve a simple problem (e.g. put a basketball through a hoop, power up this fan, etc.) and the epiphany that comes when you first think to turn a spring on its side or use steam from a kettle as a propulsion device is very rewarding and points at clever design.
That being said, once each puzzle is solved there’s nothing more to do with it. There is only one solution for each puzzle and even accidentally stumbling upon a different one will lead to a lower score. The game punishes creativity, which is a shame for what is otherwise a creative game. The game comes with a level builder through which players can create their own crazy machines, but without any online support, there’s almost no point to it. Creating your own puzzle is fine, but it defeats the purpose when it is so difficult to share it with anyone that doesn’t know the solution.
Each level and each package must also be unlocked in a linear fashion. Each one is set up nicely as a few softer “tutorial-esque” puzzles are enacted each time that a new element is introduced, but there’s no way to skip puzzles if the player gets stuck or gets bored with the current level package.
In terms of physics games, there are plenty out there and Crazy Machines: Elements contends fairly evenly with most of them. It adds a little more depth than Angry Birds and it isn’t as creative as Gerbil Physics, but it is good at what it does. It’s as well suited to hour long sessions before work as it is to weekend long marathons. Whether you burn through it all in a sitting or take it a puzzle at a time, it’s definitely a challenging and effective game.
Ten dollars isn’t the most outrageous price for a game, but considering how many similar titles there are, it could determine whether or not Crazy Machines: Elements is worth a purchase. It’s flawed in some areas, pleasantly surprising in others, and for those that are looking for a good hobby game, it fits the bill quite nicely. It doesn’t offer the world, nor does it break any boundaries, but it does satisfy as a decent puzzler.
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