|System: Xbox 360, PS3|
|Dev: FAKT Software|
|Pub: DTP Entertainment|
|Release: August 24, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Robert VerBruggen
Crazy Machines Elements promises to be a spiritual successor to The Incredible Machine; it's a game that lets you create bizarre devices in the style of Rube Goldberg and see how they work. Unfortunately, its primary gameplay mode doesn't quite hit the mark, and the title is plagued by control difficulties.
The main mode is a set of 100 puzzles. Each time, you're given a goal (push a candle so that it lights a fuse, for instance) and some parts to work with (boards, ropes, etc.). The word "Elements" in the title refers to the fact that the puzzles often require you to work with, well, elements, including wind and fire. The levels are well-designed, but they don't give you enough freedom; in fact, almost always, most of the puzzle is already done for you. The Rube Goldberg machine is already set up, and all you have to do is figure out where the remaining parts go.
This pretty much just misses the point. The joy of a game like this is that you have the freedom to be creative—to make up your own wacky machine that solves the puzzle in a way that the creators never thought of. If there's only one solution, it's a different kind of puzzle entirely, and it's not nearly as fun. It's true that too much freedom can be a bad thing—in Crayon Physics Deluxe, many of the puzzles can be solved the exact same way, for instance—but here, the player feels so constricted that there's almost no creativity at all.
In addition to accomplishing the goal, you can have the machine's moving parts collect the bolts that are strewn about the screen, which makes for an additional challenge. And some of the later puzzles are quite difficult (I found myself wishing for a hint system a few times). But even as the game gets harder, the challenge isn't to tap into your inner architect, but to figure out where an increasing number of missing doodads are supposed to go. The goal still isn't to design a machine, but to fix the machine the developers came up with by installing the appropriate parts.
There's a "Challenge" mode as well, however, and this mode is considerably more fun. Here, the puzzles are much more open. You're given a goal, along with some in-game currency; you can use the currency to purchase any materials you want, and from there you can solve the puzzle however you please. Unfortunately, you can't play this mode until you complete the first 50 regular puzzles, however. There's also a level creator, which adds to the game's sandbox-style features with more than 100 items you can use in your designs. If the entire game were designed like these two modes, and if you could play Challenge mode right away, it would be a much more enjoyable experience.
However, even the sandbox modes are plagued by control difficulties. You move pieces using the left joystick, which is a constant reminder that you don't have a mouse. There are a variety of problems with the button controls, too; I always caught myself returning my items to my tool kit instead of de-selecting them, and I found it incredibly frustrating that you can't rotate items after you've tied a rope around them. Sometimes, pieces would jump around when I was just trying to fine-tune their placement. Whereas a mouse would have made the interface snappy and intuitive, the limits of a console controller make it fiddly and clumsy.
There is a PC version out there, but it seems it is only available in Europe at this point. Assuming you have a decent PC, and that you don't have an absolute need to play the game right now, I would recommend holding out for that version to head stateside—even though it might never come—or just getting an earlier Crazy Machines game from Steam instead. There are some games that simply demand a mouse, and this is one of them.