Return of The Incredible Machine allows players to use unique, sometimes humorous mechanical components to construct fantastic machines that accomplish unusual tasks. Each puzzle contains a partially built machine and the extra pieces needed to complete it and accomplish the goal. The player's job is to use the pieces in the correct way to complete the machine. As players become more familiar with the various machine parts and their functions, the puzzles become more sophisticated and challenging. This third installment of the Incredible Machine series from Sierra features improved graphics and new puzzles to challenge virtual engineers of all ages.
Not surprisingly, the gaming industry has changed drastically in the past several years. With growing emphasis placed on the latest in 3D technology, many genres have fallen by the wayside due to their inability to take advantage of fancy visuals. Among those select genres that have taken a back seat on the PC are puzzle games. With each passing year, it seems that fewer and fewer puzzle games are being developed. For those who still yearn for such gaming experiences, today is a good day, because Sierra has finally unleashed its sequel to their original The Incredible Machine. So for those fans of the original, and fans of puzzle games in general, raise your glass, for The Return of the Incredible Machine: Contraptions continues the legacy of The Incredible Machine with pride.
In the Return of the Incredible Machine: Contraptions, the professor, who seems to have rendered himself radioactive, challenges you to complete all of his unfinished contraptions in a contest to win the position as his main apprentice. There are 250 contraptions in all, each requiring your brainpower in order to fix or build from scratch. The contraptions are broken down into 5 sets of 50. The first 50 contraptions are part of an in-depth tutorial that help acquaint you not only with the game's interface, but also with the wide variety of devices available at your disposal. There are over 100 different objects in the 'parts bin' and although the tutorial contraptions go on far too long (Fifty of them, yikes!), you really shouldn't skip over them, otherwise you might miss important details regarding the little features each of the devices possess. Some of the items feature programmable options such that you can set their gravity, density, mass and friction qualities, so unless you want to get stuck later in the game, I suggest you bear with the tutorial contraptions.
Once you've completed the in-depth tutorial, you'll move on to the next set of 50 contraptions. The level of difficulty increases as you complete each set of 50 puzzles, ranging from easy to expert. The good news is, unlike the original Incredible Machine, the sequel allows you to jump ahead and select the contraption of your choice. So if you get stuck on a particular contraption, you can always skip it and move onward, or jump straight into the most difficult contraptions available. The bad news is, Return of the Incredible Machine won't show you the ideal solution to a particular contraption unless you solve the contraption first with your own solution. In other words, if you don't come up with a solution to a particular contraption, you won't get to find out how to solve it. What's great about Return of the Incredible Machine though, is there's rarely only one way to go about a contraption. There are multiple means to the end and once you solve any of the contraptions, you can view the professor's ideal solution at the click of a button.
So what kind of puzzles are we talking about here? Well, have you ever heard of Rube Goldberg? Ok, let me create a sample contraption. The objective of one particular contraption might be to get a ball into a basket. In order to achieve this objective, a series of events would have to take place. For example, you might have to devise a contraption where you would get a ball to drop on a teeter-totter, which in turn launches another ball into the air, flicking a switch and turning on an electrical device. The electrical device would then set off another series of events, which would eventually conclude in the ball rolling down the ramp and into the basket. Objectives range from popping balloons to getting a mouse safely into his hole.
The Return of the Incredible Machine's design is rather confusing. The layout is very simple and the tone and amount of voice effects provided by the professor suggest that this game is geared towards a much younger audience. However, there's no way a young gamer is going to complete some of the more difficult puzzles, so I'm not quite sure what age group Contraptions was designed for in particular. Perhaps it's geared towards young and old, but I would have preferred a more appropriate layout in that case. That little gripe aside, a nice feature in Contraptions is the availability of 'helping hands'. Each puzzle features several 'helping hands' scattered throughout the screen, and each of them provide hints via speech. As you progress from one level to the next, the 'helping hands' become less and less helpful, so don't expect the solution to be given to you every time.
Contraptions' single player experience is exceptional, but unfortunately the multiplayer options are less than satisfying. You can play with up to 9 players in a hot-seat fashion. Each player receives a designated period of time in order to play with the contraption before control moves on to the next player. The contraption remains unchanged from the previous player though, so what ends up happening is that each player adds on to the solution. The player who correctly puts the final piece of the puzzle together, wins. Such an approach is awkward because while you'd like to introduce certain parts to the puzzle, you don't want to give anybody else the upper hand. It's an odd approach to say the least and it doesn't work at all. There are 50 of these multiplayer contraptions available at your disposal in case you do enjoy this feature.
Last but not least, there's also a contraption builder. That's right, you can even build your own contraptions and send them to your buddies. The entire parts bin is available at your disposal and you'll choose everything from which pieces will be locked onto the screen, which parts will be available in the player's parts bin, and even such characteristics as gravity for each puzzle (that's right, you can choose to have everything float upwards instead of fall downwards in your contraption). If you wish to throw in 'helping hands' you can even do that as well.
The legacy of the Incredible Machine continues with The Return of the Incredible Machine: Contraptions. This is easily the best puzzle game to come along in years and fans of the genre will not want to miss it. The multiplayer options could use a little tuning, but the improvement on the Contraption Builder as well as the 250 pre-set puzzles is sure to provide hours of fun for gamers of all ages.
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