This brilliant physics-based puzzle game has the power to turn even the most ardent science hater into a budding Brunel, Eiffel, or Dyson. However addicted you are to slaughter or strategizing AR will seduce you, I guarantee it. The concept is really simple. Each level consists of an inanimate basketball-like armadillo, a blue destination portal and some anchor-points or pre-built structures. Using elements like rope, steel, elastic, and rockets you have to build a device that will get the armadillo to the portal.
Naturally, there's a catch. Every level has its own budget and all the building materials have their own associated costs. The obvious way to solve Level 27 might be to build a gently sloping steel ramp from armadillo to portal, but you haven't been given nearly enough money for that so a more minimal, more imaginative solution must be sought. Level 40 would be a push-over if you had enough cash to construct a rocket-propelled elevator, but the funds provided aren't sufficient so you'll have to experiment with counterweights or an elastic-powered cannon.
The joy of the experimentation is that there are no time limits or penalties for failure, and (this factor is very important) you know you aren't rummaging around in a haystack hunting for just one pre-hidden needle. The realistic physics and wide range of building materials mean there are literally hundreds of unique ways of solving most of the scenarios. Sometimes you even achieve success accidentally when a part of your design breaks or behaves unexpectedly. In a level I've just completed, I was working on an elaborate system of interconnected seesaws. After one rather optimistic alteration, the first seesaw decided to self-destruct mid-test creating a sort of accidental trebuchet that lobbed the orange orb directly into the portal hammock. "Result!" as Alexander Fleming once famously uttered.
Destruction is actually pretty important in the game. Not only can you position and link lengths of metal, fabric, rope, rubber, and elastic anywhere on the screen, you can also adjust their tension, and prime them to snap with miniature explosives. Why on Earth would you want to do a mad thing like that? Well lets say you're planning to move the armadillo across the screen on a home-made swing; you might fix the raised swing onto the end of a platform with a primed steel strut. The charge on the strut would be set to blow once the armadillo had rolled into position. Maybe another charge-released device would snatch the swing with a jolt when it reached the other side, allowing the animal to tumble out and continue on its merry way.
If tensioning ropes and setting bomb timers sounds a bit involved then it's worth pointing-out that tricks like these are really only important later in the game. AR has a pretty straightforward interface and a very gentle learning curve. Ten engaging mini-challenges introduce the various gameplay elements and controls; 50 missions then gradually ramp-up the challenge and the complexity. Given the simple ingredients and the unchanging objective, it's remarkable just how diverse these missions are. Looking back through my library of auto-saved solutions, I can see huge rocket-driven Ferris wheels, elaborate rollercoaster-style rail systems, giant guillotines, massive golf clubs, colossal cobwebs of rope and elastic... With half-built mechanisms pre-positioned at the start of scenarios you are sometimes nudged in certain creative directions, but much of the variety is a natural by-product of a great design.
Picking holes in AR is pleasingly hard, but I guess some gamers might fall foul of the linear scenario structure. To progress you must solve each puzzle in turn, so there's potential for getting stuck. The experimentation-based gameplay makes this highly unlikely however. Very occasionally I find myself yearning for a toggleable grid underlay to help with symmetrical designs, but this is another very minor complaint.
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