Sandbox games – the kind of games that are centred more around being given a world and a set of toys to play with, and that let you just get on with playing with the toys rather than accomplishing any particular task – are an odd breed. On one hand it can be a delight to experiment, to build things and to see how just how far you can stretch the tools you’ve been given, and often you’d much rather be mucking about than having any kind of mission foisted upon you. On the other, you often feel short-changed in the game department; that the designers built the world and the toys, and felt that they’d done enough and slapped on a bit of gameplay as an afterthought.
Casey’s Contraptions is just a little bit sandboxy, but it manages to remember to be a proper game as well. It’s clearly ‘inspired by’ venerable PC and Mac title The Incredible Machine, last seen in 2001 and presumed pretty much dead and buried until an iPad version suddenly turned up out of the blue in June with quite a disheartening focus on In-App Purchases. Awkward.
Let’s not dwell on that, though. Casey’s a young cartoon lad of a practical bent, driven by this compulsion to create unlikely contraptions to perform all manner of tasks. Through mindboggling combinations of household items, he challenges you to come up with solutions to problems that would be more effectively (if less entertainingly) solved by simply doing it yourself. Want to get a football into a laundry basket? Obviously you drop a pool ball onto the extending boxing glove that makes the scissors cut the rope that releases the balloon that nudges the football You get the idea.
And that’s the majority of the game. You start off with a handful of items at your disposal, and as the game progresses you pick up more of them and increasingly complicated possibilities present themselves. This can be a little intimating when you’re presented with a level with only a couple of items in place, lots of things to use and a seemingly impossible task to achieve. It’s one of those games where you often progress more through luck than judgement, and it’s only after you’ve fluked it and had the opportunity to see the three-starred solution that Casey himself came up with, that you find out how it ought to have been done. Sometimes you spend ages bashing your head against a level and eventually scrape through, and then on the next one you ace it on the first go. You get the feeling that the designers have been making it up as they go along.
Thankfully, there are more hits than misses in the pleasingly large collection of levels (with plenty more to follow), and a lot of the fun comes from revisiting them, fine-tuning your approach, trying to collect all three stars and then sharing your amazing solution with your friends while checking out how they’ve done it. And while there is a sandbox mode available, providing you with an empty room and every item you’ve managed to unlock so far, it’s not as compelling as you’d think; you don’t have very much room to work with and quickly have to scale back any especially ambitious plans that you might have had.
If elaborate construction is what you had in mind, check out the more scholarly – not to mention free – Tinkerbox. But for when you want fun firing catapults at dolls to knock bowling balls onto see-saws, Casey’s your man.