[Review] Crazy Machines 2 Complete
The appeal of Crazy Machines is strange. The narrative goes that I am at the service of a vaguely professor-ish colleague of popularly referenced smart guys (Einstein, Curie, etc.) and that I often have perform menial chores using engineering elements. Personally, I have never had to consider the proper trajectory that a basketball would have to travel to activate a steam powered hot dog cooker. Turns out that it’s a lot of fun.
Crazy Machines 1 and 2, released together in Crazy Machines 2 Complete, are physics-driven engineering puzzle games. The player is coerced by a garrulous scientist’s head to construct complicated and finicky machines where balls and balloons are the crux of mundane mechanical processes, such as putting a ball into a bucket or sending a robot on a magical space blimp adventure (this really happens). Victory and points are achieved by solving the puzzles with as few of the provided pieces to work with as possible, as quickly as possible, and feeling really smart when everything works flawlessly. Failure is achieved by frustration from spending half an hour adjusting a candle to fall in the right place or nudging a ramp two pixels at a time for an hour until you quit the program and do something else. Also, the professor has a habit of commenting on your poor progress, insisting that perhaps your resolve to solve the puzzle is weak, or that you are easily distracted by important phone calls. The professor becomes an enemy to your intellectual confidence in this way. Unfortunately, there is no machine complicated enough to silence the professor, only the dark avenues of your imagination can construct a satisfying end to the professor’s jeering.
I mostly played Crazy Machines 1 since the sequel didn’t run on my computer (I had to play it on Davis’s computer which has very similar hardware; the problem is mystifying). The game environment in the first game is small, simple, and prone to overcrowding. The game environment in the second game is large, detailed, and still prone to overcrowding. The amount of game space available to work in largely dictates the degree of complexity of both game’s puzzles: Crazy Machines 1 has just enough physical space to make some interesting designs, but the sequel, having four times as much space, bumps the puzzle design to significantly more complex (and frustrating) degrees. Additionally, the amount of space available in the game space correlates to the degree of environmental design: Crazy Machines 1 tends to have decidedly bland and non-distracting backgrounds, which is fine because most of the screen is heavily populated with the things relevant to solving your task, whereas in Crazy Machines 2 the extra game space permits puzzles to have superfluous elements in each levels as part of the environmental design. These environmental design elements tend to serve as red herrings in a game that invites open ended solutions.
The neat thing about Crazy Machines is that it educates the player about some simple engineering concepts. The first levels and tutorials are based largely on learning to build simple steam engines and gear systems. How do you power anything in your household? The answer probably lies in a gear and turbine system somewhere. Gears and turbines tend to power most of your machines as well as battery cells and solar collectors. The simulated physical vocabulary of a mechanical engineer is fun and exciting. Simulated engineering concepts can be explored to pop simulate balloons and launch simulated fireworks. It almost makes me want to study engineering, except that I know real engineering is a series of agonizing math problems.
Crazy Machines 2 introduces many new puzzle elements to work with, such as crankshafts, lasers, flaming arrows, and probably much more if I had explored the game further. The sequel also adds the difficulty of specifying exact ways to complete a task, whereas the first game did not particularly care how the task was completed. I spent half an hour trying to get barrels to roll into a space in a specific order, and the clear solution to the problem didn’t work until i nudged a spring two pixels to the right. It’s things like that that frustrated my endeavor to have fun bouncing things around. Puzzle solving in this game tends to be fun when it is not frustrating, and even then I would spend the time to endeavor for success. It is not so bad.
Perhaps I should be clear on my feelings for the game: there may be an inherent human imperative to solve some problems every now and then, and sometimes puzzle games are designed to satisfy that imperative. The mechanical design of Crazy Machines satisfies those imperatives and induces a sophomoric curiosity to the realm of engineering. Exploring these curiosities remains fun until the problem-solving area of the human imperative gets worn thin, and then the game becomes just such a chore. That is fine though, the design of this game does not ask the player to spend many hours with it at once. There are many hours of puzzles of puzzles to explore, and it is very easy for the player to return to the game after some time and continue to have fun with it.