Aspiring "doctors of Contraptology" will enjoy this puzzling and addictive program. The Professor returns with a whole slew of partially completed contraptions in this new addition to The Incredible Machine software line that continues the tradition of presenting compelling, offbeat puzzles.
Anyone new to contraption puzzles will want to take a lesson on how to build them—a full tutorial is available. Once complete, kids can then move on to Easy, Medium, or Hard puzzle sets.
Each puzzle runs something like this: Kids, working as the Professor's star apprentice, are presented with an objective (such as "Help Newton Mouse jump into his cosy box"), a partially assembled contraption on a play field, and a number of parts (like cheese, pinwheels, and levers) in the parts bin. It is their job to build a working contraption with the given parts in order to reach the puzzle's goal. On lower levels, kids are armed with hints and tips. As levels advance, more and more distracting decoys appear, increasing numbers of unnecessary parts are in the bin, and there is less hand-holding in general.
Most kids will quickly learn that pressing the Start button early on in a puzzle will help them to understand what they have to do. In fact, they'll most likely need to restart their puzzle many times in order to check out how their contraption is progressing. Trial and error is a huge part of the game. As well, it is also helpful to work backwards—from the goal of the contraption back to the start. Parts range from simple to complicated, and ordinary to goofy. But whatever they are, it is helpful to group them into logical pairs (such as mirrors with lasers).
Many of the objectives are downright silly. For example, a recurring character, Mel, is late for work, but he is mesmerized by his aquarium. The solution (of course!) is to break his aquarium, and kids will need to use springs, levers, and a crocodile to do the deed! This kind of silliness is just right for kids—it helps to keep them coming back for more and adds to the entertainment value of the CD-ROM. This is a good thing because the program is actually quite educational. Players need to use their brains and think in a logical manner. As they tinker with parts like gravity pads, inclines, and springs, they learn about cause and effect. Many of the parts work in scientifically sound ways, though some, like the anti-gravity ball, do not. Even so, as long as kids can distinguish between those that follow the laws of physics and those that don't, the program does teach a few things about physics.
There isn't only one way to complete each puzzle, so kids can draw upon their own creative ingenuity to pull through. In order to build a successful contraption, players need to learn about and understand the various parts. They are free to experiment endlessly (there are no time limits), and in fact trial and error is all part of the learning process.
If players don't like how their game looks or sounds, they can head to the Preferences screen where there is a whole library of musical themes to choose from. A toolkit for making unique contraptions is provided for the true inventors-at-heart. Competitive types can play the game in healthy head-to-head competitions with the program's surprisingly fun multiplayer mode.
This title is best suited for kids who like to tinker with things—those who enjoy taking things apart and putting them back together again. Even so, kids who are not as mechanically inclined will learn a thing or two with this title. The program does require a certain amount of follow-through, however, so children who give up easily may find the game frustrating.
Kids don't need to have played the previous titles in the series in order to enjoy this latest—Even More Contraptions is a good place to start. Nothing much is new compared to last year's Return of the Incredible Machine, except that there are 250 all-new puzzles to solve.
Testers sometimes wished for a "give up" option in which a solution would play through for times when they were truly stumped. We're guessing that the developers thought that would be too much of an easy way out—and they'd probably be right. If kids do make it through a contraption, they have the option to replay their own solved contraption, and/or watch the program's solution (and these can very often be quite different).