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Review CornerSoftware
Return of The Incredible Machine: Contraptions
Rating: five stars
The Bottom Line
This is an addictive game of trial-and-error as players work through mind-bending puzzles that become progressively more involved as levels advance. With a new "build" mode, pleasing graphics, and the option to play head-to-head, this title is a must-buy for puzzle lovers ages 9 through adult.
Award of Excellence
Ages: 9-up   Subject: Thinking Skills  Brand: Sierra Attractions
Review Sections: Product Overview  Entertainment Value  Technically Speaking  Design  Skills Covered  Replayability  Educational Value  Dollar Value
Return of The Incredible Machine: Contraptions Product Overview
How do you start fireworks with a baseball, flashlight, magnifying glass, and a candle? Hand it to The Incredible Machine to turn mundane tasks into zany productions. The incredibly maddening, yet incredibly compelling Incredible Machine is back with a whole slew of new mind-bending challenges that will keep your brain busy for hours on end.

This title opens with the voice of the Professor welcoming players through a megaphone. It seems that one of his zany experiments has gone awry, rendering him radioactive! It comes as no surprise that the Professor is overworked and in need of some help. He did find the time, however, to create scads of unfinished contraptions lying around his top secret inventor's complex in hopes of finding someone with enough brainpower to become his apprentice. That's where you come in — solve all of the contraptions and you can prove you're worthy of the title.

Tutorials — all 50 of them — are pretty much forced upon you, but you will need them. Each lesson is neither too difficult nor time-consuming, but quite necessary as each helps introduce you to the workings of the various contraption objects and parts that you will encounter in regular game mode.

Each of the 250+ puzzles presents you with a goal, a play field containing a partially-built contraption with various doo-dads in place, and a parts bin. You must fiddle with the given objects, place them just so, and hopefully arrive at a viable solution to the problem at hand. Trial and error is the name of the game — chances are you'll need to tinker with your contraption and watch it play out many times over before finally making it work. Happily, you are afforded unlimited chances to fine-tune your contraption. Simple goals like lighting a candle or making toast might seem straightforward but you must work with only the materials at hand — things like rope, laser beams, pulleys, candles, and magnifying glasses. Parts can be stretched and rotated, and some are even programmable. For example, programmable balls can have basic properties like density, mass, friction, and elasticity adjusted in order to become more useful. Information about each object is readily available, and each behaves in a logical manner. It's a good idea to do the puzzles in the order they are laid out for you — they are carefully arranged so as to introduce new objects and challenges gradually.

Puzzles become progressively more challenging as levels advance, when hints begin to drop off or become more cryptic, and useless parts begin to appear in your parts bin. There are 5 different levels to puzzle through, and you can bet they are challenging. This isn't mindless shoot-em-up fare.

The variety of puzzles is terrific — you might enjoy a game of space hoops as you attempt to get a basketball into a basket pinball-style, or help cage a kitty. Whatever the task, your brain is in for quite a work-out. Most puzzles have multiple solutions, and once you've completed a contraption your way, it can be fun (and educational) to watch the program's solution. You can even replay your own solution, sometimes in awe ("how did I do that?"). We do wish that there was an option to see a puzzle's solution when we officially gave up on some of them, but as it stands, you must complete the puzzle yourself in order to be privy to the program's solution.

If the current puzzle's musical track such as "Techno Rave" is making you nervous, head to the Preferences screen to choose funky jazz or some cool lounge music — whatever it takes to get your brain in gear for the puzzle at hand. In fact, if you don't like the look or sound of your puzzle, you'll find plenty of options to customize it here.

Another exciting mode of play can be found in the "Build Contraptions" area. After a handy walkthrough lesson, here you can design and build your very own contraptions.

A two-player mode is available for head-to-head competition. This special mode contains over 50 special puzzles in which players vie not only to build a workable contraption, but to do it before their opponent does.

Technically Speaking
Minimum requirements are Win 95/98/2000, Pentium 90 MHz, 32 MB RAM, (Pentium 166 with 64 MB RAM preferred), 4X CD-ROM. Mac users require a Power PC 120 MHz+, System 8.5.1 or better, 32 MB RAM, and 4X CD-ROM. Minimum 50 MB of free hard drive space is required.

Skills Covered
logical thinking, mechanics, physics, problem-solving

Educational Value
There is nothing mindless about this game — it provides an excellent way to exercise the brain with unlimited opportunities to explore, experiment, and learn through trial and error.

Entertainment Value
Any person, child through adult, who loves to experiment, is fascinated with chain reactions, or simply enjoys a good puzzle will find this title thoroughly absorbing. There's plenty of humor and a playful atmosphere, making it quite suitable for family use.

Everything is laid out very well. Plenty of help is available in the form of hints in the tutorials and lower levels, and an online manual for detailed explanations. Everything looks and feels good, too, with a pleasing 3-D perspective, realistic physics models, and customizable sounds and graphics.

Loads of puzzles are available, and all are replayable with multiple solutions, though not everyone will want to return to completed puzzles. However, there is no shortage of challenging and time-consuming content here!

Dollar Value
Suggested retail price is $29.95 US.

Released: 2000
Reviewed: July 2000