Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Armadillo Run Review

Armadillo Run, developed and published by Peter Stock.
The Good: Outstanding physics engine with interactive elements, infinite solutions, easy construction, requires some thought, level editor
The Not So Good: Not as many parts as other games, bland graphics
What say you? An entertaining construction-based puzzle game with exceptional physics: 7/8

As computers have become more sophisticated, developers have been including more advanced physics in their games. From the rag-doll effects of first person shooters to realistic aerodynamics in flight simulators, games have progressively gotten closer to simulating real life. Real world physics have found their way into puzzle games as well, bringing Newtonian mechanics to the realm of solving computerized conundrums. In Armadillo Run, you will guide an armadillo/yellow ball from start to finish by constructing various Rube Goldberg–like contraptions.

Armadillo Run concentrates more on the physics of the game than the visual presentation of what’s going on, and consequently features some pretty dull graphics. The backgrounds are solid white (for the most part) and the pieces are exactly what they are (a rope is a rope and not a snake) with no fanciful enhancement. The game is presented in full 3-D, though, and you can watch from the armadillo’s point of view during the puzzle’s execution, which is pretty cool. So while the graphics have no pieces of flair, the 3-D engine saves the game from being totally dreadful in the graphics department. The sound is also frugal to say the least: there are only a few sound effects and no background music. Armadillo Run won’t win any awards for visual or audio presentation, but the minimalist nature of the game shouldn’t be too disappointing for most players.

Each level in Armadillo Run requires you to build a structure to guide your armadillo ball-of-fun to the exit portal, where it must become stationary for around five seconds. You have several materials at your disposal to construct your solutions. There are three surfaces to choose from: inflexible metal, flexible cloth, and bouncy rubber. Each of these materials must be anchored to stationary anchor points through the use of the three supports: inflexible metal bars, flexible rope, and bouncy elastic. See a pattern forming here? You can also use rockets to make stuff fly across the level or otherwise fight against the force of gravity, though they are expensive. You are limited to the amount of money you can spend on each level, which prevents an outrageously complicated solution. You can influence each of the materials by applying (or removing) tension or setting a timer for destruction purposes. The game includes 50 levels of increasing difficulty and has a level editor so that you can come up with your own crazy situations (as many people have already done). The end result is a very satisfying game even with the small number of tools at your disposal. You can create pretty much anything your budget will allow, and the great thing about a game like this is that you can come up with a solution that the puzzle builder never even thought of and still pass the level. It’s this kind of flexibility that results in high value. Some of the solutions are difficult, but the game gives small hints on which way to tailor your solutions. The number of possible ways to solving most of the puzzles varies tremendously, unlike most puzzle games where the only appropriate solution is essentially hard-coded into the game. Armadillo Run also allows for some pretty cool mechanics once you figure out how to make them: rockets, slides, trampolines, you name it, it’s probably possible to build.

Armadillo Run takes its comprehensive physics engine and comes away with a very entertaining puzzle game. The contraptions you come up with all behave as they should, with no wacky collisions or outcomes. Many different solutions are possible, so that removes a lot of the frustration present in most puzzles games of this type. The game’s 50 puzzles (plus a comprehensive and excellent tutorial) are enough to keep you busy for a while, but the community has come strong with many wacky puzzles already available for download. There’s really no reason not to purchase this game, so download the demo and check out this wonderful puzzle game.