Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Magic Toy Chest Review

The Magic Toy Chest, developed and published by Graduate Games.
The Good: Interesting puzzle components, can skip past difficult levels, puzzle editor
The Not So Good: Simple 2-D graphics, extraneous hidden object element, physics can get frustrating, usually only one solution
What say you? A physics-based puzzle game appropriate for a young audience with occasionally questionable physics and not much room for innovative solutions: 5/8

With a one-year-old daughter, I’ve come to realize the full power of having too many toys lying around the house. Sure, they are fun to play with (not by myself, of course, ahem), but they sure take up a lot of room and can cause undue injury. The Magic Toy Chest is a puzzle game where you must place toys in (surprise!) a magic toy chest by sending them careering downwards after being influenced by additional toys slamming into them. It would be no fun to simple place them in the proper receptacle, so The Magic Toy Chest induces Rube Goldberg-inspired processes for attaining your goals. Does The Magic Toy Chest make it fun to pick up your toys?

The Magic Toy Chest features 2-D graphics that are just OK. The backgrounds invoke the feeling of a real house, but the objects in the game are crude representations of toys: simple bitmaps superimposed on the background. Some of the objects have a nice level of detail, such as the teddy bear, but most of the puzzle elements could use some additional detail. The game screams “independent product,” fine in most cases, but the objects are the focus of the game and they could stand to look better overall. There is some variety imposed with blocks and dominos (as they get a random skin), but overall The Magic Toy Chest lacks, well, magic. The sound is average as well: the subtle background music fits the theme and the effects do a good enough job. It’s nothing outstanding by any means, but it’ll do.

The Magic Toy Chest is a physics-based puzzle game that uses toys as the goals and the puzzle components. By hitting toys with other toys, you attempt to move the goal quantity into the toy box. The game comes with twenty tutorial levels that cover pretty much every aspect of the game and an additional ninety levels in the campaign. You are assigned a score based on how quickly you cleared the level and how many moves it took you. In addition, you can skip past any levels that are giving you trouble. If over 100 levels aren’t enough, there is also a fairly easy-to-use editor included in the game so that you can upload and share your creations with others. Sharing means caring!

The first step towards success is to collect keys hidden around the room in order to unlock the chest. Sometimes the keys are an integral part of the puzzle, but most of the time the activity is completely extraneous. While it is sometimes nice to have some variety when you are playing the game, I found the key hunting exercise to not be that much fun at all. After you unlock the chest, it’s time to manipulate the toys. You are given a goal (such as two baseballs or one rocket) and typically a handful of toys to place in your room. Any toys that end up in the chest (by being hit by other toys) can then also be placed anywhere and used towards a solution. There is a good variety of toys to choose from: baseballs, dominos, teddy bears, blocks, dart guns, rocket ships, ring sorts, whiffle bats, mechanical dogs, bowling balls, dump trucks, helicopters, trains, robots, water balloons, and a jack-in-the-box. Each of these objects has intuitive uses: the rocket ships fly in the direction they are pointing and the bowling balls are heavy, for example. With this suite of objects to choose from, the developers have come up with some innovative puzzles that require some interesting and entertaining solutions.

Since this is a physics based puzzle game, you would expect the physics to be quite good, but this is surprisingly one of the areas in which The Magic Toy Chest falls short. While the objects behave as they should for the most part, there are also a lot of strange happenings. For example, dump trucks that accelerate on an incline float away; Newton would be very displeased. Since most of the objects have weird shapes, there can also be some questionable collisions. With the more simple puzzles, the physics are not an issue. But when things start to get more complicated as more elements are involved, you become the victim of odd happenings or unlucky bounces far too often. I had to skip past too many levels because of the physics. I also had to skip past too many levels because I couldn’t figure out the one solution the developers had in mind. With a few exceptions, there is one way and only one way to succeed in a given level, and this insignificant level of flexibility is not a suggested course of action in a puzzle game. It’s not like the puzzles were overly difficult, it’s just that the combination of a single solution and inconsistent and unpredictable physics made for a majority of puzzles that I couldn’t simply complete. The huge time limits were never an issue, but the level of precision required to finish each puzzle is beyond the precision of the physics engine.

While not short of content and containing some quite interesting puzzles, The Magic Toy Chest is more frustrating than it should be because of the physics. Half of the time they are OK, but the other half you get erratic collisions and flying trucks. When things start to fall over the instant a level starts, there is something fishy going on. I’m not sure if the results would have been better with more conventionally-shaped toys, but I bet all of the curved surfaces didn’t help. This is too bad, because having over one-hundred puzzles and a level editor would keep people busy for quite a long time. I’m thankful that you can skip past annoying levels (mainly because about half of them fall into this category), but it should not be this much of a necessity. Typically only having one solution doesn’t help matters, either. The Magic Toy Chest is a unique presentation of the physics-based puzzle, but it falls short in areas critical to the gameplay.