Sunday, January 18, 2009

Crayon Physics Deluxe Review

Crayon Physics Deluxe, developed and published by Kloonigames.
The Good: Splendid unique theme, instinctive mechanics, almost infinite variety of correct solutions, level editor with online database
The Not So Good: Sometimes trivially easy, no method of scoring, the very rare object collision quirk
What say you? Crayons plus physics equals awesome: 8/8

One day during my honeymoon in the Poconos, we took a trip to the Crayola factory in Easton, Pennsylvania. I doubt that many people have this on their itinerary immediately following a wedding, but that’s what you get with people that had their reception at an aquarium. Anyway, it was pretty cool (I got to see how markers are made!), and it also doubles as a decent introduction to Crayon Physics Deluxe. This game won the IGF Grand Prize, beating out Out of Eight high-scorers Audiosurf and World of Goo. That’s pretty strong competition in the world of independent puzzle games. Were all of those accolades justified?

A game entitled Crayon Physics Deluxe better feature some crayons, and Crayon Physics Deluxe certainly does that. All of the graphics look spectacular with a real hand-drawn feel; this is one game where “childish” graphics is actually a compliment. Most objects in the game are also animated, giving a vibrant feel to the game world. The goal of the graphics in Crayon Physics Deluxe was met: to make drawings come to life. The music fits the theme of the game well, featuring a piano-heavy ensemble that gives a slightly depressing but effective background to the game. It’s difficult for a specific vision to get successfully executed in a computer game (especially by essentially a one-man development team), but Crayon Physics Deluxe has certainly delivered its desired theme.

Crayon Physics Deluxe takes place over 77 levels where you must guide a red ball to a star (or two) by drawing things that will move the ball to its intended destination. You don’t need to beat every level in order to unlock the next, as the levels are displayed on a map (that you can draw on, naturally) that has multiple pathways to allow you to skip troubling or difficult puzzles. You can encounter the difficult puzzle located at a key intersection, so the lack of hints or any other type of help is a bit questionable. It would be nice to share solutions through some sort of movie feature, but this may be beyond reality and just wishful thinking on my part. After you are done with the main game, you can download puzzles made by others using the level editor. Unlocked from the beginning (thanks!), you can make your own nefarious creations and then upload them in-game to share with others. This aspect of the game isn’t completely fleshed out, as you can’t download additional levels from within the game and you need to play them through the level editor, which might reveal some of the secrets to solving each creation. Still, a level editor in a flexible game such as this should greatly expand the replay value of the game and highlight how creative Crayon Physics Deluxe allows you to be.

You have limited interaction with the game world: you can draw shapes with the mouse (or a tablet PC) and give your red ball a little nudge with the mouse buttons. Even so, you are allowed to make any crazy shape you want and the game does an excellent job producing plausible physics for your poor drawings. It’s very rare that the game messes up with odd collisions, even with very oddly-shaped objects you are bound to draw. There are other objects, other than shapes: pins to hold objects to each other (made by drawing a small circle), rockets (activated by hitting them with another object), and rope (a single line). You can also decorate your drawings with different colors (selected with the mouse wheel); while this is purely aesthetic, it does allow for more contrast so that you can see what you are doing. Crayon Physics Deluxe is friendly to new players, as there is no time limit and you can fall off the map as often as you’d like: the red ball will respawn at its initial position, but everything else will remain where it is. Crayon Physics Deluxe does not have any method of scoring: a puzzle is either “complete” or “not.” Thus, there is no online high score list or any way of comparing your progress against others; I wonder, then, why you need to sign in to an account to play, as this feature doesn’t seem to come with any visible benefits.

While World of Goo was too hard, Crayon Physics Deluxe tends to be on the easier side, at least for the first two-thirds of the game. There are no hints for most levels, so if you’re stuck, you’re stuck, but this doesn’t happen too often and the journey is enjoyable anyway. You have a pretty good idea on what you want to do, but it’s a matter of simply executing it. Some of the problem lies in that fact that the game defines your object for you based on how you draw it: something that you intended to be a rope might end up being a solid object if you draw it slightly off. While a lot of the puzzles have one (most of the time) obvious solution, Crayon Physics Deluxe gives you a lot of freedom in coming up with your own unique solution, and that adds to the greatness of the game. I have certainly solved the same puzzle multiple ways and I am constantly coming up with new solutions I can try out. A lot of puzzle games suffer from the “one solution” syndrome and it can be quite difficult to think of the same solution as the developer, but Crayon Physics Deluxe has enough freedom to make it quite an entertaining puzzle game for the entire duration of the campaign. The physics engine produces quality believable results so the game never becomes overly frustrating, as your inept designs are causing failure rather than the game design itself. Literally any object is at your disposal, as Crayon Physics Deluxe only limits you to the space on the screen and your mouse-drawing ability; there are no artificial restrictions here, such as only five angled tubes or whatnot. This leaves the realm of possibility wide open and, along with the strong theme of the game, makes Crayon Physics Deluxe quite a notable puzzle title.

Flexible and wildly entertaining, Crayon Physics Deluxe is a hallmark puzzle game. The most striking and easily identifiable feature of Crayon Physics Deluxe is the art style: sure, it’s gimmicky, but it’s darn effective at creating a creative environment…creatively. I mean, how many games let you draw on the campaign screen? Thankfully, the quality doesn’t stop there, as there is a very solid physics engine and well-designed puzzles contained herein. I have the propensity to become frustrated if I repeatedly fail a series of levels in a game, but Crayon Physics Deluxe never pushed my buttons in a negative fashion. There are many "close calls" while attempting to solve the various puzzles in Crayon Physics Deluxe and there is always room for improvement, either in overall strategy (of which each puzzle has many) or general drawing skill. Even crazy and poorly-drawn objects with a lot of stray lines get appropriate collisions. Sometimes it’s fun to just mess around with the game and see what happens: a testament to an entertaining tool. Crayon Physics Deluxe is never plagued by having a single solution thanks to the game’s flexibility, and the power of the game engine shines through. Your solutions are only limited by your imagination: any combination of weights, pulleys, ropes, ramps, blocks, and whatever else you can draw on-screen can combine to form a fantastic and innovative solution. The developer could add some scoring system and better support for custom levels (like downloading them in-game and/or accessing them from a special menu item instead of using the editor), but these are minor missing features in an otherwise outstanding product.