It's been a long time since the days of Sierra On-Line and the release of The Incredible Machine. The first game hit in 1993 and has since branched off into a few proper sequels, puzzle pack expansions, mobile releases, and countless numbers of unofficial offshoots and imitators. The release of Contraption Maker marks a return of the real deal, complete with some of the original team members in tow!
Contraption Maker is a reboot of the Incredible Machine series polished up for a new generation. It's an official game because it was made by some of the same people who worked on the first one back in the '90s. Programmer and designer Jeff Tunnell (one of those people) purchased the rights to The Incredible Machine in 2009, then went on to form Spotkin and start work on Contraption Maker.
Contraption Maker doesn't veer from its predecessor's layout all that much. You've still got a bunch of seemingly random parts in your inventory along with a nonsensical objective that can be accomplished by piecing together those parts. Hamsters power generators in this universe, but only if you bump their cage to get them running. Floating ray guns can blast blimps out of the air, but only if you tie a rope to their triggers, run the rope around a few pulleys, and find a way to give it a good firm tug. Contraption Maker encourages creativity and imagination, and you'll need a whole lot of each to power through the game's 140 official puzzles.
Contraption Maker uses a simple point and click interface anybody with a mouse can figure out how to use. Drag items from the inventory and place them on the board. If they can connect with other objects, small icons will light up to show you exactly where. Attaching bands to machines, for example, is a simple matter of dragging each piece to a hook, no fuss. Items that can be rotated or moved will have corresponding icons hovering around their selection box. And if you have no idea what that green thing does, help is just a click away.
You start off with a handful of tutorial levels that warm you to the idea of dropping bowling balls into buckets. You're free to play the stages in any order, as Contraption Maker doesn't include any kind of campaign or story mode. It's just puzzles, through and through, because honestly, what else would you want? Later levels get more complex by increasing the number of parts and throwing things like programmable part creators and laser extenders into the mix. The goals are usually about the same, but boy is it tougher to figure out what goes where.
Contraption Maker comes with a puzzle creation mode that's as easy to use as the game is to play. Everything is drag and drop, from the scenery options to the game board itself. Tinker and build whatever you like, then upload your creation to the community so everyone else can scratch their heads. At the time of writing there are just over 550 user stages to check out, ranging from simple to insane to that one that's like a game of billiards. You might be surprised to learn that most of the user puzzles are genuinely entertaining. This is a community that takes its contraption making seriously!
Contraption Maker's co-op mode is essentially a multiplayer building room with a chat box. As many as eight players can join in to help turn ordinary machines into incredible ones. If you want to actually get anything done, you'll need to master the art of communication. Public rooms can sometimes turn into the old saying of too many cooks spoiling the broth. It usually isn't as chaotic as it sounds, and thankfully trolls seem to be relatively uncommon. People usually get a sense of what others are trying to accomplish and slowly merge their pieces of the puzzle to contribute to the final goal.
Public rooms seem to be rare in the Contraption Maker world, but it's just as well since co-op is so much more fulfilling when you can play with a friend. The game offers easy options to restrict rooms to a certain number of players or to toggle between public and private. The good news is that a single purchase of Contraption Maker comes with two copies of the game: one for you, and one for your old sandbox buddy in kindergarten.
Most puzzles in video games are of the missing pieces variety. You know you need to open that door, but you're just not sure how. Button on the wall? Up up down down left right left right B A? Once you figure out how, the rest is basically just going through the motions. With Contraption Maker, you have all the pieces but you don't know how they fit together. Solving these is normally called guesswork or trial and error, but those phrases carry a negative connotation to them. It's more like experimentation in Contraption Maker. The objective is simple but the methods are abstract. At least, that's how they seem at first. The more time you spend with the game, the more you start to recognize patterns to how the puzzles are built. The challenge doesn't go away with familiarity, it just mutates into something less overwhelming and more whimsical.
Contraption Maker is one of those games that's not going to appeal to everyone. It's more of a creativity tool than a game in the traditional sense. It's a very loose experience that sets you free with a toybox full of stuff so you can play until you're bored. The tool itself is very well made and is accessible to all types of gamers, young and old. It's come a long way since its early access release in 2013, but now it's ready for you and your friends to unleash some incredible amounts of creativity.