Crazy Machines and its sequel are pretty well loved by the PC community, mostly because they're seen as spiritual successors to The Incredible Machine, itself a well-loved PC franchise from years past. It's an unusual puzzle game that stands out among a crowd of match-three and hidden object games, and it's didn't get much competition in its field until recently. With the success of the first two titles, it seems inevitable that the series would try for a third game, but instead of limiting it to the PC once more, the developers decided to try their hand at making it available to console owners via the downloadable space. Crazy Machines Elements offers something different for the Xbox Live Arcade audience, and while it doesn't completely retain the charm of the original, it still remains a good puzzle game.
For those unfamiliar with the series, it's best to think of a Rube Goldberg machine as the basis for what you'll be doing here. A good example would be building a machine to light a match. You start with a bowling ball that goes down a ramp and hits a switch. The switch then triggers a boxing glove to punch a balloon toward a pin. The pop sends a weight, which was previously attached to the balloon, down a tube, where it catches a zipper and triggers a toy car, which happens to have a match attached to it, to move at top speed across the track. The car eventually passes a striking area, where the match makes contact and lights as it leaves the strike zone. The practicality of said machines is always in question, but there's no doubt that there's enjoyment in seeing such a convoluted machine successfully reach its simple goal.
The difference in Crazy Machines Elements is the addition of new tools that combine natural elements with the physics inherent with these contraptions. Fire, for example, can now be used to light fuses or pop balloons while electricity can power switches and timing chips. Water can be used as a makeshift weight while air can blow things around to give them better placement. It's not just the tools that add these elements, though, as weather now plays a factor in these devices. Don't be surprised to see that everything takes place outdoors at all times of the day and under all weather conditions, from a windy autumn night to a daytime winter scene.
The game offers three different modes that vary ever so slightly. Puzzles mode gives you 100 different problems to solve, all with different objectives. The objectives are simple enough: setting off a fireworks box, getting two mechanical mice to meet up, breaking a vase, and getting a light to switch on. For the most part, the machine basics are already set up for you. A few pieces are missing, however, and you'll need your toolbox to find those pieces and put them in the correct places so that the machine functions properly. In order to change up things a little, golden machine nuts are spread throughout the contraption, and it's up to you to collect said nuts by having any part of the machine touch them before the main objective is complete.
Crazy Machines Elements employs a few basic things that give it a forgiving nature, which fans have appreciated since the series' inception. For starters, there are no limits. Any machine can be turned on and off as many times as it'll take to solve, and there is no time limit that needs to be obeyed to successfully solve said puzzle. The trial-and-error nature doesn't make the puzzles any easier, but it encourages players to stay with an idea until they can make it stick. Also, the addition of the golden nuts is more of a personal challenge than a necessary one. Only the main objective needs to be solved to pass the level.
There are a few things that will turn off people about this mode. For starters, the only thing you can manipulate is what's in your toolbox. Everything else that's already set in place cannot be moved. There are still creative ways to solve the puzzles, but for the most part, you'll simply be filling in the blanks to each issue, making it a game better suited for beginners since it teaches them how to play this type of game. The other annoying aspect affects all game modes, and that's the load times. Every puzzle transition goes through at least 10 seconds of loading, and considering how simple some of these puzzles are, those load times build up and get aggravating.
If Puzzle mode would be something beginners would enjoy, then Challenge mode would be tailor-made for veterans of the series and subgenre. The objectives are similar in nature, so don't expect any of them to be more extravagant in this mode. What you can expect is near-total freedom, since every part can now be manipulated to achieve your goal, letting you wildly modify anything and everything you see. As a result, these puzzles are more difficult and consequently more fun for genre veterans. The problem is that this mode is short-lived. With only 20 puzzles to solve, it feels like an afterthought instead of a main mode. Also, these challenges only open up once the first half of the Puzzle mode is complete, meaning those with more experience will have no choice but to grind away at the easy stuff before getting into more brain-teasing scenarios.
The final mode is the Editor, where creative types will really get to hone their creative prowess. Like Challenge mode, you'll still need to complete half of the levels in Puzzle mode to unlock every available part. Unlike Challenge mode, though, you can start playing this after completing the first puzzle. Players can set up anything and everything here, from the puzzle objective to the layouts and background. Money acts as your limiting factor, as each part has an associated monetary cost. So long as you don't go over your budget, you can set up any puzzle you want with as many pieces as you need. Like the rest of the modes, this one isn't flawless. For starters, you only have 10 slots available for your custom machines, so if you have more ideas you want to toy around with, be prepared to clear up a few slots. The other issue comes from the fact that these custom puzzles cannot be shared with anyone. Considering how connected consoles are nowadays, it's sad to see that the only way to share any of your creations is by putting up footage online instead of sending a friend the contraption in digital form.
The controls work most of the time. Your left thumbstick controls tool and item placement while the left and right bumpers manipulate item rotation. The X button opens up the inventory for your parts, the A button selects the part and places it on the contraption, B deletes said part from the field, and Y both starts and resets tool operation. It's a simple enough control scheme that's easy to pick up the first time around. Its only flaw comes from the sensitivity of the analog stick. It's fine most of the time, since parts can be placed in a general area and still perform correctly for the task. However, with puzzles where minute changes in placement can severely affect the puzzle, you'll wish there was a sensitivity option, which the game lacks.
Despite its genre, the game tries to show off some good graphics. Admittedly, there isn't much to look at with the weather effects, but it's a decent job. The same can be said for the backgrounds, which seem nice and slightly intriguing since the decision was made to blur them out to keep the focus on the machine. Speaking of the machine, the parts look fine, and even if it doesn't pull off the technique convincingly, it tries to give each part a few details to look realistic amid the cartoon art style. The text for the objectives is rather small, and the same goes for the element descriptions. It's fine if you have a large set or sit close to the screen, but it really feels like there wasn't any optimization done for console players who don't fit either criterion.
Sound isn't exactly one thing players look for in a puzzle game, but what's here works well enough. The effects are fine, with no unwelcome surprises when something moves or activates. The music serves well as background noise, almost like elevator music. There are a good number of tracks that play before it starts repeating, but since the score is so calming and vanilla, you may never notice the repetition. The game's sound plays louder than the system volume, so be prepared to lower the speaker volume first before normalizing everything in the options screen.
Crazy Machines Elements succeeds in being a good title but not necessarily a great sequel. The core concept is still good, and the additional tools help the game feel fresh. While the controls may falter every now and then and the load times are infuriating, it's the focus of the game that will likely make veterans cite this as their least favorite in the series, especially with its lessened focus on creativity and lack of challenging levels. Those coming into the series fresh, however, will enjoy the puzzles, especially since this subgenre isn't frequently represented outside of the PC scene. Genre veterans will be fine skipping this one unless they're curious or need to have every game of this type. For beginners, this game is certainly worth checking out.
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