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Mechanic Master

Platform(s): Nintendo DS
Genre: Puzzle
Publisher: Midway

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NDS Review - 'Mechanic Master'

by Aaron "Istanbul" Swersky on Feb. 13, 2009 @ 3:56 a.m. PST

Mechanic Master features 100 levels of puzzling genius challenging the player to build wacky contraptions and to perform simple tasks, like turning on a light bulb or releasing a balloon, in seemingly indirect and convoluted ways using the DS' stylus.

Genre: Puzzle
Publisher: Midway Games
Developer: Most Wanted Entertainment
Release Date: October 21, 2008

Born in 1883, Rube Goldberg was a man of many talents. Most commonly known for being a cartoonist, he was also, among other things, an engineer and inventor. He is most famous for inventing the Rube Goldberg machine, a series of convoluted mechanisms that would join together to accomplish an otherwise simple task; it might involve an elaborate three-hour setup to light a match, for example, or a 17-step process to flip a pancake. Long after his death, the concept he brought to the world has survived, whether in cartoons or in board games or any of a number of other places. The Incredible Machine, another game that follows the same mentality, was a smash hit on the PC and has been impatiently awaited by Nintendo DS fans who want a more portable version. Midway has seized upon this gap and instead offered up the thematically appropriate Mechanic Master. Has Midway hit upon a gold mine, improving upon or at least reaching the quality level of the original? Not exactly.

While Mechanic Master may not be the first of its kind, it still adds some innovation to the Nintendo DS landscape by improving the diversity of available puzzles. For puzzling mavens who wistfully mourn their thoroughly defeated purchases, this is a godsend, a welcome oasis in a sea of Sudoku and other brainteasers. This title absolutely requires skills like spatial reasoning and timing, abilities that are often overlooked in favor of a more cerebral approach in most titles that exercise your mind more than your fingers. The only complaint in this regard is that the clutter of the DS screen can occasionally prove frustrating as players inadvertently click the "trash can" icon to remove a piece from the board in lieu of their attempted move, or when there are unclear boundaries about where a tool can or cannot be placed. This is a limitation not of the software, but of the system; the simple, brutal truth is that the Nintendo DS screen is only so big, and this can prove aggravating in a title where the player requires space to work.

The difficulty of some puzzles is another double-edged sword that casts a pall on an otherwise intriguing and worthwhile purchase. Anyone with a fundamental understanding of how physics works can get past the first 10 levels or so, accommodating new devices and mechanics into their puzzle solutions with relative ease. It is regrettable that, when the challenge level of the game takes a sharp spike upward some 10 levels in, it is so ruthless in its mental torture that it denies you even the simple dignity of a hint button. No, you are entirely on your own with each mind-bending enigma, and at the time of this writing, even an online guide is impossible to procure. Sure, you can take the easy route and skip that level in the available cluster, but you will eventually have to come back to it and wrestle with it once more. With no new clues upon which to feed, a sufficiently intractable puzzle can bring gameplay to a screeching halt. This is made even more apparent when exploring the title's other play mode, wherein the only real difference in gameplay is the sudden magical transformation of your stylus strokes into real lines (and portals, if you opt to use one of the limited supply). While this provides one avenue of bypassing a "stopper" level, hit two, and you're just out of luck.

In terms of presentation, Mechanic Master is something of a grab bag, a randomized gallery of both the surprisingly good and the undeniably substandard. Most of the tunes available as background noise are inoffensive enough to not distract you from the fierce mental churning it'll take to beat some of the more difficult puzzles, it's also an unfortunate truth that these melodies are few in number. Don't be surprised if you hear the same background music three times over the course of 10 levels, starting to edge its way toward annoyance through repetition.

Similarly, the graphical finesse put into this otherwise simple title is a give-and-take that suggests that the game could have used more polish. If you've never played the aforementioned The Incredible Machine, you might not notice the difference, but Mechanic Master's graphics are obviously inferior to those of its predecessor, which is a step in the wrong direction. Characters are pixelated and simplistic, devices and construction pieces are lacking in detail, and the overall feel is that of a Flash game whose designers opted for function over style. While it is true that performance is significantly more important than visual polish in a title of this type, there's simply no excuse in this day and age for failing to create something that has a polished luster to it in addition to performing its appointed task capably.

There was a time when Mechanic Master would have passed muster as an excellent puzzle title whose graphical simplicity and unforgiving and limited play method would have been dismissed as a forgivable quirk of the genre, as little more than the cost of doing business. That time has long since passed. Gamers of this day and age expect more from their game companies, and Midway has failed to deliver on the promise with Mechanic Master. There's nothing functionally wrong with the game, but the brutal truth is that there isn't a whole lot right with it, either. It simply is, existing for the sake of its own presence. The mechanics may work, but this one could have really used a bit more polish.

Score: 6.6/10

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