Return of the Incredible Machine: Contraptions is the latest puzzle game in the Rube Goldberg-inspired Incredible Machine series. The object of the game is to create complex contraptions that accomplish various goals, which range from catching a cat in a basket to lighting off fireworks with a laser beam. A wide variety of items are available for use, and by arranging these items in a particular way, the tasks can be completed.
The typical puzzle begins with a simple goal: a preset arrangement of items on the screen and a number of items in a tool box that should be placed into the preset arrangement. A start button on the top left corner of the screen initiates the action. You can drop billiard balls onto levers, pull ropes through pulleys, turn on fans or toasters, light candles or firecrackers, and so forth. If the correct items are arranged in the correct way, the contraption will eventually accomplish the intended goal. Fortunately, the puzzles allow for multiple attempts. You can start and stop the action as many times as desired and rearrange the components of the machine as necessary. The movable parts of the puzzle reset themselves after each attempt. This trial-and-error approach gives the game a hands-on feel that will appeal to anyone who likes tinkering with things. Many of the puzzles have multiple solutions, and after you find one working arrangement, you'll have the option to view the intended solution.
An extensive tutorial teaches you how to use the wide variety of items in the toolbox by guiding you through a series of simple puzzles. The main puzzles in the game are separated into four levels of difficulty, which let you tailor the puzzles to your skill level. In the easier levels, a hint button will activate a series of pop-up hints to guide you to the correct solution, but in the more difficult puzzles, there are no hints available. Yet, the difficult puzzles manage to avoid being frustrating by offering you nearly endless combinations of items to try, and each trial run of your contraption will give you new ideas for an improved arrangement until you finally find the correct solution. The humor in the game also helps dispel any annoyance at the apparent impossibility of the puzzle - each puzzle is designed to make the most rudimentary task into an elaborate and ridiculous production, and often, the incorrect solutions to the puzzles will generate humorous results.
Return of the Incredible Machine improves significantly upon the previous Incredible Machine game in almost every aspect. The game has updated graphics and animations, an improved physics model, and more than 100 different parts that can be used to build the contraptions. The game contains more than 40 puzzles for each difficulty level, as well as 50 two-player head-to-head puzzles. The game also includes a puzzle editor that lets you design and build custom puzzles with the same simple interface that you use in regular gameplay.
The sound and music in Return of the Incredible Machine are well chosen, and they add to the comic-strip style of the game. Most moving parts have an appropriate cartoonlike sound, and a variety of digital and MIDI background music is available and customizable through the preferences menu. One minor bug in the game caused the sound and music to stop occasionally, but it did not disrupt the gameplay.
The game interface is easy to use and logically designed. Items can be dragged from the toolbox to the game screen and can be rotated, stretched, and moved into position by clicking and dragging. An information icon lights up when you select an object, and the icon gives a brief description of how that item can be used. A dialog box is available for those items that have adjustable settings, such as timers or laser-activated electrical outlets. Unfortunately, these icons can occasionally make selecting closely spaced objects difficult - sometimes a click on one object will cause the information box for a nearby item to pop up.
Return of the Incredible Machine combines the humor and nostalgia of Rube Goldberg cartoons into many hours of challenging and fun puzzles. The problems in the game are only minor, and they do not detract from the overall experience and the high quality of the puzzles. Return of the Incredible Machine will certainly appeal to amateur inventors and players who are familiar with Rube Goldberg's work, and anyone who appreciates good old-fashioned puzzles will find plenty to enjoy in the game.