The word "create" implies imagination and vision--qualities that the game called Create unfortunately doesn't possess. There is a certain inventiveness at its core, however. Create attempts to take the Rube Goldberg-style contraptions of The Incredible Machine and energize them with the community aspects of Little Big Planet. Yet the result is never more than mildly entertaining, pussyfooting around a few worthwhile ideas but never allowing them to blossom. Furthermore, the game's absolute failure to document and communicate important features undermines its supposedly family-friendly design. Some delightful puzzles might make it worth ignoring this halfway approach, but the tepid community features and lack of personality make this an unsatisfying package.
Create is organized into floating island worlds, each representing a theme. There's a carnival level, a space level, an outdoorsy level, and so on--and each level presents a number of puzzles to be solved and unadorned terrain demanding to be decorated. Your goal is to earn a currency called sparks, which are earned by completing puzzles and decorating these islands with surface textures, stickers, flowers, and various objects like trees and vehicles. In turn, earning sparks unlocks more islands and puzzles, as well as new items to play around with. These items aren't necessarily for decorative purposes, however; many are used to solve Create's puzzles, which bear a close resemblance to those you might have seen in games like Crazy Machines and The Incredible Machine. In many puzzles, your goal is to guide an object to its destination, such as getting a rocket through a flaming hoop or using stone wheels to move a pointy obelisk toward the balloon that it must pop.
There are loads of puzzles to solve, the best of which give you access to your full inventory of puzzle items to perform these tasks. You get ramps that launch objects into the air, floating magnets that pull metal objects toward them, bales of hay, hot air balloons, temporary globs of glue, laser turrets, and dozens of other objects to place. You earn sparks for getting the object of your focus to touch power-ups, for keeping it in the air for extended periods, and so on. The puzzles are all about physics, so the most challenging puzzles require a lot of tweaking to get them to work just so. You might need to play with magnet placement, slightly adjust the direction a fan is blowing, or place that glue blob in a different spot. It's undeniably fun to test your own cleverness in the free-form puzzles that give you the freedom to explore the possibilities. Cars zoom across ramps, toast pops from toasters, balloons pop, and bouncy bumpers cause balls to jounce back and forth, all while your score multipliers flash on the screen. These moments provide a silly, appealing joy.
Unfortunately, more puzzles give you specific items to work with and therefore limit your creative freedom. The game attempts to ease you into its workings, but it isn't until you're halfway through that you are even remotely challenged. This slow ramping up of the difficulty leads to inevitable boredom, and the other puzzle types aren't interesting enough to invigorate the pace. This is particularly true of those that ask you to build vehicle-type contraptions using beams and wheels. The chance to build a rover of your own sounds fun at first, but the few parts you get to work with are far too limiting, and the solutions are easy to figure out.
The decoration aspects of Create don't significantly improve the experience. The limited camera keeps you from getting a good view of the nooks and crannies that you might want to fill, so the daisies you're spreading across a ledge might spill onto railings and asphalt you want to leave plain. More annoyingly, earning sparks often requires decorating a specific area with a specific tool, even if it is an area you have already embellished. Not only does this contradict the notion of creative freedom, but it's a meaningless requirement anyway, because you can immediately undo the work without penalty. Create would have been more enjoyable if it had either rewarded you with sparks without designating the region to be spruced up, or only rewarded you for completing puzzles, and gave you truly free rein over your own exterior design.
If you're proud of a particularly clever solution, or want to show off just how garish your circus island looks, you can always upload snapshots of your handiwork, or take a gander at what others have done. On one hand, it's nice that you can share your beautiful outdoor paradise, or provide solutions to a tricky conundrum, even if truly challenging puzzles are sadly few. However, the creation and community-sharing features are somewhat underdeveloped. You get use of a blank slate with which you can form your own handcrafted levels, but the tools are inadequate. You can place different types of platforms into the space, but there are shockingly few shapes to use, and the lack of terrain-morphing tools like those you would see in RollerCoaster Tycoon makes for overly restricted sculpting. You can share your free-form Rube Goldberg machine with the Create community, or fashion your own puzzles and challenges for other players to tackle. However, finding out how to make the most of these features requires stumbling upon them by accident. To create a challenge, you must designate a key object and then place a goal marker, yet there is no in-game introduction or tutorial for this feature, nor does the manual even make mention of it. In fact, the game fails to inform you of certain basic controls, such as how to rotate and resize objects before dropping them into the world. On the PC, you'll need to review the full list of controls in the manual to discover that this is even a possibility. On the Xbox 360, even the manual's control diagram leaves out this important information, so unless you stumble across these options by accident, you could miss them entirely. Few games explain themselves so poorly.
The visuals are colorful and agreeable, but no more charming than the jaunty but generic electronic tunes that play as you move from puzzle to puzzle. Create more or less gets the job done, and there's glee to be had in watching your collection of miscellaneous doodads guide an object to its goal. But this glee rides the coattails of better games that displayed more creative energy. Many older games have already used the Rube Goldberg theme with far more flair and invention, while games like Spore and The Sims 3 offer superior tools for producing and sharing lovingly crafted handiwork. Create occupies a lukewarm middle ground, content merely to coast without excelling. It may feature a lot of sparks--but it doesn't light any fires.
Editor's Note: This review previously contained incorrect information regarding Create's interface and sharing features. The original review text and score have both been changed. GameSpot regrets the error.