Puzzle games on the Nintendo DS are a dime a dozen, which means there is a lot of mediocre garbage to wade through before finding a true gem. Fans have been clamoring for Sierra to resurrect their PC cult-classic The Incredible Machine for the touch-friendly handheld for some time to no avail. Midway has taken notice of that and crafted Mechanic Master, a game so reminiscent of Sierra’s classic that it is probably blushing in its PC budget bin somewhere. Nevertheless they say imitation is the finest form of flattery and if Sierra isn’t willing to step up and bring their classic to the new generation then Midway’s latest DS effort will certainly fill the void as Mechanic Master is one of the most inventive and addictive puzzle games you will play this year.
The premise behind Mechanic Master is simple enough and at first will feel rudimentary much like all deceptively clever puzzle games. There are basically two distinct types of puzzles the game throws at you and each one utilizes the concept of gravity in their execution. The first type is your traditional ’make this puzzle work by using these various objects type’. This ranges from anything such as rolling a ball into a specific position to trigger another event much like my childhood favorite board game Mouse Trap, to the more traditional gears turning fans to make this move there type of mechanic.
The second type bears resemblance to more creative puzzle solving much like those found in games like Portal. Using the stylus players can draw various solutions on the touch screen, within the limitations of the game of course, to manipulate items to different locations in order to solve these puzzles. Regardless of which method is utilized in the game there are a seemingly endless number of solutions to each problem and the game never forces you down one path to the end result.
In the event that someone needed a way to distinguish this game from the obvious inspiration the set piece used to move each puzzle along would certainly suffice. The backdrop for Mechanic Master revolves around an alien invasion and your attempts to stop them. Each level requires you to either squash the incoming ETs, rescue trapped humans or a combination of both to progress through the level. Each stage drops in a set number of items, your stipulations for victory and lets you run free from there, but in all honesty the alien thing is there simply for a reason to move you from one level to the next.
There is no doubt that the plethora of inventive puzzles is more than worth the price of admission, but once you solve all of the stock brain benders Midway has also thrown in a puzzle creator for your pleasure. Here you can create brand new brain teasers and even share them with your friends wirelessly as long as they have a copy of the game. The amount of content contained within this cartridge is more than worth it for puzzle aficionados.
If there is one gripe to be had with the game it comes in the form of its presentation. For being handled by one of the bigger publishers in the industry Mechanic Master is a mess in the visuals department. It portrays a low-budget game vibe with full-budget price. This of course should be no deterrent from purchase however, as the game itself is still loaded with hours of entertainment, but you can’t help but feel like very little care was placed on making the visuals at least up to DS standards. Instead we are treated to a game that looks like it was designed by a third grader.
Mechanic Master is easily one of the most thought-provoking and inventive puzzle games I have played all year. It ranks up there with some of the best including Portal, Line Rider and even Braid to an extent with its mixture of clever design and brain-bending puzzles. If you are a fan of the genre and own a DS you owe it to yourself to check out Midway’s hidden gem, if you can manage to find a copy that is.