Posts Tagged ‘particle simulator game’

Mobile Game Review: The Sandbox

sandbox-screen568x568Developer: Bulkypix
Platform:  Available for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch, Blackberry
Genre: Arcade

The Sandbox is a game not unlike a number of “particle simulators” you may have found online.  Like its free Flash-based cousins, The Sandbox gives the player an open canvas in which to place various “elements” and watch them interact.    Some of the basic reactions are intuitive enough – place dirt by a pool of water and you get mud (aka soil).  Put seeds in the soil and you get trees (aka wood).  Put fire near the wood and the fire spreads.  While most particle simulators would end there, The Sandbox is just getting started.  Burning trees will drop ash, and if you cover the ash with something heavy (like stone) the pressure will create oil.  The cycle only continues from there, allowing for a vast array of dynamic reactions.

What really sets The Sandbox above its browser-bound cousins, however, isn’t just the huge variety of different elements and objects that can be experimented with.  It also has various environmental options such as a day/night cycle and a handful of different temperature options.  Some reactions only happen at certain temperatures, or with certain light levels, or under other specific and unique conditions.  As a simple example, certain plants only grow in certain temperature ranges and with sufficient sunlight.

sandbox-water_en_iphoneThe game also has a large selection of electrical engineering style tools, such as metal for wires and batteries to power certain blocks.  Make a bottle out of glass, make a heating pad underneath, put some water inside, and then power the heating pad.  Soon the water will start to boil and evaporate, making steam.  Then you can have the steam collect into clouds and chill the clouds with cooling blocks to make snow, which you can collect near a cold sensor, which will activate and can send a signal to whatever else you have connected from there, like a light bulb.

The last thing that really stands out with this game is the optional wildlife.  Basic plants and trees have already been mentioned, but that kind of option is available in virtually every cheap imitator of the Sandbox.  Unlike the rest, though, The Sandbox offers players a chance to include everything from bees to humans, and even a bunch of different dinosaur species to be placed in their interactive world.  Of course, each species has unique properties.  Bees will make hives and build up small swarms.  Dinosaurs will eat plants if they are based off of a real-world herbivore species and will eat meat if based off of a carnivorous species.  No surprise, Humans are some of the most dynamic of the available objects, able to be designated as miners, hunters, builders, and more.  With all these options, players can create entire self-sustaining ecosystems on their screen.

The game has two primary modes.  The first is a simple creative mode which lets you throw together whatever arrangement of elements happens to strike your fancy.  The latter is a collection of different campaign modes.  These campaigns go level by level introducing the player to different elements and how they interact.  Each level is a puzzle requiring the player to use the new element in the right way to get the desired result before moving on.  The puzzles are a great way to familiarize yourself with the game, and the campaigns progress at a good pace from simple and obvious to clever and challenging.

sandbox-elements_en_iphoneThe major downside to this game is also one of its selling points.  The simple, pixelated art style is clearly intended to evoke a retro-style aesthetic, on top of simplifying the code to allow for the wealth of combination possibilities.  Unfortunately, the end result can make it hard to distinguish some of the different elements in play.  Another major point of frustration comes from the limited number of elements initially available to the player.  New elements are unlocked through the campaign, but even once an element has been unlocked it isn’t ready to use until it has been purchased with the in-game currency known as “mana”.  Mana can be earned through beating levels in the campaign mode, but not at a fast enough rate to purchase all the elements as you unlock them – especially if you spend mana on anything superfluous like hints or elements you think are cool but aren’t strictly required to progress.  This can result in a player playing through one of the other campaigns available just to earn the mana to purchase elements in the original campaign.  The obvious downside then is that once a player wants to play through that second campaign they will be even further behind and will have to mine mana from yet another campaign, which will set them even further behind there should the player ever choose to actually continue on to that one.

The only way to break the cycle is to succumb to the growing trend of in-app purchases.  For a real-world fee, a player can simply buy a supply of mana.  Or you can simply buy all of the elements and bypass having to spend mana on them entirely.  Of course, paying for the biggest mana pack, all of the elements, and all of the campaigns this turns the “free” game into a $20 investment; but to be fair you can’t blame this game for the microtransaction-based state of the industry.  Plus, even if you do turn to the in-app purchases for help there’s no reason you can’t just stop after a $1 mana bump and one or two $1-$3 campaigns.

Gameplay – 7/10.
sandbox-hippie_evil_en_iphoneThough not for everyone, the game certainly knows what it is trying to accomplish and it accomplishes it well.  Some players may get bored at the slow-paced gameplay, but more creatively inclined players will find no end to the ways they can manipulate the tools available.  One extra point was docked for the difficulty in precise placement of elements.  The game does have a zoom-in feature to help with this, but constantly jumping from zoomed-in to zoomed-out can really disrupt the flow of gameplay.

Graphics – 6/10.
Minecraft may have proved that blocky, pixelated games can still be blockbusters (no pun intended), but Minecraft also had the advantage of making those blocks gigantic with plenty of pixels comprising each one.  Few of the items in The Sandbox are more than a few pixels tall, and many are literally just individual single pixels.  This often results in a blurry mess that can be nearly impossible to identify if you don’t already know what you’re looking at.

Sound – 8/10.
The sound effects are probably the least important part of this game, but they do their job well.  Different elements have different sounds, all of which are pretty appropriate for the element they are associated with.  Menu buttons also have a satisfying ‘click’ sound to them.  The background music is a bit simple and repetitive, but it doesn’t distract from the overall experience.

Overall – 7/10.
sandbox-infinitie-possibilitiesAs mentioned, the game is not for everyone.  Players who demand high-thrill action will be sorely disappointed.  But if you’re just looking for a little something to mess around with for 10-15 minutes at a stretch, this game could be just what you’re looking for.


Copyright 2012 Beazley Entertainment
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