Review by Jen

I'm sure most of you know that Rube Goldberg was a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist whose forte was wacky, complicated inventions that would accomplish simple tasks. His cartoons have spawned several contests where people compete to build the best Rube Goldberg-ish contraption. (If you have never heard of him or have never seen his cartoons, there is oodles of information on the web—try plugging "Rube Goldberg" in to your favorite search engine.)

This type of "invention" spawned Dynamix's original The Incredible Machine back in the early 1990s, and that was followed by The Incredible Machine 2, The Even More Incredible Machine, and The Incredible Toon Machine (not necessarily in that order). And now Sierra has brought it back again, with a major facelift, calling it Return of the Incredible Machine: Contraptions.

I played the original The Incredible Machine way back when it was released, before I ever even played an adventure game, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and games still came on diskettes. In fact, I would even go so far as to say I was obsessed with it. I seem to remember there were well over 100 puzzles, and I did them all. Some were easy, some were nearly impossible, and they were all fun.

Since then, my older son has been similarly entranced by the various incarnations of TIM. Unlike me, though, he prefers to build his own machines in the free-form mode rather than play the games' built-in puzzles. TIM is probably the most-played, longest-lived computer game(s) in my house.

So I was delighted to load up this new Contraptions and give it a whirl. It has a streamlined new look, a hints system, a two-player mode (although I didn't try it), and an obnoxious voice-over that does all the reading for you text-challenged types. The puzzles are not much different, although there are more of them and they are slicker-looking, and there are many more types of items that can be used in building the devices.

In puzzle mode, you are given an objective to complete, such as "light all of the rockets," with whatever items are at your disposal, such as flashlights, generators, mice on treadmills, bowling balls, etc. Their numbers are legion, too many to list here. You lay out your items on the screen, among the default objects, which are immovable, in a manner that you think will achieve the objective, and then you start the contraption and see how it works. Some fine-tuning, and the goal is met. You can progress through the puzzles in order of difficulty or load any puzzle in the game if you want to skip the basics. There are some 40 or 50 tutorial puzzles where you get a chance to play with onscreen hints and see what all of the items actually do when you use them.

You also have the option to build your own puzzles. This is not fun for me, though, so I didn't try it enough to comment. As I said before, though, my son goes gaga for this kind of stuff. Especially the explosives ... hmm, should I worry now or wait for manifestation of pyromaniacal tendencies in his real life?

My advice? If you like puzzle games and have not played any versions of TIM before, by all means give Contraptions a try. However, if, like me, you have played TIM before, Contraptions is more of the same. My rating is based on the amount of fun I've had with the series overall, which is considerable. And last but not least, this series is really great for all ages, not just kids or adults. It has honed my son's critical thinking abilities quite a bit. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Sierra Attractions
Publisher: Sierra Attractions
Release Date: 2000

Available for: Macintosh Windows

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System Requirements

Windows 95/98/2000
Pentium 90 (166 preferred)
32 MB RAM (64 MB preferred)
50 MB hard drive space
4X CD-ROM drive
800×600 16-bit

PowerPC 120
Mac OS 8.5.1
50 MB hard drive space
4X CD-ROM drive
800×600 16-bit

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