| Mechanismo

If you think about it, playing games makes no sense. At some point or other, almost everybody has developed a burning hatred for some impassable enemy, or slumped at the arrival of another wave of baddies and wished that they'll all just sod off, as though these things are obstacles to the game and not, as they really are, the essence of it.

No genre encapsulates this paradox more completely than puzzle. The other name for puzzle, after all, is 'problem', and who wants one of them? Almost everybody, admittedly, but do we want to add a Mechanismo shaped one to the pile? Let's take a look.

Mechanismo is the kind of puzzle game that clearly wants to earn its seat at the most overcrowded video gaming table. Rather than present you with a standard well of descending blocks or coloured bubbles, developer Wireless Sharks has opted for the more difficult route of creating an original idea.

Each of Mechanismo's innumerable levels (well, 50, which is pretty much the same thing) requires you to achieve a goal by combining a selection of gadgets. For example, the goal of getting a ball into a pail might entail building a system of pulleys and planks, or lighting a candle to detonate a bomb, or popping a balloon so that its cargo drops onto a button, or any one of a multitude of permutations of things like this.

To illustrate Mechanismo's internal range, we need only tell you that there's more than one way to create power (either by using a generator or by shining a torch onto a solar panel), and more than one way to create fire (either by striking a match or by shining a torch through a magnifying glass onto the wick of a candle), and more applications of both power and fire than we can sensibly list.

Items like cogs and pulley ropes, meanwhile, form the basis of most solutions. They allow conveyor belts and so on to function, and with two or more cogs working together you can change the direction of a conveyor belt's movement, or provide momentum for machines outside the ordinary range of your ropes.

Most of the larger mechanical objects – torch, generator, solar panel, and so on – can be flipped, and planks can be rotated along eight axes, all of which means that the various gizmos and components at your command can combine in a dizzying number of ways.

Once you've completed the long, compulsory, and entirely necessary tutorial levels, you have 30 different gadgets at your disposal, ranging from objects as simple as planks of wood and tennis balls to elaborate contrivances like the generator (which creates power), the rotator (which transforms pushing into rotation), and the futuristic anti-gravity machine, which propels objects upwards.

Strictly speaking, however, you don't really have these things at your disposal, but rather you receive an allowance of them at the beginning of each level. You can open your inventory with '*', and this contains the gadgets you'll need in order to achieve whatever goal you happen to be pursuing, which takes some of the edge off Mechanismo's formidable difficulty: if you know what tools you need to use, all that's left to work out is where they go.

Objects in the game behave in accordance with the laws of gravity, carrying momentum and falling towards your thumbs if left unsupported. As a result, Mechanismo's single screen environments are unusually organic for a puzzle game, and this novel fluidity of movement is as much to the game's detriment as to its favour.

We can't help but feel that when you've worked out what an object does and how it should be used, it shouldn't also be necessary to divine through trial and error the exact point on the screen where it needs to go. With large objects the lack of a grid isn't a bad thing, but when it comes to arranging cogs the freedom is just inconvenient.

However, while these design issues do let the game down, we have to applaud its brave approach and the sheer scope of its undertaking. The fact that the graphics are polished, the puzzles are copious, and the instructions pages are entitled the 'Mechanipedia' all count strongly in Mechanismo's favour. But in the end, gameplay comes first, and this puzzle's problems probably get the better of it.


Good-looking, complex, and far too fiddly for its own good, this is an interesting and original puzzler that falls frustratingly short of brilliance