DaVinci’s Secret Machines is a new iPhone game that recalls old PC games like The Incredible Machine, with Rube Goldberg-like machines built to solve physics puzzles. I got to try the game out recently, and it kept me entertained for a while. The graphics are nice, as you can see from the screen shots, with a parchment look in the background and DaVinci’s sketches in the background.
I found the interface to be a little fussy: when you grab an item to move it, it jumps to the left of your finger. Presumably this is to help you see things so your finger isn’t in the way, but it makes “nudging” an item impossible. You can also rotate some items, and mirror-flip others. Each of the 30 levels has its own goal: get the leather ball into the bucket, knock down a domino, set off the dynamite, etc. I thought the arrows were for going back and forth between levels, but they’re actually to page through inventory screens. (However, I don’t recall playing levels that had that many objects available to me.)
You do get some amount of sandbox play, where you can just fiddle with things and see what happens, but occasionally I felt like I found shortcuts to the goals that weren’t intended. I know the game claims to have “multiple solutions” to puzzles, but what bothered me most was when I did manage to accomplish the stated goal but it didn’t count as “completed.” For example, one level required setting off some dynamite, which I managed to do with only two of the six provided elements. It didn’t count until I re-did it using all the elements. But another one with the goal of getting a domino in a bucket actually marked complete when I knocked the domino down (and it missed the bucket). It seems to me a little more fine-tuning is needed in these areas.
The music is so-so; the sound effects are fairly good but I would have appreciated a few more, like a rolling sound for the balls. I think it’s a fun game for getting your kids to think about problem solving and simple physics puzzles, but most of the levels won’t present too much of a challenge for those familiar with this sort of game. One of the biggest limitations is simply the size of the screen; there’s only so much puzzle you can fit onto one screen without zooming in and out.
One other thing I would have appreciated is a way to select levels you’ve already completed. Currently, you can only start over from the beginning, or play from the last level reached. Once you finish Level 30, it wraps back to the first level. I’ve been informed that there are plans for the next update to allow you to choose any level that you’ve unlocked, which would be handy. There’s also no way to get back to the main menu from the game. (The “Menu” link takes you to the options menu, but you can’t return to the Leaderboards or the About page without quitting and restarting.)
At $1.99, it won’t break the bank, so if you enjoy physics puzzle games you might check it out. I didn’t feel like the iPhone version has any significant advantages over the old PC version, but it’s an interesting take on the genre.
For more information, check out the Aboveground Systems’ website.
Wired: Fun physics-based puzzler, nice graphics and theme.
Tired: Interface a bit clunky, not too much of a challenge.