Crayon Physics Deluxe Review
Crayon Physics Deluxe is an improved version of Petri Purho’s original prototype, Crayon Physics. Players must move the ball in each level through one or more stars in order to collect them and complete the level. To do this, they may push the ball and add physics objects such as blocks, ropes and joints to the world by simply drawing them with a crayon.
Drawing most any shape will create a block. This will remain the shape you drew it, but once you release the mouse it will begin to clip against walls and other objects in the world. Drawing a small circle will create a joint which attaches itself to whatever you drew it on. Joints independently act like hinges, so blocks will swing from them, but you can group them up to firmly join objects to each other. Drawing a line from one joint to another will create a rope which becomes flexible and binds the two joints together in exactly the way you’d expect. You can draw as many objects as you like to complete each level, and can also nudge the ball left or right at timely intervals to help it along. With these tools in hand you should have little difficulty in completing the majority of levels. Physics are fairly dependable so the game is pretty easy to pick up and play, though I did encounter a few annoying glitches such as ropes clipping through sharp edges, and everything was a little light and floaty for my liking.
While drawing things and having them come to life in this manner is a fairly solid mechanic, and quite satisfying at the best of times, it is also mechanic at high risk of being seen as a gimmick. Besides that, Crayon Physics immediately reminded me of ten or so different physics games I’d played on flash portals in the last few years. Which came first I shall not try to discern, but I went on and gave Crayon Physics a good go despite my reservations about its genre.
Aesthetically the game is pleasing, though you could argue it lacks depth. Drawing in rough crayon lines on yellowed paper, amidst a variety of child-like scribble helps you enter a more child-like frame of mind, and the crayon as a tool encourages a rougher, less neat and tidy play-style, which definitely helps you avoid trying to be too tedious with your solutions. The maps from which you select levels can also be scribbled upon, though this has no advantage and is merely a toy. I have one main complaint about the graphics, and it’s one that I’m afraid has a huge impact on the game in my opinion: too many of the levels are constructed of naught but rectangles and other boring shapes. I feel like much more could have been done with the aesthetics of the levels to make the game as a whole more interesting.
Another flaw is the level design itself. It really doesn’t feel like enough time was put into level design. You’ll come across the occasional visual flair or interesting obstacle – a doodle of a dinosaur or a giant whose head you need to hinge back in order to progress – but most of the time it’s just floating rectangles and a big void between the ball and the star. Because of this, almost every level in the game can be solved in the same way:
Draw some sort of vessel around your ball and attach it to a weight with a rope. The weight must be pinned to a wall and the rope must pass through some guides so that your ball will reach the star. When all is prepared, release the weight and watch your ball zip through the level like a bat out of hell.
I think the simplified level design has been the main barrier to my enjoyment of the game. I was already tearing through the levels before I discovered that trick, and once you discover that each level becomes not much more than a chore. For me the game grew tedious very quickly and the music, though great in itself, began to get on my nerves. Then you notice another snag…
Crayon Physics Deluxe spreads its many levels across eight islands. You start on Island 1 and unlock more islands as you collect stars. However, the last Island requires no less than 120 stars to unlock. Completing every level on every other island will not earn you 120 stars. In order to do that you need to complete about half the levels again, and convince the game to tick three check boxes in order to get another measly star for each level. First, you need to complete each level using only one block to get the Elegant check. Second, you need to complete each level without pushing the ball, using any joints or ropes, and without drawing objects beneath the ball, in order to get the Oldschool check. Lastly, and this is an odd one, you need to go to the solutions page of the level, select one of your solutions, and actually tell the game that the solution was ‘Awesome’ in order to get it to tick the Awesome check box. Some of these tasks are just not possible on certain levels, the names are deceiving, and the system is never pointed out to the player. The Awesome check box? That’s just plain weird.
For all its flaws I did have some fun playing Crayon Physics Deluxe. Amongst the levels there are some which offer more of a challenge, some interesting scenery and solutions. I was particularly pleased, for example, with my simple solution to the lighthouse level (I’d say elegant, but it doesn’t meet the criteria apparently), and the insanely lucky path taken by the rocket pictured below. If you enjoy this sort of game or you’re just curious, you should check it out – I won’t force my distaste on you – but this was my least favourite of the Humble Bundle Games so far.