Review: Mechanic Master (Nintendo DS)

Mechanic Master
Developer: Most Wanted Entertainment
Publisher: Midway
Genre: Puzzle
Release Date: 10/21/2008

There’s only one word I can think of that describes Mechanic Master. And that word would be “throwback”.

With no story to speak of and no bells and whistles, Mechanic Master is reminiscent of the games we grew up playing. There was no real reason to play them except that they were fun, enjoyable, and kept our attention. In a nutshell, that’s the essence of what Mechanic Master brings to the table. It simply is what is and doesn’t apologize for it.

Basically, Mechanic Master is like those old Rube Goldberg inventions – or, for those of you who never left your PCs at a young age, the Incredible Machine series of games. You have to get from Point A from Point B, a task that’s made complicated because of a series of obstacles you’re presented with. In Mechanic Master, your job is to get rid of the aliens that appear on screen. Depending on which game mode you choose, this can be accomplished by moving objects, drawing portals, or just about anything you can imagine. Simple as that.

So, you ask, what’s the story of Mechanic Master? Surely, there must be a reason why you should get rid of all of these aliens. Are they taking over the world? Did they kidnap your girlfriend? Did they steal your homework? Thankfully, Mechanic Master did us all a tremendous favor and kept things simple. The story of Mechanic Master? There is no story! And that’s how it should be. The developers didn’t bother to create some elaborate story when there was no need for one. They knew what every gamer knows – the star of any puzzle game has to be gameplay.

And about that gameplay… it’s good. Real good. Mechanic Master features what has to be the best, most responsive use of the touch screen I’ve encountered. When you drag objects to the edge of the screen, the screen moves with your motion, just like it’s supposed to. You don’t have to tap the screen ten times to get the game to respond; instead, the game works with you. Imagine that! And since the entire game is based on the touch screen, it’s a good thing it works so well, otherwise we’d be in serious trouble.

There are three different modes in Mechanic Master. The first mode is the mode you’ll probably spend most of your time on; it’s called Puzzle Mode. In Puzzle Mode, you’re presented with a number of aliens (or trapped humans), a series of platforms and items which you can’t move, and a number of items you can use and manipulate in order to solve the puzzle. Sometimes, the solution is as simple as providing something for a tennis ball to bounce off so it can hit the alien. Other puzzles, though, are much more complicated. As the game progresses, the puzzles not only become harder, but much more involved; these later puzzles require a seemingly endless list of things to go right in order to move on. And while you’ll breeze through the early ones, the ease of the beginning puzzles only serves to make the later ones that much more frustrating. That’s the time when you’ll either appreciate Mechanic Master’s difficulty or totally burn out on the game. There are no bonus points for finishing early, no penalties for taking forever or for trying too many different solutions, so the game wants you to catch up with it. It’s just a question of whether or not you’re willing to do so. The key to getting through Puzzle Mode? Remembering that everything – from the items you’re given to the most subtle nuance of the level – must be used in order to solve the puzzle.

The other modes of Mechanic Master, unfortunately, aren’t as appealing. There’s Drawing Mode, in which you draw paths for items to travel through so that they’ll kill the aliens on screen. You can also draw circular portals which can be moved around; one sucks the object in, while the other spits it out. This isn’t a bad way to kill time, but it lacks the challenge and appeal of Puzzle Mode; all you really end up doing in Drawing Mode is identifying the falling object and drawing the necessary path or portal that ensures the falling object will hit the alien. There’s also a Create-A-Level Mode, which is too much of a hassle to really get into. Not only do you have to create a series of platforms, gadgets, and enemies, but you have to make sure all of these work together in order for a successful resolution to the puzzle. This is much tougher than it sounds, especially because the interface is pretty clumsy. The cool thing about Create-A-Level mode is that you can send and receive your creations through Nintendo DS WiFi. Odds are good this sort of thing will only appeal to you if you’ve beaten all of the other game modes and are that bored with Mechanic Master that you need a new challenge. That takes quite a bit of gameplay.

Fortunately, you shouldn’t need too many created levels, because Mechanic Master provides a pretty good deal of replay value. Sure, there are some puzzles that will have you ready to launch your DS into a brick wall, but many of them are of a reasonable difficulty level. The game does a good job of easing you into the tougher ones, and you have the option to skip past the ones that are really giving you problems. You’ll probably need to do this every now and again, only to find that when you come back to that puzzle, the solution wasn’t so hard after all.

Now, remember how I said the game was a throwback? That’s certainly true in terms of the game’s presentation. Mechanic Master is far from a graphical masterpiece, which is fine; it’s not supposed to be a beautiful game visually. The graphics would be pretty good on Game Boy Advance and are lagging behind the DS standards, but there’s a little bit of charm to the cheesy animations and lo-fi graphics. It helps to add to the old-school feel of the game. And if the graphics don’t do the trick, the sound certainly does. I don’t think there’s a game released this year that has such an atrociously cheesy soundtrack, but the thing of it is that the soundtrack works. It’s so corny that it actually adds to the experience. And trust me, the tunes in this game will be replayed in your head for days and days. Remember those old games that had like three songs, each of them pretty terrible, but they grew on you so much that you actually enjoyed them? This is one of those games.

Mechanic Master is a lot of things, but the overall user-friendliness of the game is a mixed bag. While the actual gameplay in Puzzle Mode is incredible intuitive, the same cannot be said for Drawing Mode and Create-A-Level Mode, both of which have issues that get in the way of the enjoyment of each mode. Worse than these issues, though is the main menu, which doesn’t even come close to making any sense. It consists of a series of planets and apparati, each of which bring you to a different mode or series or levels. Of course, Mechanic Master doesn’t bother to tell you what each of these items mean, so starting a game can become a nightmare. The only way to figure out what you’re doing is trial-and-error, not exactly the kind of first impression you want to make to a new gamer. Thankfully, once you get started, the game helps you through hints, which can be turned off if you’d like. The hints aren’t over-the-top or subtle; instead, they provide just enough information to let you figure things out on your own. This is how hints should be, and Mechanic Master nails it.

The Scores
Story/Modes: Above Average
Graphics: Above Average
Sound: Good
Control/Gameplay: Good
Replayability: Good
Balance: Great
Originality: Bad
Addictiveness: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Poor
Miscellaneous: Mediocre

Short Attention Span Summary
Mechanic Master is a refreshing change from many modern games, which feel the need to explain everything with an elaborate story or provide souped-up graphics for no reason. Mechanic Master is simply a fun game that provides those interested with a great challenge and virtually endless gameplay possibilities. The game’s challenge and charming quirks are enough to put this game over the top, and there’s enough replay value to ensure that Mechanic Master is worth the purchase.



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