Rovio broke out of their Angry Birds shell today with a game called Amazing Alex. Once upon a time it was known as Casey's Contraptions, until Rovio gobbled up the developer, chewed on it for a few months, and spat out this physics title for Android and iOS.
Anyone that had played The Incredible Machine back in the day will know the drill. Every level, players are given a simple objective, like knocking over a pile of books, or getting a bowling ball into a basket. Various obstacles are already in place, and players are provided with a limited toolbox of extras to build a Rube Goldberg-style machine and achieve the objective. The main appeal is that all of those objects act as you would expect - scissors close when touched, billiard balls bounce less than tennis balls, balloons float, and so on. The three stars in every level act as secondary objectives, which players can earn by knocking objects into them.
Amazing Alex really is a lot of fun to play. The first couple of levels are easy, but eventually the difficulty ramps up and players find themselves trying all sorts of unexpected combinations to beat a stage. Replayability on the stock 100 levels are limited once you solve them, even if it takes a few different tricks to three-star them.
The real kicker is that Amazing Alex has an online repository of player-submitted levels, which not only means players have plenty of levels to gnaw through, but that there's plenty of time to be spent cooking up clever puzzles. Some kind of rating system would go a long way to finding the high-quality user-submitted levels, but as is, Rovio has a featured section showing off one of their personal favorites at any given time. New objects are unlocked in the level editor every time a player beats one of the four chapters, and some are only granted if every level is three-starred.
While the gameplay is great, there are a few things to knock about the style of Amazing Alex. Don't get me wrong, the graphics are polished and animations smooth, but this kid isn't a compelling main character for how much spotlight he gets. Birds that know only suicidal rage and vengeance is something I can get behind, but Alex? I can only relate to him in the most generic Dennis the Menace kind of way. Maybe having his goofy mug pop up after three-starring a level really inspires tweens to throw a freeze-frameable fist in the air, but not me. The Disney-esque happy-go-lucky soundtrack doesn't help much either. Besides that, why is Alex's face the app icon and not a bowling ball in a bucket tied to a balloon, or something equally wacky and related to the actual gameplay? Your mileage may vary, of course - juvenile rascals have their charm to some folks. The comic strips that intersperse each chapter have their moments.
My other complaint about the Amazing Alex's style is that it lacks originality. The gameplay is still solid, but very little has changed from Casey's Contraptions, or The Incredible Machine for that matter. Rovio is a master of milking old ideas though, and if they can apply the same formula as Angry Birds to this new franchise, Amazing Alex stands to be a commercial (if not creative) success. That said, get used to seeing ads for Angry Birds games on the pause screen. Just because you might be used to it by now doesn't make it a good thing.
- Fun, classic physics gameplay
- Crowd-sourced level selection offers wide replayability
- Annoying main character
- Limited originality
The sad thing about Amazing Alex is that we're only really paying a lot of attention to it because it has Rovio's name on it, not because it's necessarily bringing anything new to the table. In its time, Casey's Contraptions wasn't wildly popular, but with Rovio behind the game, Amazing Alex may actually do really well. To be fair, Casey's Contraptions was exclusively available on iPad, so there is some newness to it being available on Android.
Originality aside, the gameplay itself is fun and creative, while the user-generated content provides a long tail of entertainment the won't run out any time soon. For a buck, it's hard to go wrong.
Download: Amazing Alex