Usually indie games get a small blurb on the front page, but every once in a while a really substantial one comes along that rocks the socks of the whole crew. The newest obsession of ours is Armadillo Run, a challenging physics game that is deceptively simple in its essence, and mind-bendingly difficult in practice. And an all-around great game.
If you've ever played the classic games The Incredible Machine or Bridge Builder, you might identify Armadillo Run as their genetically-enchanced lovechild. Like TIM, you have a specific goal, in this case, to get Armadillo (who mercifully, stays curled tightly into a ball) to a blue 'portal' in the level that will teleport him to the next, and eventually, home. Like Bridge Builder, you have a material set that reacts to real-world physics and a budget in which to operate. The budget acts as the score in AR, with the surplus from every level adding up to your ultimate total. Some levels are carefully metered to the point that staying within budget is your main obstacle. Others, however, rely on the often-daunting nature of physics itself.
If you're like me, your last physics class was AGES ago. Get ready for a workout, because AR is going to test your grasp of physical interactions. Luckily there's far fewer equations than back in high school. It's presented in a trial-and error, Rube Goldberg-esque physics extravaganza that's even more fun than destroying lego houses with black cats.
Well..., maybe not that fun. But close.
Rope, cloth, metal, rubber, and elastic are your only friends as you navigate Armadillo through the 50 main levels and 10 bonus levels. If there's enough bread to go around, you might get to use a rocket, but they're both expensive and unruly. Levels can range from correcting a problem in an otherwise finished construct, to a test of ingenuity and patience as you cobble your own together. This is the real strength of AR; devising and implementing a machine of your own that gets the job done in style, under budget, or maybe just barely.
There are hundreds of ways to complete each level, and there's more challenge to be had in going back and applying your developed skills to old levels to free up more money. Replay value is high. A level editor is included, and the game's website has a page of downloadable new levels that is sure to grow with time. All this means a game that is almost infinitely tweakable, that will last you as long as you want it to.
Another feature I find important to note is that you can quit at any time, as your progress is automatically saved. So if you're often busy, or your computer is just crap and likes to crash a lot (stupid computer), your AR game won't suffer for it.
If I have any criticisms of the game, it's that cloth interacting with cloth can often be pretty dodgy. I also sometimes found myself wishing for more types of materials, but at the end of the day, simple means elegant and effective. Besides, it's an independent game with less bugs than your average Lucasarts offering. How can you complain?
Armadillo Run is available on the above linked website for $19.99 US. Part of me balks at paying that much for a download, but for such a well developed, challenging game with a very high degree of replayability, it's really worth it. Especially considering some of the crap EA expects you to spend fifty bucks on. Highly Recommended.
Armadillo Run - PC
It's very much an indie game. Aside from a few cute "movie" sequences, and a title screen machine, there isn't much in the way of professional presentation. The menus are plain, but straightforward and effective. No music either, so queue up a winamp playlist for long sessions. It could benefit from some art direction, i think. Graphics are very plain and system requirements are low, however, so there will be little keeping even weak machines from playing it at its best.
The holy gameplay grail of "easy to learn, hard to master" is here in spades. I think a few items, such as view controls, could be better mapped, and i'd like a copy/paste function. But it's very simple and very good. And it's challenging in a way that few games are anymore.
This is one of a very few games that makes doubling back an enjoyable experience, so that you end up replaying half the game before you've even played all the way through once. Besting yourself and your friends is a nigh-endless task, and editable and downloadable levels bring even more to the table. Frustration is the only thing that will drive you away for a good while... and that's only temporary.
Aside from the instinctual outrage I feel at forking over 20 dollars and not getting a shiny box and disc in return, logic reassures me that there are a lot worse games for the same money. And I'd much rather be supporting the guy who made this, than a soulless conglomocorp.
The most fun I can recall having with any indie game. It needs a tiny bit of a facelift, a little polish and bam, perfect. I'm eagerly awaiting Armadillo Run 2, I can tell you that much.