The indie hit Fantastic Contraption has been released as a Playstation VR version, and we played this clever approach to physics-based puzzling.
This is actually the second time that Fantastic Contraption has reinvented itself. It was first released as a browser-based game almost ten years ago, when it was a 2D mix-up of World of Goo and The Incredible Machine. It has the simplicity of World of Goo with its limited toolbox to work with, yet also had the creative touch that makes games like The Incredible Machine and Crazy Machines so much fun to play.
2017’s version of Fantastic Contraption for Playstation VR isn’t actually based on that game, but rather the HTC Vive version that came out last year. It was a reimagined version of the 2D original, built around room-scale virtual reality gaming – you know, the kind where you walk around a giant contraption as you build it. Playstation VR doesn’t support room-scale, so its developer had to go back and tweak their game to fit this limitation – and they’ve done so fairly well.
Fantastic Contraption is far more of a building/construction game than the only other game in the genre on Playstation VR, Nebulous. To me, Fantastic Contraption is a bit like the old school LEGO bricks – they all look pretty much the same (rectangles and squares), and it’s up to you to get creative with them. I’m sure this approach will take some getting used to for players, and it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Where most physics-based puzzle games give you a pretty decent idea of what it is you’re supposed to be doing, this one gives you the freedom to design your own solutions – as efficient or contrived as you want them to be.
The basic concept is simple – get a purple ball to a target area. To do this, you can attach rods and wheels and apply motion to them by connecting them in the right order. It may sound a little vague, but the initial levels ease you into the basic concepts very well. That is… before the game throws you into the deep end of the pool and lets you figure it out all by yourself. Exploration and experimentation are key ingredients here, and sometimes more so then I wanted them to be. Some of the game’s fundamentals are only found out by trial and error – and this includes some of the controls. I understand that this is a game that doesn’t want to hold your hand for too long, but in these cases I definitely felt like more explanation wouldn’t have given any solutions away and could have saved me some frustration.
The game has no less than 50 levels to play around in, and some can take quite a while as you experiment, tweak, demolish and rebuild your creations to see if you can get any closer to the finish line. This is all done using two Move controllers, and it works really well. Perhaps the brand new Oculus touch controllers would have been a better fit in terms of picking up and manipulating objects inside a virtual world, but the game’s developers have made sure that the good old PS3 motion controllers do a very good job at convincing that you’re inside a life-sized toolbox. Without room-scale support you can zoom in and out of the environment to create a better perspective on things instead, so you’re never too lost as to what needs to be added or changed.
That’s assuming that you have an affinity for tinkering with building materials and don’t easily give up. In some puzzles, the solutions aren’t exactly straightforward – and you have to just start putting pieces together. Hitting the start button might see your contraption just plummet to the ground, and this is a game that hopes you see this as a starting point, rather than a moment to give up in despair.
To figure out which group you belong to (if you don’t already know), it would be a good idea to try out the 2D browser version of the game. It’s a vastly different game, but a similar experience. If you enjoy it, like I did, then you’ll no doubt appreciate the prospect of playing a similar game in virtual reality. And if that’s the case, then Fantastic Contraption is an excellent purchase for you – even though it’ll be an acquired taste, it does what it sets out to do very well despite the lack of room-scale support.