In recent times, both Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts and World of Goo have awoken the inner civil engineer in me; now I could not be considered happier than when I am sat building something. Whether it be a trebuchet designed to fling a Jinjo through the bright blue yonder or simply a chasm-spanning tower of quivering Goos, you will find me content and lost in a world of self-made toys.
The latest build-‘em-up to roll into my path is Armadillo Run, a 2.5D PC game based upon building to a budget. Each vertical level has our rotund and armoured friend requiring a contraption to reach the exit. These may range from a construct as simple as a sheet of cloth suspended by a pair of ropes or as complicated as rocket powered sled, but all are built from a handful of simple components that each have their own cost and set of physical properties.
Metal pipes and rope are available to form the framework of anything you wish to build, with the pipes ideal for scaffolding and the high tensile strength of rope perfect for suspending structures. The armadillo will pass through these pieces as if they weren’t there but will interact with any metal sheeting or cloth you hang from their frame. The former is rigid and weighty whilst the latter flexible and forgiving, ideal for absorbing impacts. From these basic building blocks comes all manner of armadillo transportation devices.
Early levels press you into creating basic slides and bridges, and although this may not appear too taxing the challenge comes in refining the process to use as few resources as possible. Every pipe or yard of cloth will eat away at your budget, so whilst your 1:1 recreation of the Golden Gate Bridge may be incredibly skilful, the sheer amounts of parts involved will see you penalised. Many times I have found a solution but had to spend the subsequent minutes slowly optimising, removing unnecessary parts or swapping them out for cheaper ones where required. At the end of the day, your remaining budget is just as important as delivering the armadillo to his destination.
Being in an office where several people are playing the same game, this fine tuning has also been part of the draw of the game. Tweaking joints here or shaving a fraction off of your materials there can all add up and comparing bottom lines adds a surprising competitive element to construction. Not only that, but seeing how others approach the same level shows the flexibility in the design and proves that there is never just one way to succeed.
As you progress, more obstacles are thrown at you, be they pre-existing constructions that force the armadillo down a certain path, a minimal number of build points or a highly restrictive budget. This is a game that will force you to think, so don’t expect an easy ride, but the key is to learn from what has gone before. Early tutorial levels show complex machines that could inspire you and using a material’s properties to your advantage is a must. For instance, ad-hoc pulley systems can be made easily by slinging a weighted end of cloth over the end of some metal plating; as one end goes down the other will be dragged up, and if you’re armadillo is in there then he can be raised to whole new levels.
What I loved about Armadillo Run was its ability to make me sit and stare at a relatively blank screen and just think. A game has not done that to me since Professor Layton and this engaged large amounts of grey matter in a bid to plot my way out of some levels. That is not to say that it is a game where you must think before you act, as some of my favourite creations have been fashioned from just trying things. Large machines involving springs, latches, pulleys and luck sprung up from experimentation and eventually did lead to success with some subsequent alterations.
My one disappointment is that whilst clever, minimalist construction is rewarded, larger ingenious machines go unloved by the game. Items that would feel at home next to Mouse Trap have been crafted and although they can be saved out for posterity they are denied recognition by being over budget.
Armadillo Run is another game that should be experienced by anyone who loves a creative process or by those who like to experiment with physic based puzzle games. Although the initial layout look like a trimmed down version of 3D Studio Max, the ease at which inventions can spring up from nothing to form wonderful, if what somewhat contrived, solutions to your armadillo problem is one the game’s greatest strengths.
You can download Armadillo Run here.