Crayon Physics Deluxe Review for PC

Crayon Physics Deluxe Review for PC

Your Drawings Come to Life

It’s hard to think of an independent game that’s been hyped more than Crayon Physics Deluxe. In March of 2008, the popular web magazine Slate ran an article about the title’s grand-prize-winning appearance at the Independent Games Festival. A YouTube teaser video made the rounds, accumulating about 2 million views. The game didn’t even come out until last week.

Crayon Physics Deluxe screenshot

It’s not hard to see why people would get excited. The puzzle game has a great visual style and a great premise: On a crinkled piece of paper, there is a crayon-drawn 2-D world that includes a ball and a star. Your job is to guide the ball to the star. You do so by using your own (digital) crayon to draw objects, which interact with the environment to push, support, and otherwise manipulate the ball.

There’s a terrific backstory, too. The game is the product of Petri Purho, a game developer who, once a month, takes a week to design a game and give it away free. The original Crayon Physics (which you can still download free here) was one of those titles, when it drew lots of positive remarks, Purho decided to take some time off and flesh it out. Can the results live up to the hype, the underdog legend, and the $19.95 price tag?

Crayon Physics was an enjoyable experience to begin with, and there are plenty of new puzzles and features here. There are 80 stars spread amongst more than 70 levels (Crayon physics has seven levels, and the $4.99 iPhone version of Deluxe has 54). Whereas Crayon Physics turns most of the objects you draw into rectangles, in Deluxe you can draw objects of whatever shape you’d like. You can draw pins and string rope between them to create pulleys, and connect objects to the rope to drag your ball around. Alternatively, you can connect objects directly to the pins, and they’ll swing and hit your ball like a golf club. Some levels have rockets you set off by dropping objects on them. There’s a level editor and a developer-supported online community for sharing your creations. Three very soothing and unobtrusive music tracks accompany your doodling.

Crayon Physics Deluxe screenshot

In other words, Crayon Physics Deluxe seeks to do everything it should have. Unfortunately, the execution is a little off; the game offers plenty of hope for the future via user-created puzzles and official updates, but the existing game leaves much to be desired.

For one thing, collecting the 80 stars takes only a few hours. The first 50 or so are incredibly easy, demanding little from the player beyond a brief glance, some mild mental activity, and a couple seconds of mouse work. If you’re a very creative person, you can entertain yourself coming up with the most complicated, Rube Goldberg-style solutions as possible. (Purho insists this is the whole point of the game. We’ll leave it up to you whether that’s a valid point or an excuse.) Otherwise, you’ll just be waiting around for the tough puzzles. Braid or Portal this is not, difficulty-wise.

Crayon Physics Deluxe screenshot

The later puzzles are significantly harder, but as with the earlier puzzles, there are usually multiple ways to solve them. Again, the creative types will have a blast, but people who prefer to see a problem, think of the most pragmatic solution, and implement it will tend to fall back on the same techniques over and over again.

In particular (skip this paragraph if you don’t want a strategy tip), we often found ourselves putting two pins under the ball and using them as an anchor for a ramp to the star. So long as any object includes two pins rooted in the game’s environment, it won’t move. Once you have the ramp in place, you can put the ball inside another object, place a pin in said object, and use pulleys to drag it up the ramp. This alone will solve a frighteningly large percentage of the later puzzles.

Surprisingly, none of the puzzles put any limits on the player, and there are no special challenges wherein you can revisit a puzzle with new rules. We’d like to see puzzles where you can only use a certain number of pins, ropes, or objects. This would force players to use different methods to solve the problems. It would also be nice if some levels had different levels of gravity, or atmospheres that restricted movement in various ways, like in the planets from Meteos. Perhaps user-created levels can do these things; Purho could help by building more features into the level editor, but otherwise, simple directions like “use only two pins” would work.

Crayon Physics Deluxe screenshot

The level-sharing community is in its infancy, but the ones we tried out were fairly promising. Purho should encourage the community by making the levels accessible directly through the game. As it is, you need to go to the website, download any levels you want to try to your desktop, and then drag them into the game’s window.

It’s the game’s rampant glitches, however, that are the biggest problem. For the record, we ran it on a very normal Dell laptop (Inspiron E1405) with Windows XP. The computer’s specs, while they fall short of “gaming PC” standards, are well above those the developer recommends.

At the extreme end, we managed to cause two crashes in our first play-through; we weren’t intentionally pushing the game to the limit, we were just trying to solve the puzzles. When we made a rope that was too long, the entire program shut off, and when we put too many items on the screen, we received a message that “You broke my game!” and had to do the puzzle over from scratch. If there’s a limit to how many items the physics engine can handle, as our onscreen admonishment stated, there ought to be an up-front limit to how many we can place, rather than just an ex post facto punishment of starting over.

To be fair, our strategies for solving those two puzzles were “Make a really, really, really long rope and keep attaching stuff to it” and “Keep stuffing items into this little bubble our pulley created,” respectively. Then again, if the whole point of the game is to solve the puzzles in over-the-top ways, that shouldn’t be a problem.

The more minor glitches are equally frustrating, and they usually involve the pulley system. When we draped ropes over items we’d created, they sometimes fell through the very end of the objects and didn’t seem to transfer torque as well. Once, when testing a level we’d made in the editor, our rope repeatedly fell through the entire object when we went to drape it, as though the object didn’t even exist. (We quit out of the editor and came back, and the problem disappeared.) It often takes multiple tries to attach an object to a rope as a weight, etc.

As of right now, Crayon Physics Deluxe is an example of innovative game design, but it’s also an example of over-hype in the video game (and mainstream) media. Without the game’s being talked up so much over a period of ten months, and without the overconfident price point all that talk probably inspired, this would be a terrific value and an inspiration to indie developers everywhere. As it is, the too-easy levels, the lack of any limitations to make the puzzles more difficult, and the serious technical issues make Crayon Physics Deluxe a bit of a disappointment. We’ve got our fingers crossed for some great user-created levels and for a few patches from the developer.

Excellent visuals that really make you feel like a kid again, drawing with crayons at the kitchen table. 4.7 Control
You know how to use a mouse, right? 4.4 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Soothing background tracks that keep looping. You’ll be a bit sick of them by the time you’re done, but it’s far better than the music most other puzzle games use. 3.4 Play Value
The first two-thirds of the levels are very easy, and there are lots of distracting technical glitches. 3.6 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.

Game Features:

  • Awesome physics.
  • More than 70 levels.
  • Easy-to-use level editor.

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