Pacing back and forth across the green floor, I don’t think I’m any closer to solving the puzzle. I’ve spent probably half an hour on this one alone. I pull piece after piece from over my shoulders, trying to make a more solid structure for the base of my contraption. The name of the game is Fantastic Contraption but I’m not feeling fantastic. Mediocre maybe. Just plain bad.
I press the play button on my controller and, instead of climbing a wall like I want to get to a goal at the top, my contraption is flopping around on the ground. The HTC Vive is heavy on my cheeks. I’d failed at a few earlier puzzles and so I jumped into this one and got hooked. I feel like I can’t blame anybody but myself for my lack of creativity in this world, but this is still a pretty early level and there are a total of 50 puzzles. “Beating” the game would be a pretty daunting task.
I wrote to the Northways, Colin and Sarah, who built the game in partnership with Radial Games. In the email I asked them about the difficulty, after spending way too much time on one level. My sad little machine flopping around was all I had to show for it. Here’s what Colin Northway wrote back:
There is definitely a difficulty curve. Challenge has always been a central part of Fantastic Contraption. To progress you’ll have to be genuinely inventive, that’s just the kind of game Fantastic Contraption is.
On the other hand you can just use the game as a nice place to hang out and build cool things. I like to hop on and try to make walkers or other personal challenges but also just to hit the drums and make music! Sarah makes big swirling contraptions with lots of light. Andy builds houses and traces chairs he puts in his space. I’d like people to not feel constrained by the goals.
Turns out it takes some time to understand the game. Unlike easier-to-pick-up games like Job Simulator or Space Pirate Trainer, you have to figure out how machines in this world work. I introduced the game to a couple others and their reaction was similar. They requested to do other things, like playing Audioshield or sketching in Tilt Brush.
I also found Fantastic Contraption to include some cutting-edge game interaction ideas. You can tear apart two connected pieces with your hands, grab a variety of pieces from over each shoulder and, if you need help, the answer is inside a magical helmet. You “grasp” the helmet with the controller and then bring it over your head like you’re putting on a hat and you’re suddenly inside a kind of pause menu. You can access other people’s contraptions here and save your own, so the opportunity to satiate your curiosity by checking out a working solution to a particular puzzle is always just a few seconds away.
A family member was having trouble figuring out the game. I told him to check out the solution by putting on the helmet. He did, and then came back to an earlier puzzle and quickly solved it. That moment of success — sometimes hard to reach — is deeply satisfying.
The game is also highly social, which means that in addition to needing a room with decent walking space (standing only and seated options are in the works), your VR setup for Fantastic Contraption should include a big screen or TV and comfortable seating outside the play space so others can watch your progress and offer suggestions.
Update: Since its original release on the HTC Vive, Fantastic Contraption has received massive updates and is now also released on the Oculus Rift with Touch controllers. As long as you use one of the experimental 360-degree tracking setups — preferably three-sensors here — then it should work fine on your Rift. You’ll need to move around a lot and probably get down on the ground to really get the best angle for tweaking your various contraptions, so two sensors and 180-degrees may not be enough.
Fantastic Contraption is a great puzzle game that keeps you thinking about building new machines long after the headset is off. It can be difficult to solve sometimes, but that’s kind of the idea. I’m going to be coming back to it a lot in the coming months and, depending how much time I end up spending on it with friends, might warrant bumping this game up to a higher rating. The game itself is chock full of innovative user interface design ideas that make looking at other people’s creations both a fun, and inspiring, activity.
Read our Game Review Guidelines for more information on how we arrived at this score.