Winner of the 2008 Independent Games Festival grand prize, Crayon Physics Deluxe is the iPhone and iPod Touch version of the PC game by Petri Purho. The goal of the game is to guide a small red ball across a series of obstacles to reach a star. However, in order to get to that star, you must draw a variety of objects such as ramps, levers, slings and weights, to help the ball move across chasms and over walls.
Graphically, the game looks like a crayon doodle on butcher's paper drawn by a child, and is just as cute. This is a game that doesn't need to draw on the iPhone processing power to achieve brilliance, relying instead on artistic simplicity and genuinely mesmerising gameplay.
Sadly, the drawing aspect of the game doesn't translate well to the iPhone, with our fingers too large to draw precise lines, and often obscuring our drawings. By comparison, using a mouse on a PC provides a level of control impossible for the Apple device to attain. You'll still do fine with odd looking Picasso-esque boxes that don't fit together in the game itself, but when it comes to the level editor, you'll find yourself wanting greater precision.
Crayon Physics Deluxe's physics are, appropriately, very accurate, with objects responding realistically to input from the user and other objects in the world. Any shapes you draw appear in-game with a weight value appropriate to its size and affected by gravity. You always have to be on the ball too; like in real life, physics and gravity operate whether you're paying attention or not.
For instance, take a level with a star on the bottom right, and a ball sitting in the top left on a platform. Drawing a line between the platform and the ground would give it a safe bridge, and you could then draw an object above the ball which would drop on it due to gravity, pushing it on its way down your newly made ramp.
This is just one solution; the physics-based nature of the game means many are possible, and solving a puzzle your way gives an immense amount of satisfaction, helped along by the charming music. There's no penalty for failing — if the ball falls off the screen, it simply returns to the starting position, leaving you to modify your existing drawings.
There are a few more tricks to know before starting your adventure. To start a level, you can either tap the ball to make it roll right, or drop an object on it. Drawing a circle onto a pre-existing shape makes an anchor which other shapes can attach to and revolve around, pinching with your fingers will zoom in, and you can scroll around the level by swiping with two fingers in the appropriate direction. If you want to reset the level manually, you can shake your iPhone, or to just remove drawings you can double tap them.
One thing we were disappointed with was the minimal accelerometer support. This seemed like the perfect game to take advantage, potentially allowing the user to affect gravity by tilting the device — sadly any features along this line have been overlooked.
There are 54 stars to collect spread across 50 levels, with some levels having two stars to collect before moving on. Unfortunately, each level only takes a minute or so to complete — making for a very short game if you're good with puzzles. This is somewhat overcome by the occasional maddeningly frustrating level, with some of the later levels driving us online to find the solution.
Flow between levels and menus is smooth and intuitive, with load times cleverly disguised for the most part as the game itself draws the level in crayon.
A level editor is also included, allowing you to create your own fiendish physics-based puzzles to ambush your friends with, although it has to be on the same device because the game doesn't support sharing levels in any way.
Is it worth the money?
At AU$5.99 from the App Store, Crayon Physics Deluxe is one of the few games on any handheld device that genuinely stimulates your thought processes, and challenges you to think both laterally and speedily. There are few, if any, games of similar calibre which can deliver on the intellectual joy of this game.