In recent years, it has become quite obvious that the majority of the creativity in the videogame industry comes from small, independent developers. Some of the best games in 2008 were of this innovative, home-grown variety, and already in 2009 Crayon Physics Deluxe is continuing the trend.
Designed entirely by Petri Purho, under the label of Kloonigames, CPD explores what it might be like if one’s every stroke on a piece of paper were to become actual objects in a two-dimensional environment, subject to all the laws of physics. The object of the game is simple: guide a small crayon-drawn ball to the star(s) in each of the game’s 75+ single-screen levels. The catch, however, is that the ball can only be nudged slightly left or right; any other locomotion must be provided by drawing various objects on the paper to force the circle along, most often employing gravity to help accomplish that goal.
The simplest example of this indirect prodding is introduced in the first level, where players are asked to draw a box above the ball, creating a falling block that knocks the ball toward the star. Other possibilities range from simple lines to complex ad hoc mechanical apparatuses. Basic lines can bridge the many gaps and chasms between platforms, form slopes to guide the ball and build up momentum, or act as barriers to prevent the ball from escaping its desired course. A single line becomes a rope when fastened to small, penciled-in ’knobs’ on two separate objects, and other advanced tools such as levers and pendulums are formed using hinges and pivot points on existing structures. Players can even create a self-driven car by drawing two wheels and a body, or activate conveniently placed rockets by dropping something on them. These, of course, can be attached to whatever strings, platforms, containers, or other things players deem necessary to move the ball to the star.
What is great about CPD is that there is no single correct solution to any of the puzzles, but many different ways to be successful. Where one person may draw a cantilever platform to reach the star, another player may employ something that more closely resembles a catapult. Of course not everything is possible in CPD. For the most part, however, solutions are restricted only by the player’s own creativity, and some of the resulting sequences are nothing short of amazing. It’s a shame there is no YouTube integration in CPD (a la Spore), because that would be the icing on the cake.
Players can’t share gameplay videos, but they can share custom levels. The level editor allows players to quickly and easily draw up their own challenges and then upload them to the Crayon Physics Deluxe Playground website with just a few clicks. Downloading levels is a bit more difficult, as players must manually save the files in the Crayon Physics Deluxe directory via their internet browser. Being able to grab new levels from within the game itself would have been a far more user-friendly approach.
CPD has a few other drawbacks, as well. Unfortunately, because the game doesn’t demand any specific approaches for successfully completing levels, players may simply find a few proven strategies and stick with them, only devising something new when their go-to game has failed. It is also possible to muscle through many of the levels, forgoing more elegant solutions and piling layer upon layer of virtual crayon wax until the game is essentially beaten into submission, and can’t help but let the player win. A simple limit on the number of crayon strokes allowed for each level could have prevented this. Yes, fewer restrictions and the freedom to be creative are wonderful things, but one can’t help but wonder if CPD might have been a more rewarding experience had the level design forced players to use a greater variety of solutions within a limited number of ’moves.’
In terms of presentation, there is little more to ask of CPD than what is already in place. All of the game’s visuals appear to be hand-scribbled crayon marks on a folded-and-unfolded piece of drawing paper. Further driving home the crayon theme, players are allowed to draw on the overworld map, and even erase much of what is already there. As for the game’s music, the lullaby-like tracks are a very good match for the simple and relaxing gameplay, but more of them would have been better, as they do repeat frequently.
Crayon Physics Deluxe is a fun and innovative title offering extensive replayability and the opportunity for players to be creatively interact with the game. A little extra tweaking and tuning could have made Crayon Physics Deluxe really stand out, but as is, the game is still a fine choice for an entertaining gameplay experience.