Amazing Alex is a new iOS and Android game from Rovio, creators of Angry Birds. The game is the first title not in the Finnish developer’s hugely succcessful multimedia franchise for a very long time, but stays true to the developer’s strengths: pick-up and play gameplay, suitable for both quick sessions or longer marathons, and universal appeal. The game is available now from the App Store in separate iPhone and iPad versions. Android players can pick up a copy from Google Play and the Amazon Appstore, and Windows Phone and home computer versions are following soon.
Amazing Alex is a physics-based puzzle game heavily inspired by Jeff Tunnell’s ageing The Incredible Machine series for PC, an iOS version of which was released by Disney in 2011 but which since appears to have disappeared from the App Store. Players are presented with a series of physics-based challenges and provided with a selection of tools with which to accomplish their goals, which vary from dropping things into baskets to popping balloons. Objectives are communicated in a visual style with arrows and circles — this is a difference from the original Incredible Machine format, in which tasks were explicitly explained to the player via text. While Amazing Alex’s approach allows even young children with poor literacy skills to participate in the game, The Incredible Machine’s text-based system was a much clearer way to explain exactly what was expected of the player.
As is the norm for most mobile games, players may complete each level with up to three “stars.” Stars are acquired simply by causing a level element to roll, float or slide through them and also often provide vague hints as to the “optimum” method for completing a level. These hints are supplemented in the early levels by explicit markings showing exactly where the player should place their tools. This makes the early levels extremely, almost insultingly easy for most people, but at least allows players to get a feel for how basic “machine” elements work. The game also doesn’t fall into the trap of allowing its “tutorial” levels to go on for too long — a criticism which could be leveled at some of the earlier PC-based entries in the Incredible Machine series!
Amazing Alex is built to be a “connected” game. Completing a level automatically uploads the player’s solution to the Internet, and a random selection of their Game Center friends’ solutions is displayed for them to peruse on the results screen. Players may also call up their friends’ solutions manually at any time from the game’s menu, somewhat undermining the “puzzle” nature of the game but at least ensuring that players can make progress if they are stuck — assuming they have some friends playing, of course. After making a certain amount of progress in the game, players also unlock the ability to create their own levels and share them online.
Amazing Alex is a mostly very good game, but it suffers somewhat from a problem that also blighted Angry Birds — in an attempt to be universally appealing (and, presumably, to minimize the amount of translation work required for international markets) the game is almost entirely icon-based, but it’s not always immediately apparent what each of these icons does. The game also doesn’t easily give up its “secrets” — it doesn’t explain to players exactly what the requirements for unlocking new levels or accessing the level editor are, which could lead to frustration for those more interested in “freeform” play than solving puzzles.
This issue aside however, Amazing Alex is a good addition to Rovio’s lineup and will even appeal to those who are sick of the sight of the perpetually-disgruntled avians. The online features will help ensure it has a long lifespan even long after players have beaten the built-in levels. With regular updates, Rovio could easily have another long-term hit on their hands.