- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 9, 2008

In Mechanic Master (for DS from Midway, $29.99), a player saves Earth as he builds contraptions. Through the barest of plots in this puzzle game, it’s up to a junior inventor to thwart an invasion of purple, blob-shaped aliens with fangs and rescue humans.

To solve the conundrums in the quickest time possible, he needs the wits of MacGyver to manipulate the Rube Goldberg-style collection of items at his disposal.

Equal to the slim story is the simplest of presentations for each puzzle. The DS screen typically offers a few pesky aliens, a couple of captives and a group of objects that are ready for the player to add items and make them come to life.

The puzzles can be as simple as moving a tennis ball to the right place to drop on an air canister and blow a bad guy off of a ramp to controlling the direction of a sweeping robot that drops a weight on an alien.

As players progress, the machine setups get more complicated and can involve connecting belts to gears, lighting flames of enemy spacecraft, manipulating steel balls with magnets and cutting lines with scissors.

The bottom touch screen is the player’s workshop as he grabs items from an inventory and moves them into position. Once everything is in place, click the green arrow and the machine turns on, revealing the inventor’s work.

If the aliens have not been eliminated from the area, the player can continue to tweak his work to get the desired result.

An underutilized top screen displays a small version of the full layout of the contraption being built and not much else. I would have loved a more elaborate animation of the scene in motion, complete with dispatching the aliens.

A second level of puzzles requires drawing on the DS screen and creating shapes and lines, with the help of items, to get rid of the aliens. Especially cool is drawing circles to teleport pieces around the screen. To add to the challenge, a power meter dictates the number and complexity of the shapes that can be drawn.

More than 100 levels are available, and the player can create his own puzzles with 120 slots to develop more working contraptions. These can be traded with friends who also own the game using the DS’ wireless mode.

Learning time: The honing of logic, decision-making and problem-solving skills makes the game a perfect choice for the creative youngster intrigued by puzzles. Clever parents also can tie in some lessons on the physical sciences as well as talk about the legend of cartoonist Rube Goldberg and his wacky machines.

Age range: Most tweens and teens will get a kick out of the variety of conundrums that get pretty challenging, but younger players may get easily frustrated. Although I loved the brain exercises, defeating the aliens and freeing humans will not be enough action to inspire more seasoned gamers.

Final advice: Mechanic Master is not the prettiest or most innovative puzzler out there, but it provides a satisfying casual gaming experience.

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