As a kid, if it was raining and the thought of getting sodden wasn’t really that appealing then there were always a couple of go-to activities. The first was always videogames, of course, while the rest was about building stuff. Lego was always great, Scalextric got rather competitive and then there was Domino Rally, a game that required oodles of patience to perfect whilst providing genuine excitement when the entire contraption worked – or a look of horror when vibration from a car outside or a sibling running down the stairs caused everything to topple. Fast forward to 2019 and those memories suddenly come flooding back with Gadgeteer, a chain reaction machine builder from Metanaut.
Thankfully this time there are no worries about a finely created machine toppling over as it’s all in VR! Metanaut has created a little sanctum of an apartment where the entire experience takes place, allowing you to build and experiment to your heart’s content.
A videogame crafted solely for the purpose of creating Rube Goldberg-style machinations, Gadgeteer is split into two main parts, a campaign mode with a brief story attached and then the sandbox mode. The latter is most certainly the core of the experience and while it can be fun diving straight in the number of options available can be a little overwhelming to begin with. There’s a tutorial to start things off but it’s the puzzle campaign which is the true tutorial, building up slowly, introducing more items to learn how they interact and what role they can play in future machines.
These 60 puzzles snake around the apartment, intertwining with the furniture to look like one giant experiment. The difficulty curve isn’t so great that you’ll be stuck right away but even by the halfway stages Gadgeteer challenges you to really think about how each piece contributes to the entire setup and the various routes that can be taken. Puzzles evolve from knocking each one over – dominos-style – to transporting marbles all over the place.
To make this all happen the studio has created a wonderfully simple system of tools and movement, easy to use and comfortable to play. There are three tools available, all selectable on one controller and swappable between right and left hands. The pincers are the defacto tool, picking out and moving the gadgets from the inventory found on the opposite controller. Next is the replication tool. Rather than going back to the inventory each time if there’s a piece you need multiple times then just replicate it. In the campaign mode, this will automatically take an item out of the inventory. Lastly, there’s the vacuum. Which operates exactly as you’d expect, sucking up any pieces you don’t want. For some reason, however, you can’t put any item right back into the inventory it just drops on the floor waiting to be vacuumed up, which can be a little annoying when grabbing the wrong piece.
As for movement, Metanaut has employed a drag mechanic of sorts. You don’t (and can’t) grab any of the furniture or walls, instead, holding down the grip buttons allows you to move the entire world however you please, in whatever direction is most suitable to continue building. There is a vignette option just in case you do feel a little uneasy but that shouldn’t be too much of an issue as you’re directly controlling the speed, pulling through the world. There’s no smooth locomotion that VRFocus could find.
This fine movement control is most certainly needed, especially when delving into the sandbox mode. Here you’re given a blank apartment as your canvas and an unlimited inventory with which to create. It’s here where you can spend hours and hours building elaborate contraptions which bend and twist all over the place. And when it works there’s a definite feeling of satisfaction.
However, before that satisfaction, you need patience, lots and lots of patience. As mentioned nothing is suddenly going to fall over and collapse. There’s a handy play and reset feature enabling each design change to be tested before moving on yet there’s no snap functionality.
On the one hand, it’s understandable not having one, Gadgeteer uses a freeze option to place items mid-air rather than having to build framework up, enabling placement of items to be finely tuned. This does mean that it can become a little laborious placing multiples of the same item, for example, a long run for the marble. As each needs to be perfectly lined up, rather than snapping a few together quickly.
It would also be nice to have some music options. Currently, the standard background music can be switched on or off, that’s it. Sure you could have a stereo playing outside of VR but for those long building sessions some other tunes would help elevate the experience.
Gadgeteer isn’t going to be for everyone, much like being a watchmaker. It’s finicky, time-consuming and puzzling all at the same time. They’re also the reasons why Gadgeteer is a puzzle gem for Oculus Quest. The gameplay becomes engrossing as you beaver away, one idea forming and then morphing, splitting into tangents the more time is spent. All it’s missing is a way to share and view these crazy creations with the world.