We’ve seen plenty of Minecraft-inspired games ever since the indie smash swept the market, ranging from blatant ripoffs to nifty riffs on the new genre. The Sandbox falls into the latter category and really is a game on its own. Actually, I would rather categorize it under “world creation” and creative tool which is, well, pretty much the same as Minecraft. OK, so the differences between the games are more than that; where Minecraft is a wonderfully immersive jaunt through a three-dimensional block world, The Sandbox is more of a puzzle game based on physics and trickery as it is exploration and creation.
There’s also a difference between the looks of the titles. Minecraft has some realistic lighting effects and, thanks to the modding community, can seem more like a standard MMO rather than a primitive Lego world. The Sandbox sticks to the side view and extremely pixelated artwork. At first it doesn’t work and can actually be hard on the eyes — especially the font — but after a while it feels natural and fun.
I spent most of my time in The Sandbox by going through the tutorial puzzles, connecting metal bits and creating lava out of nothing. As you finish each tutorial step you will unlock more and more elements or tricks that will aid you in the next step. It’s really a brilliant method for teaching new players how to play with the system while the player plays in the system. Before I knew it, I was creating music and planting trees with the best of them. At any point I was able to jump into free-play mode, but I preferred the puzzle-tutorials more than anything. You will earn free mana as you go along, mana that pays for more unlocks. You can also purchase more groups of puzzles for only a few dollars piece, each one containing a set number of puzzles based around a theme. Again I was impressed by the payment model for The Sandbox. It allows players to play tutorial puzzles for free or in a sandbox mode but also gives them a chance to buy large chunks of content for a few dollars at a time. The whole thing is a great package.
My only real complaint is that many of the puzzles have completion scenarios that make no sense, at least partially. It seems like much of the puzzle-text was written by someone who did not have English as his or her primary language. When I would pay some mana to unlock a few hints, they often made little sense as well. I should say that they made some sense, but barely enough. I’d rather have a hint or set of instructions that are completely nonsensical than some that sort of make sense. Sometimes the text in The Sandbox can feel more surreal than helpful.
Other than the the often touchy controls (luckily you can zoom in for pinpoint pixel manipulation) and the odd quest or tutorial text, the game is wonderful fun. It also offers a great way to spend money that won’t break the bank but will provide hours of gameplay. Even the free version of the game gave me a lot to do, and so I felt like spending money on the rest. The Sandbox is a neat game for those who enjoy puzzles, world creation, physics and just causing mayhem. Heck, I spent a long time just figuring different ways to destroy things and I haven’t even began to open up the other puzzles packages!