Summary: Remember Pontifex, the bridge-building game with physics? Now imagine it had a love child with The Incredible Machine (one of the most memorable puzzle games ever). That's Armadillo Run. So good, I bought it rather than bug the dev for a review copy. Read why.
Part Pontifex, part Incredible Machine, Armadillo Run is full of charm and clever puzzles. It has scenarios with pre-set pieces in place that must be filled out, taken advantage of, or ignored, and it has open scenarios with just hook points to start with. You have a limited budget for each puzzle, with which you can buy rope, cloth, metal bars, metal sheets, elastics, rubber, or rockets. Also, for a price, you can set the tension of a rope, cloth, elastic or rubber, and you can also set a timer for any of the items listed. Timers will automatically destroy an object after several seconds, which permits you to drop something in the way of a moving armadillo, or perhaps to launch the armadillo with an elastic or rubber if you time the moment it passes them precisely. One of the few complaints we have with the game is that timers aren't quite as precise as we'd always like - they seem to move in increments of about two tenths of a second, which can throw off the optimal impact point of an elastic-powered metal slab against the armadillo. Fortunately, you can simply adjust the position and angle of the slab, but there are times when a timing change would be more convenient.
Most of Armadillo Run's levels tend to run the "tricky" rather than "creative" route. There is definitely a sense of trying to figure out the One True Path the level designer has created, rather than fooling around with combinations. In general we'd say that AR has a bit less creative freedom than Pontifex. Heck, in about 90% of levels you can't even afford a rocket. Many times, much of the freedom is used up in finding out how to use the least number of components to win a scenario, to save money. On the other hand, you can fool around by using as much money as you want - you just can't pass to the next level if you go over budget.
Overall, however, Armadillo Run did make the right choice by becoming a puzzle game rather than a constructor. Despite the abundance of toys to work with, they're not as easy to assemble into cool objects like in The Incredible Machine, and there's no glorious sense of accomplishment, such as you get when constructing a magnificent, opulent bridge in Pontifex. In the end, the designer chose correctly. There are 50 levels to try your skills on, plus an unknown number of bonus levels which are unlocked whenever your total savings hit $1000, $2000, $3000, and so on.
$20 for at least 50 levels, probably close to 55-60 for better players who unlock the bonus options, isn't bad.
Armadillo Run has a lot more character than Pontifex. It's not just the armadillo ball, but rather the abandonment of all realistic pretense in favor of some seriously brain-twisting puzzles.
While I've been stuck on a puzzle for up to half an hour or so, and even found myself leaving the game to take a break and come back with a fresh perspective, Armadillo Run never managed to frustrate.
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