Review: Bob Came in Pieces

Bob Came in Pieces” is a new (this year) game from Ludos­i­ty Inter­ac­tive.  It’s avail­able on Steam here at a pret­ty steep dis­count and also as a free demo.

The back­sto­ry is pret­ty sim­ple.  No pol­i­tics, no grand sto­ry… you’re just a guy who crashed and broke his space­ship.  In doing so, the “pieces” of your space ship a scat­tered who-knows-where and you don’t have your most impor­tant piece… the warp dri­ve (I think they called it some­thing else, but you know…) and you need to find your pieces.

The mechan­ics are also sim­ple.  Your ship has eight attach­ment points arranged like a com­pass and you can attach pieces of your ship that you find to the eight com­pass points.  Some are just pipe shaped bits, but oth­ers are rock­et thrusters and trac­tor or repul­sor beams and what­not.  With this kit you solve puz­zles.  It’s gen­er­al­ly non-vio­lent, but you do get to break things :*).

One secret to the games playa­bil­i­ty is it’s con­trols.  Each item you con­fig­ure on the ship gives you imme­di­ate choice of what but­ton makes it go.  This is cool­er than you think.  I haven’t used my Log­itech Rum­blepad much, but with this inter­face I’ve been able to use the Rum­blepad through­out the game and enjoy it.  This does­n’t mean I’m going to con­vert on the issue of mouse vs. con­troller for FPS games, but for this type of game, it’s very appro­pri­ate.  A key fea­ture is that you can map more than one item to the same key (or direc­tion).  This is use­ful where, say you have 2 or 3 rock­ets that point down.

This sim­ple yet ele­gant design choice makes the game more fun.  I’ve found, for instance, that when I have 3 rock­ets fac­ing down (say I need to push some­thing up hard or car­ry some­thing) that assign­ing all 3 rock­ets to “up” is not always the best choice.  Too much pow­er is not a good thing.  Using anoth­er but­ton on the con­troller to con­trol one of the rock­ets (as extra boost) is a bet­ter choice (or at least eas­i­er for me to con­trol).

Physics are a big part of this game.  Most puz­zles are physics based.  Your ship moves a‑la lunar lan­der (although no lim­it on fuel).  It seems that the alien world you come from has you immune to almost any form of dam­age.  Smack­ing into things has no con­se­quence.  From the game­play per­spec­tive, there is occa­sion­al­ly (when you’re car­ry­ing things) some penal­ty for poor fly­ing, but gen­er­al­ly the puz­zles are enough here — the fly­ing is just fun.

Some of the physics are not explained or explic­it, how­ev­er.  Your ship has a propen­si­ty to right itself in most sit­u­a­tions, but I found that also fails some­times with­out full expla­na­tion.  Some machines are sprung, some react to grav­i­ty or fric­tion (as do some sur­faces) but strange­ly oth­ers do not (often when it’s con­ve­nient for the solu­tion intend­ed).  This was a minor recur­ring dis­ap­point­ment, but not a huge flaw.

To it’s favor, the game does force cer­tain par­tic­u­lar ship con­fig­u­ra­tions or non-mechan­ics dri­ven solu­tions on the play­er.  The mechan­ics of the game deter­mine how the ship flies and what the ship accom­plish­es deter­mine the suc­cess or fail­ure of the puz­zle solv­ing.  I only rarely had to restart the lev­el — many of the puz­zles go a bit out of their way to “reset” from user attempts with­out the use of the sui­cide but­ton with only a cou­ple of notable excep­tions.  I still man­aged to get hung up on the scenery on occa­sion and some ship designs are just fail — but sui­cide is some­what appro­pri­ate in these sit­u­a­tions.

From the descrip­tion, you could dis­miss the whole game as “one giant fetch quest.”  Fair enough, but each item is also a pow­er-up.  The more items you have in your inven­to­ry, the more crazy things you can attach to your ship to do things.  It’s not like you need to col­lect fifty wolf-pelts to buy the hyper­drive — you get each mod­ule as you find it.

Now I will admit that the find­ing of about one piece on every lev­el has dri­ven me to some walk­throughs (because I’m a com­ple­tion­ist).  They’re often hid­den in scenery or in a place the cam­era isn’t show­ing well.  The game is large­ly 2D — cer­tain­ly 2D in game­play, but the lev­els do draw in a flat-ish 3D and cer­tain bits of scenery hide oth­er scenery.

The lack of an over­all dis­cov­ered lev­el map also makes some of the lev­els con­fus­ing.  Your “win­dow” on this world can be rather small (although cer­tain posi­tions cause the cam­era to zoom out to view a whole prob­lem in one shot) and this small win­dow can lead you to miss things… either by it not being obvi­ous how to get there from here (or what options there are) or by obscur­ing the path your ship must tra­verse with scenery that is “in front” of where your ship goes.

These are minor quib­bles, though.  I’m going to give the game a “must play” because it’s amaz­ing­ly fun, but it also has a free demo avail­able on Steam so you don’t even have an excuse for not try­ing it.
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