MoLeCuLoUs, which happens to be up for an IGF award this year, plays like a modular pachinko machine. The game takes place on a grid of slots with which you add or remove pegs using the mouse. Each peg you insert causes the beaker hovering at the top of the screen to release a drop, which falls and bounces off any pegs it its path. As lab assistant, your job is to ensure the drop lands in the test tube at the bottom of the screen. A successful capture moves the beaker to a new position.
Each level is based on a chemical compound and has a group of element slots, circled in white. To move on you must clear each element slot by capturing a drop that has bounced off a peg inserted into it. There's a limited number of drops to work with, as well as a timer; if you run out of either, it's game over. Other threats include poison barriers, slot-removing bombs and spinning "wayward fans" (huh?) that appear sporadically on the playing field. There are several additional game modes including "head 2 head challenge" (two players take turns to see who can clear the stage with the fewest pegs in the least time) and "speed round" (similar to normal mode, except the beaker and test tube are constantly moving, and without the element pegs.)
It is difficult to predict the path that a bouncing drop will take. As if to compensate for this, the scoring system rewards you for taking the least direct route to the test tube; 100 bonus points are given for each peg hit along the way. I had the most success, and the most fun, frantically placing and removing pegs all over the board in order to rearrange the path for a single drop in motion.
MoLeCuLoUs' science theme is almost completely irrelevant to the game play. However, if you're paying attention (and are already familiar with the periodic table of elements) you might recognize that Hydrogen and Oxygen are the element pegs in the water level, or Carbon and Nitrogen in the cyanide level. Educational? Not really, but as an aesthetic it works. The sound design is well done, with lots of atmospheric glass clinking and xylophone-like tones when the ball strikes a peg.
Gametrust has put together a solid and fairly unique title. Unfortunately the limitations of the Shockwave platform hurt the online free trial version of the game slightly, as everything feels a bit chunky and moves more slowly than one would like. The download version of the game is for the PC platform only. The free trial available at the gametrust site contains only 8 levels but it's a good diversion and, hey - the world is hurting. Cold fusion isn't about to discover itself. Click.