You want to go to the moon, don't ya? Of course you do, who doesn't? Unfortunately, taking a trip to visit the man in the moon isn't quite the same as running to the corner store for a gigantic soda and a bag of chips. Nope, if you want to play a round of golf in the Sea of Tranquility, there are scant few options available to you. You could go through the grueling academic and physical rigors required to be a bona fide astronaut. If that seems a bit too much like work you might try becoming a billionaire and just buy a rocket and a crew to man it for you. Or, seeing as how billions of dollars don't just drop from the skies, you could always team up with your old pals Wallace and Gromit and help them collect the cogs they need to modify their rocket propelled egg in Aardman's new physics puzzle advergame, Sprocket Rocket.
The famed man and dog duo of clay are at it again, this time with their very own rocket propelled ship. The only problem is that it's not exactly ready to leave Terra Firma for more celestial destinations just yet. That's where you come in. Lying about Wallace and Gromit's special flight lab are sixty special cogs that they need to repair and upgrade the rocket for the upcoming lunar launch. Granted, this is easier said than done. If collecting the cogs was going to be easy, they wouldn't need you to do it.
Use the [arrow] keys to pilot the rocket from room to room in the test flight complex. If you get lost, or simply want to jump quickly from one room to another, use [M] to bring up a map of all the rooms you've already visited before, and simply click on the room of your choice to zip there. Soon enough, you'll notice there are cogs that are simply impossible for your rocket ship to reach as is. That's when you get at the heart of the gameplay. You'll first need to find one of the large square ports that lets you edit the ship (they'll open when you fly past them). When the shutter goes up, hit [E] to enter edit mode where you are greeted with a blue print view of the ship. Now, using your mouse, simply draw whatever kind of attachment you think you need to overcome whatever obstacle you're currently focused on. Need a hook? Draw a hook, how about a harpoon? Go for it. You're pretty much limited only by your imagination. Once the attachment has served its purpose, simply drop it by hitting the [space] bar.
Initially, you can only affix the attachments to the ship using a sturdy kind of glue with little give. But as you collect more cogs more methods of attachment become available, including a free swinging hing, a fast spinning motor, and a slow but strong torque motor as well. Once the latter two methods are attained, any time you build a tool using them you can rotate your attachment using [Z] and [X]. Think you got the perfect tool to dig the cogs out of the ball pit in B3? Need help with the crazy cage on F6? You can even share tool templates with your friends using a simple code system available in the edit ship screen.
So don't be afraid to get creative here because your imagination is your only limit, even as we work to make sure the sky is not. Will you have what it takes to collect all the cogs and secure yourself passage to the moon?
Analysis: Despite being an advergame, Sprocket Rocket delivers on just about all fronts, from unique and engrossing gameplay to high end production values. The good folks from Aardman studios that have kept us entertained for three decades manage to set our creative juices flowing freely even as they offer up treats for the eye and brain alike.
What makes Sprocket Rocket work is that it strikes the perfect balance between player freedom, and structures, limits, and goals. If you tip the scales too much towards player freedom, then the game becomes not so much a game as a directionless sandbox or a webtoy. Let the scales lean too far in the other direction, and you start to inhibit the creativity of the player which is where the soul of this game lies. Sprocket Rocket threads the needle in giving you creative control over designing the tools, but reigning this in by providing you clear goals and restricting you to creating only one piece machines. As such you are presented with a finite number of problems, but the ways in which you solve them are near limitless.
The level design does a magnificent job of supporting this concept of balance by ensuring that many of the challenges you face have open ended solutions. Granted there are plenty of stages with one fairly obvious solution where your only real task is creating the tool you need properly, but these are supplemented with plenty of stages where a number of different approaches could get the job done. The other aspect about level design that makes Sprocket Rocket just a pleasure to play is the fact that it appears to cater to a broad range of skill levels. From fairly easy to headache inducing, there's plenty of rooms that cater to all comers. And the code based tool sharing makes it fairly easy for friends to help each other out, particularly on the hardest levels where just figuring out what kind of tool to use can seem an insurmountable task.
Not only is Sprocket fun to play, but it's easy on the eyes and ears as well. The graphics, though not particularly flashy, are clean and attractive and do a good job of establishing that experimental flight lab feel. Meanwhile the music is fun, stirring, and about what you would expect from a Wallace and Gromit adventure of this magnitude. It can also, thankfully, be muted when you grow tired of it. Speaking of the duo, Wallace pops in now and then to offer you some words of encouragement now and then, or to just whistle at you if you're taking your sweet time. Actually, the whistling might be Gromit. I can't tell.
Unfortunately, if you were looking for Wallace and Gromit to feature heavily in this game, you'll be disappointed. Despite top billing, the beloved claymation stars do little but offer a few quotes and sound effects from time to time. Another sticking point some may have is that this is in fact an advergame. To be fair, though, this is not so much an advertisement posing as a game as it is a really fun public service announcement to raise awareness for England's Intellectual Property Office. To that end you will come across a number of signs that discuss intellectual property law as well as offering tips on how to protect your own intellectual property, but none of this is as ubiquitous as, for instance, having a hero plastered in logo laden paraphernalia whilst passing gratuitous product placement billboards every five seconds.
In truth, my only real complaint about Sprocket Rocket is that there isn't enough. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of levels that will keep everyone short of certified mechanical engineers busy for a while, but that doesn't mean I can't still want more, does it?