The Sandbox is a creative elemental puzzle game for iOS by Pixowl. It mixes puzzles and challenges with good old fashioned elemental interactions, exactly the kind you would find in classic browser games like Sand Sand Sand or Powder Game 7. Guiding the all-powerful element dropping utility that is your finger, you can mix dozens of unique elements to create fantastic reactions, functioning machines, crazy Rube Goldberg-like devices, or just paint pretty pictures on your screen. There's plenty of room for creativity, but also a fair amount of thoughtful challenge as well!
In The Sandbox, you play a god-like character with the power to paint with the elements. By dragging your finger across the screen, you can drop stones, bits of earth, water, even create batteries, lava, heating elements, and more. Not only that, you can also toy with the lighting, weather, and temperature settings, creating conditions ripe for just about anything your brain can cook up.
Starting with the game's story mode, you'll gradually unlock new elements as you progress through a series of challenges. They're pretty simple puzzles to start with, but as you progress, they get more and more intricate and require actual thought to complete. Hints are always available, so if you get stuck, you can easily get un-stuck! You earn new elements by completing challenges, but in order to actually use them, you'll have to spend mana points to unlock them.
After capping off some of the two dozen story mode levels, you can head over to free mode where you get to play with the elements however you see fit. There are challenges to unlock here as well, but the real focus is just messing about with an empty environment, old school style. Once you have the full arsenal of elements and climate controls at your disposal, you can settle down and do some real creating.
Analysis: The Sandbox does a great job translating the intricate, elemental reaction-heavy environment seasoned browser gamers have been toying around with for years to modern devices for modern gamers. It isn't quite as stark as games like Hell of Sand, though, and even in free mode you always get the feeling there's more going on than just a blank screen and your penchant for mucking about with elements. In other words, The Sandbox has a hidden motive, and while most of that is simply the interface and the puzzle challenges you can complete, another portion is the broken in-app purchasing system.
The Sandbox may say it's free on the surface, but it gives you ample opportunity to spend real cash, usually to purchase mana points so you can unlock necessary elements. In fact, it's almost required after a dozen or so levels, as the mana you earn over the course of the game doesn't add up to what you need to unlock everything. Many players insist you can get by without dropping real cash, you just have to be extra creative. That may be the case, but The Sandbox feels like it's true purpose is to be a mobile elements/extras shop, not a creative sandbox. The developers crossed that delicate line between in-app purchases for fun, and in-app purchases as an in-your-face annoyance. Not enough to ruin the game, but enough to make you raise an eyebrow.
Apart from its awkward IAP takeover, The Sandbox does play like a well-tuned game of elemental shenanigans. You can even use it as a pixel art creation kit! The visuals have a distinct style that looks great no matter what you've got burning/melting/boiling. In some ways, it's an evolved modern version of classic browser-based sandbox webtoys, and for that alone, it's worth giving a shot!
NOTE: This game was played and reviewed on the iPod Touch. Game was available in the North American market at the time of publication, but may not be available in other territories. Please see individual app market pages for purchasing info.