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Android App Review: Phyzicle Sandbox

01 May 14

If you ignore the horribly dated spelling in the name, Phyzicle Sandbox is a neat little app. It gives you a 2D physics engine, some objects, and just lets you play.

This app has a bit of a tutorial thing for you to read, but apart from that you’re basically just thrown into it. Here’s your stage area, here’s some different objects (boxes, circles, irregular polygons, etc), now off you go.

The first thing to contend with is gravity – I filled my screen with interesting-looking boxes and circles but as soon as I set it running they just fell away.

Then I investigated the various options to fix things in place, and then I discovered you could attach things to bouncy springs, so that was me for the next little while. I had to keep fighting the urge to shake my phone in an urge to make things move – the physics inside the phone are unaffected by the physics outside.

The highlight of the game is the liquid, which blobs and flows unexpectedly (or maybe not so unexpectedly if you’re an expert in fluid dynamics, but I had no idea what it was doing).

The physics are simple enough that you can jump straight in, but complex enough that you can spend ages just playing and tweaking to see how things act in different permutations. I’d happily give this to kids to play with, but there’s also enough to it that adults can have some fun too.

Once you understand the basic concepts and start to experiment, you can easily spend ages just playing around and seeing what happens when you combine various shapes and fixtures.

After a while you might find yourself working towards some particular goal – I wonder if I can build a pendulum and get it to spin a full 360? – and I think one of the things I like about this game is that those goals are self-initiated.

This isn’t like Lemmings or something where you’re given a specific problem that you need to solve. Instead it feels more like Lego or K’Nex, where you’re given some coloured pieces, and area to set them up in, and left to your own devices.

The only thing directing you is your own imagination (and maybe the influence of a few Rube Goldberg machines you might have seen on YouTube). Its attitude sits closer to that of a drawing program than a game – the focus is on creation rather than fulfilling set criteria.

Phyzicle Sandbox isn’t perfect; some of the manoeuvring can be a bit fiddly, and placing the end of a rod or pin with your fingertip can be imprecise. But these are minor complaints, and don’t significantly hinder your enjoyment.

As with any app like this, you’ll have a better experience on a bigger screen, but even on my phone this was neat fun.

If you’re keen to do some building and experimenting on your device, then this app is as good a place to start as I’ve found. Recommended.