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Automatoys – Delightfully elaborate ball mazes

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Developer: Idle Friday
Price: Free [$2.99/£2.99 full unlock]
Size: 150 MB
Version: 1.0.8
Platform: iPhone & iPad


Automatoys brilliantly evokes an era when casual physics-based puzzlers took the form of tabletop toys rather than smartphone games.

The likes of Screwball Scramble and Kongman had a massive hold on the collective imagination of ’80s and early ’90s kids. Whether you’re of that era or not, though, Automatoys has a lot to offer.

Things start very simply

The three free initial levels tell you everything you’ll need to know about the game. Each isometric level reveals a tiny tower made up of corkscrews, rotating mazes, pinball flippers, magnetized wheels, claw grabbers, see-saws, and more.

After pressing the virtual button to insert a coin and release a ball, tapping or holding the screen will affect the motion of each of the aforementioned mechanical elements. It’s up to you to manipulate those elements to guide the ball around each obstacle course and into the exit point.

Each stage has its own distinct personality

At first, Automatoys feels like a digital toy rather than a game. There’s certainly a tactile appeal to triggering each clickety-clackety element and facilitating the ball’s inevitable progress, with subtle vibrations selling the whole physical toy illusion, but little else.

Pretty soon, though, you’ll start to encounter elements that require real skill and timing to negotiate. You might need to judge the strength of an analog catapult pull, or carefully time the ball’s passage through a hole-riddled maze.

All elements move when you press the screen

The penalty of getting these bits wrong is generally a matter of the ball falling down a level or, at worst, off the obstacle course entirely, necessitating a complete reset. But with the welcome addition of a modern three-star scoring system, there’s plenty of incentive to nail a flawless run.

The presentation is spot on, with each colorful stage sporting a faithfully gaudy plastic look. It’s amazing how much personality these abstract micro-arenas can be imbued with. Meanwhile, a quietly funky lo-fi soundtrack perfectly suits the lazy, nostalgic mood to a tee.

The color palette is suitably gaudy

Faults are few and far between. Occasionally the isometric angle and inherent 2D-ness of the game can lead to confusion over why the ball keeps pinging off the table. We also experienced one occasion where the ball seemed to get stuck in oblivion, requiring a manual restart.

Some will question the game’s value, with just nine additional levels being added for your $2.99/£2.99. But when so much care and attention has been plied into each of these courses, and when each bears repeated visits, such qualms start to feel churlish.

There’s a hint of pinball to many of the levels

Automatoys is a game that beautifully traces the origins of the very physics-based puzzlers that put iOS gaming on the map. However, its miniature obstacle courses are much more than mere nostalgia trips, providing a polished and tactile time waster for all ages.