When you play The Sandbox you become an apprentice god, capable of creating elements with the swipe of a finger. You select an element, like mud or fire, then touch the screen, and into your virtual world pours the element of your choice. It might not make you feel all-powerful, but it does let you exercise your creativity. However, the game is not without its quirks.
Only a few elements are available to you at the start, but as you work through the Story mode, you’ll unlock more that you can purchase using mana, the game’s currency. We should also state that Story mode doesn’t actually have a story. It starts out as a standard tutorial, slowly introducing you to the game’s mechanics, before evolving into a sort of puzzle mode that gives you problems to solve by having the elements interact with one another.
Do as I command!
Each of the 24 Story mode levels give you a handful of goals. The goals of the first level are to create sand and mud. There’s already water at the bottom of the screen, so to create mud you simply add soil to the water. To create sand, you add stone, which the water begins to erode, creating sand. The complexity of your elements and their interactions goes up from there, so eventually you’ll have metal and electricity and snow and wax and lava to play around with.
Each time you create a new element it’s unlocked in your inventory, but to actually use it you still need to pay for it using mana. (Let’s not forget that The Sandbox is a freemium game.) After beating a few levels– which earns you mana– you unlock the other half of the game, the Free Play mode. Here you start with a blank canvas, and you can use the elements you’ve purchased to create whatever kind of a world you want. This portion of the game will appeal to anyone who loves to tinker, but if you prefer more structure to your gaming you’ll prefer Story mode.
Not all creations are beautiful.
Bizarrely, as you play through a few levels of Story mode, you’ll run out of the mana and won’t be able to purchase the elements required to continue. Naturally, the game offers up the in-app purchase screen whenever you try to buy an element you can’t afford. So you can either open up your wallet to buy more mana (or spend $6.99 to unlock all elements in one fell swoop), or you can try to snag some achievements in Free Play mode, which also gives you mana. The problem is, most of the achievements require you to play for a certain amount of time or place a certain number of element pixels on the screen. In other words, they require grinding.
That said, there’s plenty to love about The Sandbox. It has very attractive pixel graphics and a solid array of sound effects– like the applause that sounds when you complete a level. There’s also a lot of variety in the game. You can adjust the temperature in your world, making it so hot the trees catch fire or so cold all water freezes. You can turn on and off the sun at the flick of a switch. You can even upload your worlds so others can play with them, and download worlds other people have created.
The Sandbox is essentially a toy, with a little bit of game thrown in for good measure. You’ll particularly enjoy it if you’re a creative and inquisitive person who likes to see what happens when you put things together. But the system to unlock new elements is a little unfriendly, and we would like it if they at least gave you enough mana to unlock the elements required to complete the Story mode. Even so, the game is free to download, so give it a try if you have worlds within you waiting to come out.