While Bulkypix's The Sandbox on iPhone might initially appear to be "Minecraft but mobile," the gameplay here is much more focused on utilizing the forces of nature to create new elements, rather than on limitless exploration and construction. Via this pixelated environment, you'll be given the powers of a God, asked to create life or destroy it through levels that are structured as challenging puzzles, in addition to being given free will over the entire galaxy.
In The Sandbox's story mode, you'll be given two or three tasks per level that ask you to create a certain element, destroy another or otherwise combine your powers to create something altogether different. You'll start by learning the basics of elemental combinations: water plus soil equals mud, while stone plus water equals sand. Having mud and soil allows you to grow flowers and gives you access to planting additional seeds for flowers or trees, while increasing the temperature of your map gives you access to oil, fire and volcanic eruptions.
Each level gives you increasing amounts of elements to command, but at the same time, limits your required items to just a handful of options. For instance, in a level where you're asked to freeze a lake, you'll simply pop out the ice elemental power, drag your finger over the lake until the top layer is frozen and move on from there, rather than needing any sort of complex combination of elements or powers. These instances do occur however, as you may need to build electrical currents (using electricity discovered during thunderstorms, and so on) to power heaters to boil water.
There tends to be an alternate method to completing most tasks, whether that be a simple increase in the environmental temperature (which can trigger instant fires, for instance), which helps lessen the difficulty somewhat, but not enough to stop the game from being truly challenging in spots. Furthermore, simply discovering an element doesn't give you power to control it; control must be purchased with Mana points. Mana is earned by completing in-game achievements or goals, but with some elements costing quite a bit of Mana to purchase, you might be left with no other obvious options to progress than to buy some Mana with real money. Sure, you could play in the game's Free Play mode (given a blank slate on which to endlessly create or destroy) and eventually complete enough achievements to purchase most elements, but this becomes a bit tedious if your own individual focus is on completing goals.
Overall, the Sandbox isn't without its technical problems, as dragging and zooming your view around the environment is slow or even broken in spots (you can easily, unintentionally add rouge elements to your system when doing so), but a quick tap of the undo or reset button will revert you to your previous state. The Sandbox's Story Mode definitely requires plenty of forethought and concentration to master, and while the Free Play mode does give you the option of playing indefinitely, it's clearly not the main attraction. More puzzle game than environmental simulation, The Sandbox has a pretty big learning curve and won't be for everyone. That being said, it's free to download, so why not give it a shot?
Click here to download the Sandbox on iTunes --->
Have you tried the Sandbox on your iPhone or iPad? What do you think of the game's level and goal based play? Do you prefer its Free Play game mode better? Sound off in the comments.