Aqua Forest review

The iPhone’s Aqua Forest game is another of those inventive rarities that could only exist on this platform. It’s simulation for simulation’s own sake: you draw on the touch screen a configuration of physical substances — from fixed walls and pivoted gears to water and fire and explosive powder — and it all begins interacting. Tilt the screen, and you change the effective direction of gravity. It’s a miniature laboratory with sufficient complexity that you can implement everything from your own marble labyrinth to a mesh of gears to something resembling a steam engine — at least in theory.

It really is pretty jaw-dropping. There are some cute little puzzles that are designed more to teach you the way the simulation works than to stump anyone for very long; it’s clear that the designers mostly wanted you to go out and play in the sandbox yourself.

The flaw is — and I regret I have to mention this because the system in general is so cute and cool — that there isn’t really quiiiite enough control in the touch-to-draw aspect to do everything the physics engine is obviously capable of. You can make a setup the size of your screen, or indeed a bit larger (since you can scroll around), but you can’t zoom in and out to produce a Rube Goldberg device of really mammoth proportions. And the tip of a finger just isn’t precise enough to draw some of the more finicky items, such as gears, in sufficient detail.

This is annoying, because the puzzles that come built into the system are drawn with fair precision and demonstrate what could be done if one only had a little more control. Here’s hoping for a future revision of the game that lets you zoom in (to work on your project at finer resolution) and out (to view a large masterpiece in its entirety) and also lets you place the pivots of gears in such a way that they stand firm.

But this is sort of nitpicking. “Aqua Forest” is terrific fun, especially once you’ve gotten past the learning curve of remembering what all the different material icons mean.

Likely to keep children occupied for hours and hours on boring car rides, too.

6 thoughts on “Aqua Forest review

  1. That sounds very cool. I’m not sure why it could only exist on the iPhone though. Apart from the tilting the screen aspect, it sounds more like the limitations of the platform are holding it back. It’s an idea I’d like to see explored further in a full-blown Java or Flash version. It sounds like a vageuely similar idea to Sand Sand Sand, albeit considerably more detailed.

  2. Ah, I didn’t realise the tilting was so integral to the game. I do love the iPhone’s tilt sensor, it’s one of those ideas that seem so obvious once someone’s done it! The tilting mechanic could still be implemented easily enough on a mouse-based platform of course (grabbing and rotating the entire play area on screen, for instance) although it would feel considerably less elegant.

  3. Just for comparison, here is a game with similar concepts but without the tilt capacity. It’s fun to play with, but it’s harder to use it to build playable scenarios or manipulable machinery, and in large part that’s because there’s no tilt mechanism allowing the user to exercise further agency once the design is built.

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