In the beginning there was nothing, which exploded.
The Sandbox is a game in which you’re given free reign to create or destroy as much of its world as you wish by the Old Testament God. In this instance, the Old Testament God has a penchant for larking around whilst wearing sunglasses, but do not be fooled: He’s still as cruel and prone to wanton slaughter as the omnipotent dude you’ll read about in the first half of the Bible, even though he’s far more chilled out about it. He may attempt to hide his sociopathy behind a pair of stylish Ray-Bans, but given some of the tasks he sets you in The Sandbox—flooding entire towns, killing dinosaurs, and igniting volcanoes—you still absolutely do not want to fuck with this guy.
God acts as your guide in The Sandbox, showing you the ropes of what life is like as an all-knowing being via a series of tasks. Completing these tasks then unlocks new items to use in Create mode, which serves as the playground for testing out what you have learned: The Sandbox’s sandbox, if you will. I’ve heard The Sandbox compared with Minecraft, as everything is these days, but it actually has more in common with the Flash game Falling Sand.
The core concept of the game revolves around mixing elements to create new ones, and seeing what kind of fun stuff will ensue when you do. The tasks put you in a more linear environment, with God asking you to do his bidding using the tools you’re given. These can range from creating a power circuit to light up a Christmas tree, to creating acid rain and even composing a musical number. These tasks are reminiscent of the kind you’d find in Scribblenauts, with the game eventually opening up and allowing you to complete them in a variety of ways using the knowledge and tools you’ve acquired. Unfortunately, they lack the fun of those found in Scribblenauts and this is largely due to The Sandbox’s mundane presentation.
The Sandbox utilizes a pixel art style, one which coats the entirety of the game in a blanket of blandness. When shrunk down to the size of a mobile device’s screen, the platform where The Sandbox first cut its teeth, these visuals are passable, but when blown up onto a 1920×1080 PC monitor its flaws are achingly apparent. Developer Pixowl Games appears to have done nothing to make it look more appealing on a larger screen, with it not even displaying in full widescreen. Each of the game’s selectable backgrounds look like stock images that have been stretched too far, and there’s nothing to help improve the graphics in its settings, with only audio options made available. Considering this is a game that is intended to inspire the player to be creative, its visuals are completely lacking in imagination.
It’s not just the game’s appearance that puts a dent in the amount of enjoyment to be had with it, though—The Sandbox also suffers from contradictory gameplay mechanics. In the game, God essentially teaches us that for every action there is an equal reaction, with new elements being created and as a result of experimentation. However, I found that the game suffered from several severe lapses in logic in Create mode. For instance, after dropping a few rabbits (which due to the game’s visual limitations appear as nothing more than L-shaped Tetris blocks of pixels) into my world, I then proceeded to drop a tank on top of them.
But rather than crushing them beneath its hefty weight, the tank just drove on top of them, occasionally firing out a rocket, which was accompanied by no sound effect. Because aside from the noise an item makes when you first place it down, there is no other audio to be found in The Sandbox outside of its music, and generally failing to deter the assorted bunnies from their carefree day of hopping around aimlessly.
Another prime example of The Sandbox’s odd logic came when I decided to fill up half a world with water and plop lions, humans, and anglerfish into the deep blue. The anglerfish fell to the bottom of the ocean and began swimming around, while the humans and lions stood atop it and walked around as though it were land. That events such as these can happen is a huge oversight for a game in this genre.
Though it’s now made its way onto PC, The Sandbox still feels like a game that should be played on a smartphone or tablet. There have been no changes made to it to make this a necessary port, with the one advantage being that at least its levels aren’t hidden behind paywalls, as is the case in its mobile version. Though some of the tasks it sets out for you certainly get the ol’ brainbox whirring, The Sandbox proves to be little more than the most minor of distractions. If you want to try it out, just download it on your iPhone.
Code provided by publisher. Review based on PC version. Also available on iPhone.