words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Burnt Fuse for PC and Mac, originally released in 2015.
Keebles mixes physics-based vehicle construction with reflex-based action and puzzle solving. Games like Fantastic Contraption task the player with building different sorts of vehicles that are capable of making it through an obstacle-laden environment. There, the player spends the bulk of his time working in the construction tool, and then watches the physics-based events play out onscreen. If the design fails, it’s back to the drawing board to make some changes, or to wipe the slate and start over.

Keebles, on the other hand, has special items that are triggered by the player, and its challenges alternate between passive viewing, occasional input, and direct control over a moving vehicle. Furthermore, levels have layered challenges, so the player must do more than simply make it to the end of the level; he must do so as quickly as possible, and rescue as many Keebles as he can along the way.

Each level begins with a flythrough to show the basic geometry as well as the placement of each Keeble. There are three Keebles in each level, and generally speaking, the first two Keebles are along your direct route, while the third is placed less conveniently. As such, a fast and efficient design might be enough to get you to the end of the level under the par time, and with two Keebles collected, but you may need to be more creative in order to pick up the third.

The developers have gone to great lengths to ease players into the construction process. In the first level, a blueprint-style design shows where you should place wheels and connectors in order to make the vehicle move properly. Just adding connectors with no sort of structural support will see the vehicle collapsing in on itself ingloriously, but the tutorial explains how to avoid this.

To further aid the player’s development along the difficulty curve, new pieces and parts are introduced slowly throughout the experience, starting by offering the player only the pieces necessary to complete a given challenge, before eventually opening up all of the tools for the player to use as he sees fit. Also, there is a 3-stage hint system for players who need a nudge in the right direction...

Clicking the HINT button once prompts the player as to whether or not he wants a hint. If so, the player gets some basic construction info (such as where to place the wheels). Tapping the HINT button a second time gives the player a bit more information, and the third hint basically shows how to build a vehicle that will make it to the end of the level… although it doesn’t give the player so much detail that he can immediately complete the time-based challenge or pick up that last inconvenient Keeble. Basically, it gives the player just enough information to allow him to progress, and thereby eliminates the frustration of continuously failing to create an optimal construction and getting stuck.

Pieces come in several varieties and are offered in limited quantities. There are connectors to hold everything together and to build structural supports to fight the pull of gravity. These connecters may be linked to one another or to other components, but there is a limit to how far you can stretch them.

Next up are wheels, which come in several forms: small fast wheels without much power, medium sized wheels with medium power, big wheels with lots of power but low speed, and idle wheels that roll but don’t have any power of their own… best used to complete specific challenges.

All of the aforementioned items are passive in nature; the player has no direct control over the wheels or other appendages added to the vehicle. In stages where these are the only building tools, the player is tasked with building a vehicle and then sitting back and watching to see if it is capable of navigating the environment on its own. However, there are several pieces that give the player direct control.

First off, there are two kinds of boosters. Green boosters allow the player to boost a little bit at a time with each button press, whereas orange boosters fire all of their thrust as soon as they are activated. Both booster types have limited fuel and stop working once the fuel supply runs out. By placing boosters on the back of the vehicle, players can control its forward movement, as well as provide the extra energy needed to climb hills and clear gaps with ski jump-style ramps. Rotating the thrusters downward allows the player to achieve vertical lift, allowing for jetpack-style flight… although players must still be mindful to build a stable construction that won’t tip over while trying to boost upward.

Then there are balloons and parachutes… each of which may be deployed and then disabled manually by the player. Balloons come in large and small varieties and pull the vehicle straight up, allowing players to make longer jumps or even to shoot straight up into the air. Parachutes, of course, allow the player to slow his descent, which is important since the vehicle can break it if hits the ground too hard.

The player may inflate a balloon or deploy a parachute only once, and tapping the button a second time has the opposite effect, popping the balloon or cutting the parachute free. Proper timing is very important when using these items, as the player can’t reengage them, and unless the player has boosters attached, he also has no other midair control.

The construction interface is simple and easy to understand, with drag-and-drop functionality for placing and moving parts, and undo/redo buttons that allow the player to step back and forth through his construction one piece at a time. Players may discard parts individually or press a button to scrap the entire design and start over. Everything is built on a grid, so it’s easy to tell how far apart objects are from one another and this makes it easier to build a stable and balanced vehicle. It also limits the player to building a vehicle that fits within the defined space.

Players may toggle between a single-select and a multi-select cursor, allowing them to move just a single part, or move a part and all of its connectors simultaneously. Some pieces aren’t allowed to overlap with one another, and these items are highlighted in red for the player to fix before moving into the playfield. When the player is ready to begin, he taps the GO button and the level begins, and the player may restart the level or return to the workshop at will.

Each level offers up to 5 stars for completing it, with one star for each rescued Keeble, one for reaching the goal under the par time, and one for building a vehicle with less than the par number of components, thus rewarding players for creating the most efficient and functional design. Players only need to make it to the end of the level – even if they earned zero stars – in order to unlock the next.

A secondary time-based challenge is offered in each level, with an even lower par time, and players are free to attempt these challenges separately from the others. Here, players must simply get from the starting line to the finish line as quickly as possible, with no need to reduce the number of parts used or rescue any of the Keebles.

New obstacles appear in each of the game’s 30 levels, with a steady escalation in difficulty. When new challenges are introduced, they are often accompanied by a new vehicle piece that will help the player overcome the obstacle and teach him more about how to use the tools in practice. Levels in the back half of the game are more challenging and can lead to some pretty zany constructions, with balloon unicycles, jetpack launching platforms, and giant multi-wheeled monstrosities.

In all things, players must consider the physics of the environment. Gravity, acceleration, velocity, and force all come into play here, and failing to account for any of them will result in failure. If you’re travelling down a bumpy road, you need a vehicle with a low center of gravity in order to avoid flipping over. If you have a long jump ahead, you need a vehicle that’s fast and light in order to clear the gap, and evenly balanced to avoid flipping over along the way. If your path is blocked by rolling barrels, you may need to push them out of your way. If there’s a Keeble down in a hole, you might want to build a tail that trails behind your vehicle and slips down into the hole as you pass (as long as any part of your vehicle touches a Keeble, it is collected).

Hitting the ground too hard or flinging yourself off the edge of the screen will result in the body of your vehicle – which is made of glass – shattering into pieces, and any collected Keebles spilling out. However, even making a rough landing can cause some damage, such as jamming a wheel up into the vehicle or turning a booster sideways, potentially rendering it useless. However, experimentation is a key driver to gameplay, so players may opt to go back in and try to build something better, or try the same design again with more care taken in how they operate the controls. It can be very satisfying to create a far-from-optimal vehicle that still somehow makes it to the end of the level through deft use of boosters, balloons, and parachutes.

The world map shows the total number of Keebles rescued in each level, as well as the number of stars earned and whether or not the secondary time-based challenge was completed. The path eventually leads to the Whale at the End of the World, who promises to take the Keebles away from the land where mushrooms (their food source) have grown scarce. Players are free to return to any previously completed level.

Keebles was developed by Burnt Fuse, a developer based in Melbourne, Australia. The studio was founded in 2012 by Felix Thiang and Gavin Gregson. This was their first game release, having previously developed Windows Phone apps modTuner and modTronome, and also the initial release of Keebles on Windows Phone in 2014. The game was published by Green Man Loaded.