Usually when we call a game a sandbox, we're referring to some kind of open world game where you can wander, free of restraints, and do anything you can think of. The Sandbox [Free] isn't quite that kind of game. Instead it straddles the border between game and art project, rewarding players for creativity while giving them near-infinite possibilities.

You don't play a character in The Sandbox, you play a god. You can paint with pixels of stone, draw towers of earth and set them to grow. You can draw just about any non-living thing you can imagine, paint it into a scene, and then bring it to life with the forces at your command. You have electricity at your fingertips, steam and oil in your grasp, and much more. It's less a sandbox than a blank canvas, waiting to be filled.

There are two ways to play (with) The Sandbox: Free Mode and Story Mode. Story Mode is misnamed; there is no story, just a complex, goal-driven training ground. The game walks you through each element so you can learn how it interacts with the others, teaching you tricks like how to use heat and electricity to boil water, or how to grow a forest using soil, seeds and rain.

A disproportionate amount of Story Mode is spent on working out the finer details of the freemium model, unfortunately. The elements can be unlocked via IAP or mana earned in game, but the latter option is complicated. The Sandbox doesn't give out enough mana in Story Mode to unlock the elements when you need them, but if you switch over to Free Mode and earn some achievements you'll be awarded more. It seems like it might be possible to unlock all the elements for free with enough careful planning and time. Otherwise you can purchase mana, or a launch pack with everything for $6.99. It's an unnecessarily complicated system that draws attention to the man behind the curtain when you should be focused on learning the ropes.

However you do it, once you work through all 24 Story Mode levels you'll have the full stable of elements and climate options at your command. That's when things get really fun, when you move into Free Mode and start creating. You can essentially paint any sort of pixel environment you want, with a huge selection of unlockable backdrops and the freedom to combine elements to do just about anything. Players are only just starting to explore the potential of the game—if you want to be inspired you can paw through the gallery of shared worlds and play with any that you like.

All this freedom comes at a cost, though. The game has a few bugs, like level conditions that trigger incorrectly and Game Center achievements that don't seem to work. But the part that counts, the ways the elements interact with one another, that part works beautifully. The elements may not always have the properties you might expect, but they can do quite a lot. It would be a dream come true to play a game with this complexity in worlds like those of Minecraft, where you could work some serious feats of 3D engineering.

The Sandbox isn't that kind of sandbox, sadly, but it's still fun to play in just two dimensions. Build a world, populate it with flowers and trees, then burn it to the ground. Experiment with the debilitating effects of acid rain. Or build complex Rube Goldberg machines that really work. The sky isn't quite the limit, but The Sandbox is well on the way. And with a planned Universal update in the works, its canvas is set to grow. So go, make something amazing—then stop by our discussion thread to share your creation with the world.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • http://twitter.com/MFCH MFCH

    Clearly they are inspired by Minecraft, which was successful with the whole your-world-your-rules type of play, but this game is missing one big: an expansive sandbox. Looks cool, but I'm not going to spend much time playing it.

    • tannerdactyl

      Actually it's pretty clear that this is a descendant of the various Falling Sand games that have been around for years before Minecraft.

      • http://www.jshamblin.com J.Shamblin

        It looks more like a 2d version of "From Dust" (Ubisoft) than Minecraft. I agree with Matthew and tannerdactyle. God games have been around decades before Minecraft was released. It could have been inspired by anything.

        It feels closer to Scribblenauts in my opinion. You start with a blank canvas, you add different elements and then you watch them all interact. Although, it's not nearly as fun because I had less control, less to do, and I ran out of mana after about 5 minutes of play.

    • http://twitter.com/woodesh matthew wood

      please don't compare everything to minecraft, that world wasn't void of pixels and sandboxes before notch reared his head.

  • http://twitter.com/AhiruDuck Ahiru Nakamura

    read some reviews about forcing people to buy mana or whatever IAP.. 
    is it like a "farm" game where or something like "unlock full game" within the free-to-play game?

    if the latter, I much rather play a free-to-play and pay to unlock a full game then buy it and the next week it becomes free... (like Triple Towns, it is free but you unlock the game on the go if you think it's worth it, hope this is the case)

    • selidor

      It's a bit of both, really. You can unlock all of the elements, like Triple Town's unlimited mode, although it's quite expensive. Otherwise, you have to spend mana to unlock the elements you discover. You earn mana by completing levels and by getting achievements in free play mode, but if you're not very careful about which elements you choose to unlock, you can end up in a situation where you don't have enough mana to buy the element you need for the next level, and a rapidly dwindling list of achievements left to get. I got stuck and ended up relenting and unlocking everything.

      Also, the full unlock pack says it's for the first thirty elements, but there's no indication of whether it will also unlock any future new elements that might be added.

  • stormchild

    From the App Store reviews it appears this is only "free" for a few minutes, then pulls the usual IAP bait-and-switch pay-to-keep-playing. It's quite misleading to call this "free".

  • dwx882

    The game itself is free, but after about level 8 things start getting harder with elements needed to pass the stage cost more than you have and the only way to get more mana to buy said elements is to either but with IAP or play free mode and somehow unlock achievements, which will gain you a little bit of mana here and there.

    • andrewdotcom

      Actually you can get through the entire game without spending a penny. You just have to be creative with how you use the elements. If it needs a battery, rather than buying one, you can make one. Need lave? Make it with fire oil and stone... And so forth...

      • dwx882

        I've been doing that for many levels (plant trees, then burn them for ash, cover with stone to make oil, burn oil with fire, add stone to make lava) but some of them I simply could not get past without buying elements (ie making snow, I tried turning sun off, dragging water through clouds, etc with no luck.) also, if there's a way to make a virus without buying the element (to pass level 18 i believe it is) I'd love to know how, as I think this game could be more fun if you knew what to do.

      • Sakol Sea

        you can just use the eraser to erase the borders, ant the virus will automatically go towards the goal.

  • http://twitter.com/CrazyMachines The Professor

    Mh, not sure about this 'game'. Its like a simple paint tool with some physical bevhaviour. I really would like to see the 'Rube Goldberg Machine' that the reviewer refers to...

  • WaspStung

    Excellent game! This is a deeper game than what the description and images show.

    It has a WireWorld algirithm inside the electro element. So you can build electronic circuits with logic gates. Also has a virus/antivirus algorithm. Wax floats while melted and drowns while cold, trees grows, burns, convert to ashes and transformed into oil with heavy stone pressure.
    This game is an awsome simulator. Very fun and creative.

    Pay for what is good! Dont be cheap on innovation. Iaps feed developers.

    • Dylan_B

      That's true, but do you really think you should be ranting about this? I mean, you can't even spell Algorithm right. Leave the technical coding to people that know Java/C++

      • WCDave

        Rather petty response. I wouldn't say they were ranting. Stop trying to sound superior, its not a decent quality.

      • Tachi

        Wow....who would have thought that today I would have to register to 2 different sites (toucharcade and Disqus) just because I had to respond to the childish berating of a mental deficient web-bully.
        Grow up sunshine, no-one is impressed by your mannerisms and I for one agree wholeheartedly with the OP, the game does have a wonderfully realised physics style to it.

  • WaspStung

    Contraptions! Anybody?

  • WaspStung

    And i do not agree with the reviewer. He did not got too deep into the game. This game teaches you a lot about math and phisics. The iaps are not required to play the game fully if you are smart and dont ask for the wrong element.

    Anyway... Concratulations to the developers.

The Sandbox - Pixel World Builder Reviewed by Nissa Campbell on . Rating: 4