With over 400,000 apps available for download, the iOS App Store is an unforgiving marketplace, and one in which it can extremely difficult to set your app aside from the rest. Hard to believe then, that such a simple app as Cargo-Bot boasts one of the most unique accolades possible: the first game to be programmed entirely on an iPad.
If that’s not enough to get your attention, I don’t know what is. That fact alone was enough to peak my interest in this relatively simple game, or so it appears upon first glance. In truth, what I found was much more; a deftly created game that packs a real, challenging punch. Intrigued? Let’s find out more.
From Humble Beginnings …
The origins of this app are admittedly fascinating and are almost as interesting as the game itself. Entirely programmed on an iPad using the neat Codea app, Cargo-Bot is the epitome of what Steve Jobs proclaimed as the “Post-PC era” — taking the traditional computer out of the equation and creating a quality app.
Far from just a game, Cargo-Bot and its developers aim to provide not just an entertaining experience but an education into how computers, robots and programming work, things most everyday users, myself included, take for granted when opening our favourite apps. Some robots can walk, talk and dance (Hi, ASIMO) but not Cargo-Bot. He’s destined to move boxes forever, but also to provide hours of frustration and eventual elation. Be warned, this game is not for the faint-hearted.
What Can This Baby Do?
Moving boxes may not sound like the most fascinating premise for a puzzle-game, but the 36 puzzles available certainly engage the brain. Solving the puzzles is the primary goal, but finding the perfect, shortest solution is the more difficult task. Cargo-Bot is not so much about moving boxes as it is reorganising them into increasingly complex arrangements.
If there is one recommendation I’d make upon starting this game, it would be to complete the tutorials — all of them. If, like me, you tend to jump in the deep end when trying something new, then I especially recommend you follow my advice. Taking inspiration from complex computer science principles, Cargo-Bot requires you to sequence a series of commands for the robot to move the required boxes.
Having a background in programming or computer science is definitely a bonus; despite the tutorials being helpful, there are still a healthy dose of complexities the average player won’t understand, I can personally attest for this fact. Your chosen commands, seen above, must be dragged from the toolbox to one of the four “registers” in order for the robot to execute your instructions.
As you make your way through the different levels (Easy, Medium, Hard and Impossible) new, and more difficult commands appear. These include the ability to create loops, incorporate “If-statements” and many more. But don’t panic, these are relatively well explained in the tutorials, the main point to remember is that the key to success is precision — the less commands, the better.
Get Out What You Put In
Cargo-Bot is not a game for those of you looking to kill a quick five minutes in between meetings. Time is required to perfect your solutions and to earn top-marks. As with almost every puzzle game, the mark of success is how many stars you can get, one being the easiest and three being the most difficult, but of course you know this! The longer your list of commands the fewer stars achieved compared to the shorter, more precise solution.
I naively jumped in at the deep end when first opening Cargo-Bot, “Impossible” really couldn’t be that difficult, right? Wrong. After five minutes I found myself tapping Hints in search of help. Hints can vary in their degree of helpfulness with some giving real strategic advice, and others just stating the shortest amount of commands possible.
After selecting your sequence of commands, a preview of the robot performing the task is shown by pressing the play button. However, an added feature which can help with identifying problems or shortening sequences, is the step-by-step playback button. By tapping the button, shown above, the robot will execute the commands one-by-one as you wish, allowing for a more considered approach to your selections.
Challenging, Informative and Enjoyable
Though Cargo-Bot can be very difficult to achieve the coveted three-star rating, it would be unfair to suggest you do not get fair warning; “Impossible” means impossible. Having said that, it is refreshing to find a game that is unashamedly difficult and though it incorporates complex computer science elements, they are not too severely dumbed down, maintaining an air of integrity whilst also being informative.
The learning curve of this game is fairly steep, especially if you do not hail from a programming or computing background, but the rewards for success are highly rewarding. A great use for the app could be for teaching children or students the basics of computer science, by incorporating such instances into a fun game the developers have made the subject easier to learn and to enjoy.
Another feature that can directly benefit educators of every level is the YouTube publishing tool. After completing a task, simply tap the small camera icon to replay the solution, only this time it is being recorded and saved to your camera roll. Uploading to YouTube is likely already familiar to you, and after this is complete, sharing becomes incredibly easy for students, friends and family alike.
A key point I have chosen to withhold up to now is the price. Given the high quality of the user interface and gameplay it would be easy to assume this app is “paid,” add in the quality, custom mixed soundtrack and the app suddenly seems way too good to be free. Apparently not — Cargo-Bot is totally free to download! The App Store can host some pretty awful apps at times (a consequence of it’s huge catalogue) but it occasionally throws up some real gems. Prepare to be challenged by Cargo-Bot.