Long Arm of the Cola
Have you ever wished that you could stretch out your arms to grab faraway objects? The puzzle game Grab the Bottle lets you live out this fantasy.
Here’s my Video Review for your viewing pleasure!
You play as a boy who inexplicably has the power to infinitely stretch his arm, much like Mr. Fantastic, Stretch Armstrong, or the entire cast of Nintendo’s fighting game ARMS. Grab the Bottle follows this boy’s life from birth to adulthood, chronicling all the important times in his life…when he had to grab a bottle out of reach. Sure, it’s ridiculous, but it’s also a charming, nostalgia-inducing premise coupled with a stylized vintage comic look and a soundtrack reminiscent of retro TV commercials.
In each level, your goal is to manipulate your stretchable arm to grab your desired bottle, which may be anywhere, across the room, in the attic, or in a sleeping man’s hand. You must weave your arm around multiple obstacles and through tight spaces, similarly to the classic game Snake. Bump your hand three times and you immediately restart the level. The need for precision is mismatched with the mechanic that your arm moves automatically and non-stop. All you can do is twist your arm, but it has such a wide turning radius that it’s difficult to make effective U-turns, which are often necessary to complete stages. The unintuitive controls would be somewhat tolerable if not for the fact that each level requires such specific and perfectly executed maneuvers. Seriously, your arm ends up in such twisted configurations that would make Mr. Fantastic sweat.
The first stage is simple enough, but subsequent ones are elaborately crafted Rube Goldberg machines, in which one component directly affects another. For example, pushing candle-lit wheels to burn webs. The clever designs of these mechanical brain teasers ask you to think carefully before making each move. I normally enjoy these, but in Grab the Bottle, you have limited time to think due to your automatically moving arms. Worse, since most levels require you to nab mandatory collectibles on your way to the bottle, you must also plot out perfect routes to avoid crashing into dead ends or your own elongated hand.
There’s another mechanic with a smart design but a flawed execution. Sometimes, you must grab and hold on to certain key items, and dropping the item below usually lets you remove an obstacle, for instance, scissors cutting a rope. Holding on to items also retracts your arm, which is the only way to “rewind” your arm’s path. This ingenious mechanic drastically changes how you navigate stages. However, it has its own issues. If you drop the item in the wrong spot, you’ve probably lost. Plus, due to the physics engine in the game, items won’t always fall how you wish or interact with obstacles as intended. Not to mention it’s not easy or fun to have to map out where you want to drop an object long before you even grab it.
Everything so far becomes increasingly annoying when you realize that these complex puzzles typically only have one solution, so you can’t afford to make mistakes or verge off the intended path. Gameplay essentially consists of deadly trial-and-error, and I had to restart levels many times, whether I got stuck or hurt. If you lose often, the game offers some optional lifelines: an indestructible punching glove and a strategy aid that indicates the order you should collect objects. No matter what you think about game guides, these honestly made the game less frustrating and more enjoyable. There are still plenty of opportunities to mess up so the support doesn’t completely break the game. For that matter, I wouldn’t have minded if the developers had included an actual rewind function.
Almost every level amongst the game’s several dozen uses this same formula. There are a couple shining jewels in which you have to chase a bottle down, for instance, in the clutches of a bird. Coincidentally, the gameplay was a great fit for these autoscrolling levels. Otherwise, there is little replay value beyond trying to complete levels with the shortest arm length or least deaths. The game records these accomplishments, or at least it theoretically should, if not for a glitch that prevented my stats from displaying correctly. Indeed, the game has bugs, ranging from minor ones like strategy aids permanently disappearing to a game-breaking issue that prevented me from getting past a stage, which the developers thankfully addressed with an update.
Grab the Bottle is a smart hybrid of Rube Goldberg machines and the classic game Snake. It’s backed with charming concepts and a fun aesthetic. Unfortunately, troublesome controls, frustrating physics, and a heavy dependence on trial-and-error keep the game from reaching its true potential. Only the most hardcore fans of complex contraption puzzles will want to grab this one.
Note: A review copy was provided by the publisher for this article. The original version, followed by v1.0.2 (which should have fixed the game-crashing bugs), were used for this review.
What do you think of Grab the Bottle? What are your favorite “Rube Goldberg” complex machine games (for example, Mouse Trap, Capcom’s Ghost Trick, or some shrines in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild)? And of course, what’s in your bottle? Please share any thoughts or questions you have in the comments below! Thank you so much for reading and watching!