Planet Mechanic

Game review by
David Thomas, Common Sense Media
Planet Mechanic Game Poster Image
Brief science sim lets kids play with a planet's properties.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this game.

Educational Value

Kids will learn about some of the basic variables that alter planets' properties. They'll find out what makes a planet hot or cold, what orbital factors -- including tilt and rotation -- influence the length of a day or year and more. Even more important, as kids play with these variables, they'll learn the connections among them. Does making shorter days make the planet hotter? What happens to the temperature when the planet's orbit moves away from the sun? This interactive celestial model encourages kids to experiment and find out the delicate balance of solar systems.

Positive Messages

The story driving the game involves a goofy looking alien who makes silly requests for help. For instance, he starts the game asking the player to shorten the year so the alien's annual chocolate festival will happen sooner. The narrative isn't deep. But does frame all of the science with the notion of helping out an extraterrestrial race.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The only characters in the game are the planet's alien inhabitants who ask the player for help. They're not fully developed characters.

Ease of Play

Players are carefully walked through each stage of play, but, by design, even the most basic levels require trial and error experimentation. As long as the player takes the time to read the specific requirements of each level, gameplay should flow well.

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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Planet Mechanic is a brief educational game designed with middle and high school aged kids in mind. It's meant to show kids how planets get to be the way they are. Kids get requests from a planet's alien inhabitants, and must toy with a variety of scientific variables to get the planet just the way the aliens like it.

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What's it about?

A one-eyed space alien asks the player to help him set up the perfect planet to call home. By toying with a console of different planetary variables -- the distance the planet orbits the sun or the presence of a moon -- adjust the planet's properties. Depending on what the alien requests, the player must experiment until temperature, atmosphere, length of day, etc. are just right.

Is it any good?

PLANET MECHANIC does a great job of weaving play with learning, by having kids engage conceptually and experientially with planetary science and physics. Fiddling with orbits and atmosphere helps bring the delicate interplay of variables that make up a planet to life. It's a nice, palatable introduction to key and complex concepts. This also means, however, that it has limited depth and challenge. After about 20-30 minutes of play, kids will feel like they've pretty much exhausted the game. The result is something that feels less like a fully fleshed out game and more an interactive exercise albeit a great one. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • How do small changes result in big differences in the game? Can you think of other examples where a small change to one thing leads to a major difference in something larger?

  • Would adding more planets to the Planet Mechanic solar system change the alien's planet? How so?

  • Read up on the Earth. What variables would you like this game to include to add even more variety to the play?

Game details

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For kids who love learning about science and space

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