SpaceChem

 
(i)

 

Learning(i)

Extremely challenging puzzler best suited for older kids.

What parents need to know

Positive messages

This game encourages players to think logically and creatively as they develop their own solutions to chemistry-themed problems.

Positive role models

A light story presented through brief text sequences includes human characters both heroic and ethically despicable. The player's character is an engineer who sees evil within his company and struggles against it while struggling against an equally evil alien menace.

Ease of play

A lot of players -- kids and adults alike -- may be turned off by this game's inaccessibility. Few puzzle games are harder. Even the training missions are likely to leave your head spinning. The rules are logical but complex, and the simplistic visuals provide only the bare minimum of visual information necessary to graphically represent potential functions and operations. Expect to invest several hours before really getting the hang of things and to be challenged from start to finish.

Violence

Text sequences reference industrial accidents such as malfunctioning airlocks and a rogue robot but without much detail. However, later in the game the text elaborates on graphic moments of death, describing the smell of "decaying flesh" and the explosion of a man's skull that sends "chunks of flesh and blood flying."

Sex
Not applicable
Language

One occurrence of the word "hell."

Consumerism
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable
Privacy & safety

Minor privacy and safety concerns. This is a single-player game, but players can create and submit their own puzzles to be shared with others.  

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that SpaceChem is a puzzle game based on logical and scientific concepts. Players design circuits around which custom-designed molecules flow, frequently altered by property-changing "waldos." Its text narrative tells a simple sci-fi story with some mature themes, including descriptions of bloody deaths, but there is no graphic violence. However, the game is so complex that younger players will have a difficult time wrapping their minds around even its most basic concepts. It could prove a good aid for older kids learning about chemistry, programming, and engineering; but others may be turned off before moving beyond the training stages.

What kids can learn

Subjects

Math

  • patterns
  • sequences

Science

  • engineering
  • chemistry

Skills

Thinking & Reasoning

  • logic
  • analyzing evidence
  • solving puzzles
  • applying information

Creativity

  • developing novel solutions
  • imagination
  • producing new content

Self-Direction

  • work to achieve goals
  • effort
  • motivation

Emotional Development

  • developing resilience
  • persevering

Engagement, Approach, Support

Engagement

Simple presentation and some very meaty logical concepts make this game a tricky one to get into. However, if kids can crack its foreboding shell they'll likely find the puzzles inside quite compelling.

Learning Approach

The chemistry isn't completely authentic, but the logic is rock solid. It's a lot like programming, and players will be able to transfer what they learn here to their work in science, mathematics, and software design.

Support

There's a lot to learn upfront, and even with the tutorial it can be hard going. Luckily, there's an active online community for the game, including an solution discussion forum on the official website.

What kids can learn

Subjects

Math

  • patterns
  • sequences

Science

  • engineering
  • chemistry

Skills

Thinking & Reasoning

  • logic
  • analyzing evidence
  • solving puzzles
  • applying information

Creativity

  • developing novel solutions
  • imagination
  • producing new content

Self-Direction

  • work to achieve goals
  • effort
  • motivation

Emotional Development

  • developing resilience
  • persevering

Kids can learn about logic, chemistry, engineering, and sequencing in this complicated but rewarding puzzle game about building complex molecular compounds. Players need to analyze each puzzle, examining available commands and molecules in order to figure out how they might be used to create an original and efficient solution to the given problem -- perhaps one that hasn't been thought of before. Its exceptional level of difficulty is likely to turn off more kids than it attracts. Players who take on the challenges of SpaceChem will find that its concepts apply to a range of logic-based real-world disciplines. 

This Learning Rating review was written by Chad Sapieha

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What's it about?

SPACECHEM puts players in the shoes of a trainee reactor engineer who works to design circuits that act as paths for molecules and their constituent atoms. The player must develop chemical compounds and place commands that change the behavior of \"waldos\" as they move along the circuit grabbing, dropping off, and otherwise manipulating chemical compounds. Molecular cycles are tracked to mark players' efficiency as they work to create specific types of products and deliver them to output areas. As players progress, they eventually work with multiple reactors spread across a planet, where the work from one reactor impacts that of another, creating a complex production map. The current version of the game on computers also supports a sandbox mode in which players can experiment as well as create user-generated puzzles.

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 

SpaceChem is one of those niche games that only appeals to a select few, but if you're one of them you're likely to be passionate about it. In this case, those people are kids and adults with a natural aptitude for disciplines including chemistry, math, programming, and engineering. The chemistry at work here is fictional, but the logic is similar, as are most of the terms. Working on these "visual program" puzzles -- all of which have open-ended solutions that provide room for creative reasoning -- is like attacking logic problems the same way engineers do: there's no one right answer, but there are more efficient answers. Finding them is part of the fun.

Unfortunately, those who fall outside this group may find the bombardment of complicated rules and unfamiliar terms to be overwhelming and off-putting. This is nothing like Tetris or Bejeweled. SpaceChem offers up some extremely demanding puzzles that you're unlikely to solve -- or at least solve efficiently -- by fluke. Don't be dissuaded by the difficulty; just know you that you need to be up for a serious challenge. 

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about using logic to solve problems. What sorts of real-world problems have you solved simply by thinking about them and noodling out an answer? Do you think you're good at it? Is this the sort of thing you'd like to do for a living?

  • Families can also discuss science. Do you enjoy thinking about how things work at microscopic or macroscopic levels? Do you find you have a facility for clearly envisioning abstract ideas and seeing how they might connect? Which have you enjoyed more, your classes in chemistry or your schoolwork in physics?

Game details

Platforms:Mac, Windows
Price:$9.99
Available online?Not available online
Developer:Zachtronics Industries
Release date:January 1, 2011
Genre:Puzzle
Topics:Space and aliens
ESRB rating:NR for No Descriptors (Mac, Windows)

This review of SpaceChem was written by

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Quality

Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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