For a fresh-faced player of Keebles, the feeling evoked is that of being Wiley Coyote, Dr. Robotnik, or some other wildly unsuccessful maniacal engineer. However, unlike those evil masterminds, the goal here is to construct vehicles in order to help a group of furry little creatures, known as Keebles, travel to a distant side of their land. There, the Whale at the End of the World will transport them to a place where their quest for mushrooms can continue.
It’s a simple story that leaves a lot of questions for the player. Why do they need mushrooms so badly? Who exactly is this whale? Alas, these questions (among countless others) are never answered. We must just blindly help these fungi-consuming balls of fur with our only source of motivation being the joy we receive in tinkering with our constructed automobiles. This proves, for the most part, to be sufficient.
But before you start building, you’ll need to survey the landscape and try to envision a route towards the colourful collection of mushrooms that mark the finish line. There are 30 levels to traverse, each varying a great deal in size and shape – although unfortunately not graphically (there are grass levels, and there are sand levels). Despite its repetitive setting, Keebles is cute and colourful, and features a bright, if limited, soundtrack. However, this brightness for the most part only serves to mask levels that can either be deceptively simple, or extremely intimidating.
To build your fabulous contraptions, you’ll need to get yourself into the workshop. There, you must connect an array of gadgets and beams, including wheels, parachutes, balloons, and boosters, to a glass bubble. Most of these gadgets can be controlled while in a stage, and others move independently. There will be a different amount of gadgets available to you depending on the level, and using too many will result in a points deduction from your overall score.
Worrying about achieving a high score or beating time challenges won’t be on your mind on your first playthrough, as Keebles poses quite a sharp learning curve. This may hinge somewhat on your personal knowledge of physics and engineering; it took me a while to get to grips with construction, and thus required a fair effort to even make my vehicles cross the finish line. It didn’t help that the tutorial is lacking and doesn’t exactly set you up for success. The game features a hint system, but this simply provides a blueprint of a vehicle which is pre-designed to get through the level. Something more subtle would have been nice.
Once you become comfortable with the basics of building, your feelings of frustration begin to dip. New levels surface intriguing ideas, which lead to innovation, and soon you’ll quickly be modifying minor details so that your vehicle can defy gravity, zoom around loops, and can drop its rocket speed to a standstill. But even after you clear a level, there’s still that incentive for you to return and perfect your score, and this is something that requires a great amount of creativity, dexterity, and ingenuity.
You’ll need to channel some of gaming’s most meticulous engineers in order to master Keebles. There’s a large set of Steam achievements to entice you along the way, as well as what I can only assume is an alternate ending. Unfortunately, these can only motivate you so far, and replaying levels can seem more of a chore than anything else. Nevertheless, Keebles does have its enjoyable moments, manages to provide a real challenge, and rewards you with some hard-fought eureka moments.