Assemble With Care Review: The Fix Is In

Ahhh, the ol' pencil-in-the-cassette trick. Only 80s kids will understand.
Ahhh, the ol' pencil-in-the-cassette trick. Only 80s kids will understand. (Image credit: iMore.)

Think long enough about nearly every video or computer game, and a commonality emerges: breaking stuff. Whether you're smashing bricks, pots, crates, or killer robots, a vast swath of our digital entertainment lives and dies by casual vandalism. Apple Arcade's Assemble With Care takes a refreshingly different approach, letting you relish the joy of putting busted things — and their damaged owners — back together, one little piece at a time.

Taking stuff apart to make it work better proves weirdly thrilling.

Assemble with Care (Image credit: ustwo games)

Pulse-pounding screw-removal action

Traveling repairperson Maria breezes into the pastel paradise of Bellariva, her latest stop after a year away from her family. She's there to fix stuff, make a little cash, and enjoy the local food festival before she hops her next train.

The game challenges you to repair objects for Maria's clients, starting with a cassette whose tape needs to be spooled back in with a well-placed pencil, and gradually building toward more complex jobs. Assemble With Care keeps the things you're fixing and the way you're fixing them pleasantly varied, even taking occasional fun digressions into tasks that aren't strictly repair-oriented.

You might have to think a few steps ahead, or tinker and test different components and arrangements to see what works, but you'll never get stumped or frustrated. If anything, the trial and error just adds to your enjoyment. (Delightfully, the cup of coffee sitting in a corner of the screen for each repair session summons the options menu.)

Making stuff work feels amazing, emotionally and in the game's many tactile joys. The touch controls work magnificently and intuitively, and on my iPhone, I adored the subtle haptics when I unscrewed a screw and plunked it into a bowl for safekeeping. Sure, you're doing a dumbed-down version of actual repair work, with a spare component for whatever happens to be cracked or burnt out miraculously and immediately at hand. But it's still so much fun to take things apart and figure out how to fix them. If anything, I wished the repair puzzles were tougher and more involved, just because I'd find the satisfaction of solving them all the sweeter.

Swipe up to reunite estranged loved ones

Maria's repair jobs end up drawing her into the orbit of two local families: the town's harried mayor and his spunky daughter, and an odd-couple set of estranged sisters. Every object Maria fixes leads her deeper into their lives, bringing out the cracks and fractures in their relationships, and gradually helping them mend what's gone wrong.

This story would work a lot better, and prove more affecting than it already is, if the game gave it more room to breathe. Budget constraints clearly kept the cast small, but while Maria offhandedly mentions other customers, it still seems weird that she fixes so many things for a total of four people in the three days or so she's in town. And while those people have at least a touch of depth and nuance to them, they're all so gosh-darned nice (in the end if not immediately), and their problems seem so surmountable, that you come away feeling the game has missed an opportunity for something deeper and more nuanced.

Worse yet, Maria's a bit of a cipher herself, with exactly one highly telegraphed and easily resolved issue of her own. (I found it odd to hear Maria voiced by Rebecca LaChance so soon after I enjoyed her performance as a far livelier character in The Bradwell Conspiracy.)

I did really enjoy how the game ties each object to the lives and memories of its owner. In fact, the story works best when it shuts up and lets the objects do the talking. An engraving inside a watch, a slide stuck in a projector, or a lullaby on an old cassette tape say far more, and prove far more touching, than the game's perfectly respectable voice acting does.

Superglue. Is there anything it can't fix?

Superglue. Is there anything it can't fix? (Image credit: iMore)

Light, fun, and delightfully distracting

In fairness, Assemble With Care isn't aiming for a meaty, thought-provoking experience. It's not even striving for the trippy mythology of creators UsTwo's justly acclaimed Monument Valley series. It just wants to give you a pleasant series of five-minute mini-vacations to a land of pleasingly chunky brushstrokes, soothing colors, and chillwave music.

With 11 different objects to fix (plus your suitcase, whose unpacking and packing bookends the narrative), the game doesn't feel unfairly short, but you'll probably come away wishing it ran longer. Not only would that allow you more of the fun of fixing stuff, but it might also have kept the story from feeling so hasty and compressed.

Still, it's hard to hold a grudge against a game this relentlessly sweet and soothing. The world can feel pretty broken sometimes, especially these days. So the chance to put something back together for a change, whether it's a telephone or a family bond, feels like a triumph to savor — even if you wish you had to work a little harder to make it happen.

Nathan Alderman

Nathan Alderman is an iMore contributor. He’s been using Apple computers since his first Apple IIe in 1985, and writing professionally about Macs and their software since 2005. During his 12 years freelancing for Macworld, he covered email clients, web browsers, web design programs, writing apps, and games, and he’s continued to follow those interests at iMore since 2017. An editor and writing coach in his full-time career, he spends his dwindling spare time writing fiction for fun, volunteering for democracy, and contributing to podcasts on The Incomparable Network. Nathan adores his wife and wrangles his alarmingly large children in bucolic Crozet, VA.