Machinarium is an unexpected and delightful adventure title that will surprise and impress you.
It won’t matter if you’re a fan of the point-and-click adventure genre when you first delve into the depths of Machinarium. This game’s been cleverly structured to deliver a sharp and tasty experience no matter what your preferences.
Most titles in the adventure genre can be frustrating and tedious, it isn’t unusual for players to simply get fed up, quit and play something else. There’s a limit on your ability to cope with obscure puzzles and a frustrating lack of clues.
Machinarium, however, has tackled these issues ingeniously. To start with, most of the puzzles you’ll encounter are a wonderful cross-section, ranging from the strange to the familiar to the downright obvious. You’ll uncover puzzles that will take you back to the giddy days of Manic Miner and others that you used to play with your siblings on a cold Christmas afternoon.
What the developers have done is offer you several ways of solving these puzzles so you don’t lose interest. The first is a button that triggers a thought bubble showing you what you should be aiming for and the second is a complete solution that you can only read once you’ve completed a mini-game. The latter are fabulous side-scrolling shooters similar to the 1980s hit Scramble that are guaranteed to suck up a lot of your time.
The game doesn’t offer complete solutions lightly and as it progresses the solutions become increasingly broader and less obvious. Fans of adventure games will appreciate this purist attitude, knowing full well how satisfying that giddy elation you feel when you’ve laboriously solved a particularly difficult problem can be.
As you move through the world, the game guides you through interacting with the various elements and using your character’s adjustable height to, ahem, reach new heights. This takes about three seconds.
It’s a pleasure to not have to learn a staggering number of controls and buttons before sitting back and enjoying a game. Of course, the character’s adjustable height adds a new dimension to your puzzling and you may get truly stuck unless you remember this detail.
As I’ve already mentioned, the artwork is fantastic. The mesmerising world of our forlorn little robot is beautifully realised. I’d happily take any one of the screengrabs here and mount them in my office.
Independent Czech studio, Amanita Design, have put a lot of thought into the details. All in-game communication is handled using speech bubbles and the characters are so well designed that the lack of talking just adds to the experience. For example, if you leave your character doing nothing for long enough he’ll start reminiscing and some of his memories are hilarious. It’s also testament to the philosophy of “less is more”. Our protagonist’s reaction to stupid decisions or impossible actions is a simple noise and a headshake. Sounds like nothing but is in reality very expressive and, dare I say, very cute.
Adding to the imagery and animation is a wistful soundtrack and impeccable pacing. The music's woven neatly into the timing creating a soulful ambience that’s almost relaxing - until they suddenly change it with unexpected time-based puzzles and emotionally charged situations. By the time these roll around you’re so emotionally involved with your character that you find yourself frantically hunting for a solution before the worst can occur.
For anyone who usually plays the FPS, there’s that underlying sense of “must move faster” that the game belies but adds beautifully to the mood.
There are some fiddly little problems and issues that plague Machinarium, while not severe enough to ruin the game, they will result in some frustrations.
During the course of the game you have to try and grab every available object in the vicinity just in case you can use it at some point in the future. Although this is somewhat balanced by their usually being found where they’re most needed.
Amanita has also removed any issues with weighty inventories by having items automatically discarded once they’re used.
You may also get a little tired of the range of interaction offered in the game. As areas expand outwards it can become a little befuddling as puzzles pile up, items stack up and solutions remain out of reach. Additionally, your little robot has to be standing right next to the relevant item or equipment in order to use it and sometimes that means playing around incessantly with his height and walking for miles across cityscapes.
The Flash base means there’s no right-click and so extras like running or rapid inventory access can occasionally be sorely missed. You can’t speed up his pace or stop him mid-action if you’ve made the wrong click or two. Watching the same action repeated laboriously because you’ve made a silly error can get a bit tedious.
However, this is not a game for the eternally impatient or the desperate to win. It’s a rich treat for the senses that leads you gently into another realm and makes you believe in sad little robots and their happy little destinies. Machinarium is a rare treat, well worth playing as winter oozes in and we huddle beside our chassis’ for warmth.