Developer: Amanita Design
Publisher: Amanita Design
Genre: Point & Click Adventure
ESRB Rating: Not classified (E10+ by my estimate, there are some tough puzzles)
Hours Played: 5-6
Progress: Completed the game on PC and Mac
Machinarium, with its originally limited release (it’s now available through Steam in addition to from the company’s website), didn’t get much of the press and hype that it very much deserved. Point and click adventure games as a whole tend to be rather niche these days as the market trends toward explosions, shooters, and general real-time action games. While I am not against such a trend at all, it does have the side-effect that gaming gems in unpopular genres tend to fall through the cracks and get missed by the majority of the gaming populous. Machinarium is a game that you shouldn’t just skip over and here’s why:
At the beginning of the game, you’re dumped unceremoniously into a scrap pile (you play as a little robot dude that is moderately cute, the furthest left robot in the screen above) with little or no introduction. The story then slowly builds itself through traditionally animated sketch-like cut-scenes presented in thought bubbles that appear above the protagonist and simply navigating the surreal world around you. I don’t want to give too much of the story away, partially because it will remove some of the mystique of playing the game for you, and partially because it is fairly hard to explain in plain words. The over-arching premise of the game is to stop some bully/gangster robots from blowing up the main tower in the city whilst saving your girlfriend robot of sorts. There is no voice-acting or text in the game at all. Everything you learn is through symbols and robotic squeaks and clanks. This makes the game transcend language (incidentally Amanita Design is in the Czech Republic) and helps the story’s already universal appeal.
The graphics of Machinarium are unparalleled in the gaming world, except perhaps if you consider Amanita’s other games like Samorost. Everything everywhere is essentially hand-drawn and seamlessly blended and animated within the game’s world. In almost every scene there are things happening in the foreground, close to the metaphorical “camera”, and far away in the background. Adding additional parallax-like planes to the game’s world even furthers one’s immersion in the game and brings the corroded. In many ways the metal-dominated, corroded, and mechanical Steampunk world in Machinarium is more alive than most organic worlds of any type in any other gaming genre. Each NPC that you meet is quite unique and has character that perhaps couldn’t even have been properly established using words. The levels of beauty, immersion, and complexity achieved through characters that are not technically alive or communicate in intelligible ways is also unprecedented in the gaming universe. It’s just simply amazing that a game that costs $20 can have such unique and impressive art direction. Remember to click the image at the beginning of this review to enlarge it and see the fantastic graphics in a more appropriate way.
A game can be as visually stunning as it wants, but without appropriate sounds, the experience would be entirely sullied for the majority of gamers. Luckily, Amanita did a fantastic job on the sound in Machinarium. The best aspect of the sound in Machinarium is probably the ambient noises featured throughout. While the foreground and background are lively and animated, these animations are coupled with appropriate noises that draw your attention to them at first, and then become as much a part of your adventure as ambient noises are in one’s everyday life. There are many clanks and creaks emanating from all around your character, all appropriate and plausible, throughout the game. Everything sounds either as you would image or even better or more unique then you’d expect. The music is ethereal and entrancing, always appropriate and able to blend harmoniously with the rest of the game’s impressive world. The best music in a game sets the tone so well that it is hardly noticed, and that is just the case for the music in Machinarium.
Controls are pretty standard for point-and-click adventure games. You click where you want your character to go and he goes there. One thing slightly different from other point-and-click games I have played is that you can only click on environmental objects to interact with them if your character is near them. This differs even from Amanita’s other mini adventure games. It adds to your immersion, though, as it is more plausible that one can only interact with one’s immediate surroundings. You have an inventory “shelf”, so to speak, just like in most other point-and-click adventure games. This functions in precisely the same way as one would expect, you drag items in and out of it to use them on objects in the main robot’s environment. The items are said to be kept within the robots stomach as he swallows anything added to the inventory. Other than standard pointing and clicking, though, there is not much to note about this game’s control scheme.
Through the combination of spectacular audio and visuals, the gameplay is pretty much always a pleasure in Machinarium. This game is not just media-candy, though, the puzzles in this game range from pleasantly surprising to mind-breakingly difficult. Aside from the classic point-and-click fare, there are several minigames throughout the game proper that could all have been expanded into successful games in their own right. Most of them involve some degree of logic and can be just as challenging, if not more so, than the rest of the game. The best feature of the game actually comes from the harmonizing of a hint-system with one of these minigames. The minigame is one where you move either up and down to avoid running into walls while shooting spiders out of your way. The game is presented in a classic LCD black/green style and can be most likened to a simplified version of Gradius. Upon completing a medium-sized level, the book upon the cover of which this game takes place opens up and shows you a complete storyboard, still without words, illustrating quite prettily everything that is achievable in the current view of the world. If you forget something or need to look at the book again, though, you need to complete a slightly different level of the Gradius-like game again for the book to re-open. The only thing that slowed my gameplay slightly, aside from the sometimes mind-numbing puzzles, was the “move somewhere, then interact with things in your immediate vicinity” method of movement mentioned above. Once you’re used to it, it ceases to present much of a problem, but I’ve been well-trained to just click on things and expect the characters to make their own ways over to the objects by most of Telltale Games’ games. Overall, gameplay is a treat and is just as strong of a factor in this game’s brilliance as the audial and visual elements.
Once you finish your 5-6 hours of gameplay (fewer hours if you’re better at the puzzles than I was), you’re pretty much done with the game. Some point and click adventure games allow you to go back after you’ve completed the main story of the game and find all of the little nuances that you might have missed, but Machinarium pretty much doesn’t. I think that this was actually a wise decision, though, as it makes the game an experience that must be taken as a whole and avoids cheapening the heavy ambiance by trivializing the story and letting you bum about after you’ve done what you set out to do. Unless you want to play it over and see if you’ve missed anything cool, there isn’t much continued value in the game once you’ve finished the main story. Additional play-throughs, though, are not a bad thing, as you’ll likely forget the solutions to some of the puzzles and be able to experience some of the your original frustration over again. That’s certainly what happened to me.
The versions available on PC and Mac are identical. Machinarium is Flash-based, so it’s portable within that specific environment and thus precisely the same across the board. If you’ve ever enjoyed a point and click adventure game, or are even new to the genre, Machinarium is a great choice for everyone. With its story that transcends race and language, and its impressive unparalleled audio and visual elements, this game is a treat for gamers of all ages, as long as you play with someone who is either good at Gradius or solving puzzles.
+ Original story-telling methodology (no words)
+ Universally understandable and applicable story
+ Good character development in spite of their mute nature
- Story is not terribly complex or sweeping
+ Astounding graphics for every element of the game (hand-drawn eroded steampunk)
+ Graphics are scalable as they are drawn in the Flash environment
+ Very apt sounds for the entire game world
+ Sounds often develop characters better than words could
+ Immersive sounds make the game’s world come to life in spite of its domination my machines
- Creaking and clanking can get annoying if you get stuck in a certain part of the game for too long
+ Standard point and click adventure fare, tried and true
- Main character is not smart enough to walk over to something if you click it
+ Puzzles that range from super easy to “strangle a kitten” difficult
+ Minigames mesh nicely with the game’s world and are both fun and challenging
+ Great method for presentation of hints during gameplay
- Game is pretty short overall
+ Multiple play-throughs are equally enjoyable as the first one
+ Game is meant to be played as a whole to keep the story and gameplay unsullied
- Nothing explicitly new presented on multiple play-throughs