Machinarium is a game many of you might not have heard about but it took the prize “Excellence In Visual Art” at this years’s Independent Game Festival and when you first see it you will not be questioning why. The game actually represents a moving graphic novel rather than a traditional adventure game.
When I first saw the game in action I actually thought back to stop motion film classics such as ‘The Nightmare before Christmas’ and even the latest high profile visual masterpiece from the immensely talented Henry Selick called ‘Coraline’. When you hear that to create those movies it takes one hour of work for every one second of movie time you can begin to appreciate all the work that goes into them. Machinarium is an old school point and click adventure with a very high difficulty setting. It will entertain and enlighten you, while frustrating and befuddling you in equal measure.
You take control of a funky little robot who is removed from his city with the trash. You travel through the run down and futuristic environment by pointing and clicking with the goal of reuniting him with his girlfriend at home (yes even robots need womanly love). There is also the underlining task of trying to stop a terrorist attack.
The little bundle of bolts can also expand and contract his body which makes for some rather amusing situations – you never get any dialogue but when he meets up with someone he knows from the past a little thought bubble appears over his head and it plays a short movie of a memory he has of them. It is a surreal experience but it is also extremely charming and memorable. You are presented with a series of easy and short challenges to get you familiarized with the game at the very start and then it kicks up a notch to really test your intelligence.
Much like other games in this genre you pick up items as you move along your journey and instead of putting them in a coat pocket, your Robot eats them and stores them in his hollow stomach. To keep matters slightly less complicated the game will remove the items from your possession when you use them in the correct way. Later on it would be a nightmare to work out the combinations of objects if you in fact still had objects you no longer needed, so it makes sense for the developers to initiate this idea.
Unfortunately the game is massively difficult and while I am sure that some people on our forums will say that I am a little dumb, I found it extremely taxing in the later stages to the point I was almost pulling out little clumps of my hair. Granted the developers have created a nice system of popping up a helpful light bulb in the top right corner of the screen and if you click it then the system will tell you the required tasks for that part of the world. It is only a hint though and it won’t tell you what you have to do to complete it.
I think even the developers knew the game was almost impossible to crack, because there is a built in walkthrough system which guides you to the end goal(s). This walkthrough works in an unusual way because you need to click a tome icon right next to the light bulb, and when you do this you play a quick 2D shooter mini game. If you win then you are shown a complete visual walkthrough of the room you are currently in. I would have liked another option for a substantial ‘hint’, rather than a complete walk through.
In regards to being forced to play a mini game to get a walkthrough guide I found it rather annoying as after playing it twice I just wanted it to be over before it actually begun. It takes about 2-3 minutes to complete and its just in place to make you jump through hoops to get a guide to get pass a frustratingly hard puzzle. I really do feel that if the developers had worked a little harder on fine tuning the puzzle designs then this walkthrough and subsequent mini game could have been entirely avoided.
Visually the game is quite stunning, with such a creatively inspired plethora of environments it is hard not to be almost rendered speechless when they are first seen. The world setting is also fascinating and the freedom to explore is only hindered by the immensely difficult puzzles.
Sadly the interface seems to cause a few issues because your robot can only analyze objects within his immediate surrounding environment so you have to be patient while he walks across the room to the object you need to investigate. This means if you explore each room as you need to, quite often you will be waiting reasonable amounts of time while he wanders around the locations. Once he moves, you can’t stop him either so if he ends up walking the full length of the screen you have to wait until he stops before you can move him back.
Machinarium is an inventive game with such a unique set of visuals that it is difficult not to fall in love with it. The robot you control is loaded with personality and is a very endearing character on your journey through the weird and wonderful world set before you. This is massively enhanced by the stunning soundtrack which is an eerie yet entrancing electronic based masterpiece which soothes the senses and also causes a certain amount of unease.
If you like your point and click adventure titles then Machinarium is going to hit the spot. While the graphics are certainly much more advanced than anything in the classic adventuring days, the underlying mechanic is firmly rooted in history. The game is certainly frustrating and there are times you will want to punch the screen when you get stuck behind yet another puzzle section, but it really has so much charm and personality it is hard not to recommend it. Those of you with anger management issues however may want to go back to squeezing the ball.
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