Machinarium Review: Top Notch Point and Click
This game looks and sounds beautiful, adorable and cool at the same time. It has some hilarious moments and some of the most brilliant adventure game puzzles you’ll see. Buy it, or read the review, then buy it.
Amanita Design has been wowing players with their Samorost series since it first arrived. The unique, whimsical, art style and varied sound track were tied to interesting puzzles, and gamers fell in love with these Flash games and their robot hero. Following Samorost 2, Machinarium is the most ambitious release from Amanita to date.
Gameplay refinements and even more interesting art and locales have resulted in a must play point and click adventure. It is unlikely you won’t love it.
Beyond a solid UI, which Machinarium delivers, what makes or breaks gameplay in an adventure game are the puzzles. This is a big challenge: no one likes to get stuck, but no one wants to breeze through a game either. Most importantly, puzzles have to make sense, at least according to some internal logic of the game world. Getting hung up and having to think about a puzzle and try different things is part of the fun, but if when the solution is found, it is a random and nonsensical guess, the frustration is doubled as retroactive.
Puzzles should take some thinking and experimenting, but when solutions are found, they should result in an “Aha!" moment, not a “What the… ?" one. Machinarium goes one better, often making you laugh out loud at the comical tactics needed to progress. The puzzles don’t always make common sense, but they always make sense according to the strange but adorable world you wander.
You have to think in terms of being this cute robot in this odd place, which helps you get into the game. For instance, your body can accordion to a much shorter or much taller size, and this is used in puzzles throughout the game. You discover this early in the game when after a long fall, you are forced to reassemble your strewn about components.
There are an astounding number of mini games, mostly being puzzles within the larger point and click puzzles, such as activating an elevator control panel by moving toggles into the correct patterns, or adjusting knobs to direct water and flood a robot crook hide-out. A few are more action based, which may be frustrating for those who don’t like and aren’t good at quick clicking, but you would have to really not like it and be really not good at it, as they are few, far between, and not more than a moderate challenge even for a gamer that doesn’t keep their reaction time at First Person Shooter standards.
Machinarium: Great Puzzles, Graphics, and Sound
The story isn’t superb in the sense of plot twists or anything along those lines, but the exposition is brilliant. There is no dialogue in the game: everything you need to know is explained by cute little cartoons in speech and thought bubbles. It is reminiscent of those cartoons with no words, or gobbledygook words, or Mr. Bean. And it is frankly hilarious.
The animations contribute as well, and many times the results of solving a puzzle are humorous. The robot hero will often either get toppled in some clumsy slapstick, or pull off sweet back flips and slide down banisters, depending on if the move is planned or he is taken unawares by the results of his tinkering.
Even the inventory system raises the bar in terms of cuteness and continuity. For decades, items collected by point and click adventurers disappeared into an extra-dimensional inventory. The greatest nod to the restrictions of physical space seen in this context was to call the inventory a “Backpack" and, in truly exemplary cases, the on screen character actually wore a backpack.
In Machinarium, picking up an item involves opening your mouth very wide, and tossing the item through a high arc ending in your gaping metal maw. When you need something, just stick in your arm and take it out. It’s a brilliant and funny way to solve to inventory continuity issue many gamers have taught themselves to ignore.
Machinarium’s Hint System
If the cursor is held near the top of the screen, inventory items will appear at the top left, and two icons will appear at top right. One is a light bulb, and the other looks like a detector of some kind. Clicking the light bulb will reveal one hint per area, in a thought bubble cartoon as described in the story section. The detector thing, when clicked, is brought up center screen, and it is then clear that it is a book with a very elaborate lock, and a screen on the lock.
By playing through a simplified side-scrolling shooter for under a minute, you unlock the book. This lets you access the walkthrough for the screen you are on. It is in comic book style, using the familiar little drawings from the thought and speech bubbles to show you the way through step by step.
It is one of the better built-in hint/walkthrough systems I’ve seen. The mini game gets pretty boring if you use the walkthrough too much, which is a good way to encourage trying a few things on your own before just giving up and resorting to it. The only problem that could arise is that an adventure gaming purist who hates anything involving reaction time and shooting could get a bit frustrated, particularly if they already reached wit’s end before clicking on the walkthrough.
Graphics and Sound in Machinarium
Machinarium continues the beautiful and unique visual style found in the Samorost titles, though the setting is more urban, which I found even more interesting. Being in a city where many puzzles span several screens, and many screens are connected in more than one way, or in odd ways like elevators or one way drops, created the sense that the whole city was a large, single, organism.
Everything looks right out of a very high quality graphic novel. Amanita has been constantly lauded for their art style, and how they deliver such a unique graphical setting is an excellent question. Luckily, their founder, Jakub Dvorsky, will be speaking about just that at the Montreal International Games Summit this November, and he was gracious enough to agree to an interview there. Follow me on Twitter (@gameandpc) to find out when it is available and more news I’m able to turn up at MIGS.
The sound, again following in the footsteps of Samorost 1 and 2, is astounding. From the ambient noises that accompany exploration to the band jamming away outside the bar, the only constant is that the music suits what is taking place. Some of the game’s best moments are when the tunes kick in and the hero or other robots let the rhythm take control and dance their hearts out. It was all I could do not to get my own groove on at points.
Machinarium: in Conclusion
Anyone that likes point and click adventure games really can’t go wrong with Machinarium. Whether you are part of Samorost’s devoted cult following or someone just discovering this series and the Czech developers responsible for it, Machinarium is not to be missed by any adventure gamer. Someone that truly can’t stand action gaming may find three points, and the walkthrough system, somewhat frustrating, but if you hate it that much, it is probably worth having someone play through them for you and not miss out on the rest of the game.
It will take a while to reach a final verdict, a big decision like this has to be made slowly, but Machinarium might just be my new favourite point and click adventure game of all time.