I haven’t written a review (or much of anything else really) in quite a while but having finally beaten the lovely Machinarium, I wanted to give the game its dues while it was still fresh in my mind.
Machinarium, by Czech studio Amanita Design, is a point-and-click adventure game that was released back in 2009. I purchased it shortly afterwards (mainly because of the demo) but I quickly became stuck and I decided to shelve for a later time. Fast forward almost three years later and Amanita’s newest game, Botanicula, is ready to be released. I saw a few videos of it and was sold instantly. This would be another game I’d purchase upon release but it just wouldn’t feel right to do that without first completing Amanita’s previous effort.
This was the perfect time to get back into Machinarium.
I picked up right where I had left off over two years ago and still was I dumbfounded. After rekindling my frustration with that part of the level, I did what any modern gamer would do in that situation and I, shamefully I admit, looked it up online. Turns out I wasn’t so crazy because the position of the item I needed (damn you, plunger!) was in a rather unorthodox and, quite frankly, preposterous place.
Thankfully, that was only one of two times where I could potentially place my failure to solve a puzzle on the game and not on myself (the second being one situation where I was doing exactly what was needed to solve the puzzle but not the way the game wanted me to). Aside from those two moments, the game moves at a brisk pace and the puzzles never have completely inconceivable solutions and are varied and elegant in their simplicity, never becoming more convoluted than they need to be. There is a non-intrusive hint system and it explains only what your end goal is in any given room. That is usually enough but, should you truly become stuck, there are step by step solutions to every puzzle given after the completion of a (admittedly dull) shmup-like minigame.
You’ll be operating machinery (appropriately enough) to complete your tasks the majority of the time and studying and figuring out how all these various contraptions work is half the fun in the game. The second half of your progression involves interacting with all the unique denizens and creatures that populate the world of Machinarium. Sometimes you’ll be causing mischief but, more often than not, you’ll be providing solutions to your fellow robots’ dilemmas.
Machinarium does not have a single word of text or dialogue. The game uses symbols, context and beautiful animation to direct and tell its story and, whenever it needs something less vague and more substantial, the storytelling is handled via thought bubbles that contain simple drawings and simple animations that serve as exposition or to explain character motivations. It’s always great to see how effective restraint can be and this is never truer than it is with Machinarium. You’ll hate the bad guys, you’ll root for our robot lead Josef and you’ll feel true empathy and sorrow for one of the later characters in the game. This seems to come up more and more often these days but the way this little game can make you emote far more than so many high-budget, AAA titles out there is nothing short of praiseworthy.
That’s all well and good but arguably the best thing about Machinarium, the very same reason why I was spellbound after I first laid eyes on it, is the beautiful, beautiful art direction. You’ve seen the screenshots by now and yes, it looks even better in motion. It’s a sublime looking game that comprises a hand drawn aesthetic married to just the right amount of texture giving the world a distinct and engrossing flavor. The character designs, the palette, the animation, every visual aspect of this game is brilliant from top to bottom. There was not a single new room I entered that did not amaze me. There was not a single character that didn’t bring a smile to my face (except the baddies, those guys are dicks) and there’s so much character in the environments themselves that it’s not surprising to find yourself simply staring and contemplating them. But it was the cleaning bots sealed the deal for me really. So adorable.
It’s not a perfect game though. The difficulty curve is technically inverted with the first few puzzles being almost devilish compared to some of the later ones. It’s also a rather short game depending on how robust your point-and-click vocabulary is and the ending isn’t much of an ending at all. But if games are to be about the journey and not the destination, then few games will captivate and thrill you as Machinarium does.
My own experience in point-and-click adventure games is limited I’ll admit but, for my money, Machinarium is the best one I’ve ever played.
Bring on Botanicula.Posted on April 27, 2012 in Reviews, Video Games |