Genre: Fantasy Adventure, Indie Developer
Platforms: PC (Reviewed), Mac, Linux, iPad2
Release Date: October 16, 2009 (English Download and Russian, German & Italian CD Versions) March 2010 (English CD Version)
Note: Originally published 18 December 2009
I can make this really short and sweet:
Download and start playing Machinarium today.
OW!!! [That was Randy whacking the back of my head.]
Okay, okay I’ll be a little more specific. Machinarium is what might have happened if Dreamworks’ overlooked 1996 masterpiece The Neverhood and Pixar’s Wall E had a baby.
The game takes place in a brown city of ugly and awkward robots. The nameless main character is a meek but resourceful little dude who spends most of the game dealing with bullies and trying to get back to his girlfriend.
The gameplay is beautifully intuitive. You control the main character with the mouse, Your pointer changes in hotspots around the screen. If you can walk somewhere, the pointer becomes moving legs. If you can interact with something, you see a hand icon. Arrows indicate places you can jump or climb.
Two interesting quirks add an additional layer of complexity to the basic gameplay. First, you only get an interaction icon if you are actually close enough to interact with the object in question. In other words, you can’t tell from across the room whether that chair you see can be picked up. You won’t know until you walk over to it. The same is true for arrows which indicate possible jumps up or down. This may sound annoying, but the environments are so contained that it’s not a burden. It actually serves to help focus you on the tasks at hand.
The second gameplay innovation is that your little robot character has three different “sizes.” There’s his normal configuration, which allows him the speediest movement. But he can also stretch to become taller or compress to become shorter, thus rendering additional areas of the game world accessible.
There is a narrative to the game, but like everything else about Machinarium, it’s presented in a charmingly quirky way. There is no dialog or speech in the game, but you periodically see thought-bubble-like callouts which let you know what a character wants, or even a bit of history your character might have with another.
The puzzles in the game are a combination of inventory collecting and combining and classic Solve the Puzzle Room mechanics. For the most part the puzzles make sense, and there are contextual clues to help you.
The game even has a two-tiered hint system for when you really get stuck. There is one hint per level which, when you access, gives you a visual nudge in the right direction. If that’s not enough, there’s a little mini-game you can play which will unlock a blueprint of the entire series of steps you need to complete to accomplish your current objective.
This is a Flash game, which means the graphics are simple and low-tech, but they are beautifully crafted and very easy on the eyes. The musical score is unusual and evocative, and the sound design is full of nice little details. These three elements -- visual design, sound design and music – create a surprisingly engaging atmosphere. It’s all very moody and melancholy, but you won’t stop rooting for your plucky little hero. In fact, the whole affair is pleasantly reminiscent of a classic silent Buster Keaton movie, as you and your plucky hero battle the odds in search of true love.
This is a very modest game with big ambitions. I don’t think I’ve played a game since Portal with so few things to complain about. It costs $20 and you should be playing it right now. You can download it from the company’s website listed above. Enjoy!
Final Grade: A
If you liked this game, then
Play: Botanicula, The Neverhood or either of the first Oddworld games
Windows XP/Vista/7, Mac OS x (10.4 or newer) or Linux (try the demo first)
Processor: 1.6 GHz
Hard disk space: 380MB
Minimum screen resolution: 1024x768 (1280x800 or higher recommended)