Andrew Bryant has found the perfect solution to reaching that jar on the top shelf!
Graphics are often the be-all and end-all for games these days, with elementssuch as gameplay and plot forced into a back seat roll. Luckily, Machinarium has all of these in veritable mechanical spades.
Amanita Design are no stranger to kooky universes – the award-winning Samarost games have wowed a fair few people since 2003 and Machinarium continues this trend – set in a closed mechanical society populated entirely by robots, the story chronicles one robots trials and tribulations in fighting evil, saving the city and getting the girl.
Machinarium is a old-school adventure game that starts out gently, breaking in even the most virgin of adventure gamers to how the game works in its first screen before ramping the difficulty up steadily the screens as puzzles spread out across multiple screens.
Said puzzles are never predictable or obvious, pushing the gamers ability to think laterally by forcing you to study entire scenes almost obsessively – unlike the traditional adventure, hotspots are only highlighted when your character is near them, preventing the usual wholesale click-a-thon that constitutes the average badly designed effort.
Should a puzzle prove too hard, the game features a two-tier help system – one designed to vaguely point the way through a puzzle, the other featuring in-depth walkthroughs to even the hardest of puzzles – the latter is always available, but access to the tome that holds the solution requires completion of an R-Type-esque mini-game. Designed to be the chore that they are, they exist as the last refuge of the terminally stuck and work well to discourage frustrated people who might just be missing the obvious.
A better way of playing is to just sit back and admire what is going on, as watching the goings on of the mechanical world often reveals just what needs to be done. The beautiful pixel-perfect artwork is complemented by flawless animation – the buskers just have to be seen to be believed – and a clever soundtrack that mixes electronic music compositions with a complete abscence of voice work – the opinions, wants and wishes of the mechanised population are communicated entirely through thought bubbles and emotions.
Despite the outward impressions of quality, all is not rosy… The games roots show through, especially when an accidental right-click brings up the generic Flash menu. It’s also limited to two resolutions, neither of which suits anymore than your generic laptop or 17“ monitor. The average netbook is right out unless you never want to use your inventory or save and you can be left squinting if you are lucky enough to have a larger widescreen monitor.
Still, if the hardware is capable, Machinarium represents several things – although the concept of ‘games as art’ is forever open to debate, the fantastic visual style is magical to watch in action and the distinct soundtrack frequently leaves me just listening to a scene, enjoying the experience. Some of the puzzles are obtuse enough to be annoying, but the help system prevents the brick wall syndrome that can ruin even the best adventure game.
For an indie release, it’s absolutely fascinating to see what is being created by small groups of developers with minimal monetary backing and a want to innovate and Machinarium represents the pinnacle of this.