Machinarium: robotic puzzle devilry

Machinarium, the name evokes images of a drab grey insane asylum where mentally damaged robots are committed and left to run amok. The asylums crumbling white plasterwork walls with rusty pipes stabbing through are an apt metaphor for the occupants that dwell within. Broken down and decaying rapidly but still possessing sharp edges that can cut and maim if you’re not careful...

Dark eh?

Well thankfully the game itself does not conform fully to the above imagery. While there ARE robots and a crumbling city there are no sharp edges to be seen and the mood is light and without menace. With that being said however the game world does feel like it is decaying and its inhabitants less than all there in the head in a strange robotic parallel of human infirmity. What helps to give the game its jaunty and light hearted feel is the soundtrack; beautifully composed and pitched at exactly the right tone to resonate with the visuals. The audio forms a large part of the game and steps more to the fore than in most others and as a testament to this it is bundled with the game if you purchase it!

Now what sort of game IS this I hear you ask? Well its part of a genre that had its heyday many years ago and is enjoying a recent resurgence known as the point-and-click-adventure. Some famous games of this pedigree are Myst, Kings Quest and Monkey Island. Machinarium’s gameplay is archetypal of the genre. The game is made up of a number of screens each one containing one or more puzzles that need to be solved. Completing a puzzle yields advancement to a new area or gifts you with an item or information that is needed to complete another screen.

Now a game of this type lives or dies by the quality of its puzzles and its ability to capture a player’s curiousity, at this Machinarium shines. It is a finely crafted example of the gameplay ideal; polished, intuitive and engaging. The puzzles are logical and the benefit of this can’t be overstated. There is nothing more satisfying than looking at an in-game object, thinking that a certain item would be useful and then finding that it does just what you thought it would. Now this doesn’t mean that the game is too easy, instead it makes the challenge manageable and rewarding. It is obvious that a great deal of effort went into refining this aspect of the game and it really makes it a pleasure to play.

robot protagonist standing on a stairway taking in the sights

just appreciating the scenery

So this is an Adventure game with good puzzles and gameplay, but what makes it really stand out from the crowd? Here the answer is clearly the quality and detail of the environments in combination with the immersive nature of the audio. The quality of the artwork and attention to detail makes each new area fun to explore, it is rare to find a screen that doesn’t make you want to just sit back and appreciate it for a few moments. Now I mentioned the soundtrack earlier and it really has a profound impact on the feel of the game. Each screen has its own background audio, some with music and others just with atmospheric sounds, either way this gives each screen its own personality. In this way the audio really helps to complement the visuals and makes each screen a memorable experience instead of just another step on the path. Importantly the audio also gives the game progression, just like a good album as you move from beginning to middle to end the mood progresses giving the impression of a journey. This coupled with the slick environments makes Machinarium feel complete, a well rounded package that executes on its promises and stays with you from start to finish.

Two other noteworthy features present are; mini-games and the hint system. The bane of any Adventure game is getting stuck and not knowing what to do, this forces you to wander aimlessly pushing and prodding everything in sight to try and find what it was that you missed. Now, as mentioned earlier, Machinarium has very logical puzzles but it still can’t escape from this bugbear. In one part of the game I needed to grab a plunger stuck to the roof and I just hadn’t seen it and I wasn’t going to. Now in this situation it can literally take you hours to work out what you missed, if you have that much patience. Machinarium deals with this by providing a detailed hinting system, so when you are stuck like this there is a way out. What is great about their implementation of this is that it really does hint at what you need to do and you can use it without feeling like you are spoiling the game! If however you get really stuck (and I did once or twice) there is an option to unlock the full script for the screen your on. To do so you need to complete a mini game, which is quite easy, and then you are presented with a beautifully sketched narrative for that screen.

Space Invaders Minigame

Space Invaders Minigame

Mini games are found throughout Machinarium and are integrated into the gameworld seamlessly so they feel like they are a part of it and not just added in for the hell of it. At one point you need to block water flow through some pipes and to do so you need to turn a number of valves, you can only turn three, you must choose wisely to stop the water flow… The games themselves are all logic puzzles and are difficult enough to provide a challenge but easy enough that most can be completed within a few minutes. All in all they are an enjoyable gameplay element and add to the experience.

Machinarium is a fine specimen of an Adventure game, it won’t blow your mind with innovation, but it WILL wow you with its quality and execution. So c’mon, come and hang out with the crazy robots for a while, sure that one cackles to himself every couple of minutes and the plumbing doesn’t obey the laws of physics, but you may just find helping to solve their problems is an interesting and enjoyable experience.

you can play the demo here online, it’s flash based so you don’t even have to leave your browser!

A lovingly crafted adventure game; atmospheric, intelligent and with just the right amount of challenge.

2 Responses to “Machinarium: robotic puzzle devilry”

  1. My housemate introduced me to this last week! So very cute. The graphics remind me of the children’s book illustrator Shaun Tan (The Red Tree, The Rabbits, etc), which pretty much sold the game for me before I’d played it.

    December 17th, 2010

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