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Machinarium

Score: 80%
ESRB: Not Rated
Publisher: Gamer's Gate
Developer: Amanita Design
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Adventure/ Puzzle

Graphics & Sound:

I am glad that I agreed to play Machinarium. It isn't often that I get to experience the joy of a fresh and exciting new adventure in a robot-inhabited metropolis. Machinarium reignites the nostalgia for point-and-click adventure games by making the genre contemporary, but also maintaining the same spirit of the old days.

All of the visual assets in Machinarium are hand-drawn and animated which makes the results simply astounding. Machinarium looks like a moving painting in motion and the adorable character designs will charm your pants off. The cute little robot who journeys this adventure has some of the coolest personality traits (and dance moves) that you have ever seen.

The soundtrack is the perfect blend of fantasy and whimsy, which compliment the art style very well. Think of a blend between Tim Burton and Salvador Dali as a close example of the universe of Machinarium. None of the characters actually speak, but all the emotions and important info are conveyed through non-verbal actions, like behavioral quirks or animated dialogue balloons that play a brief flashback. This is where Machinarium shines. The unconventional approach to storytelling is the most charming part because it works so well. I never felt lost (although I did feel stumped) since Machinarium always left neat visual cues.


Gameplay:

Josef is a small orphan robot that has been kicked out of the machinated metropolitan city and you have to help him find his way back into the city to save his robo-girlfriend. Unfortunately, it won't be that easy, because Josef has a problem with the resident gang, known as the Black Cap Brotherhood, who torment and antagonize the citizens and local authorities.

At first, Machinarium leaves you in the dark about what is going on because of the reliance on subtle narrative. It isn't long before a plot takes shape, when Josef disguises himself as a police officer and then takes it upon himself to stop the Black Cap Brotherhood's nefarious plot that threatens the entire city.

The entire setup of Machinarium is merely a guise to guide the player from puzzle to puzzle and the occasional mini-game. Since Machinarium is all hand-drawn, moving around the city is broken into individual screens which Josef explores. Each screen means a new puzzle (or two) and along with the appealing mini-game, the splendid adventure really trades on the personality of Josef and his quirks to act as a reward for solving each new puzzle. It definitely works; the puzzle involving a musical trio was so much fun because Josef busts out his sweet dance moves after each band member he helps.


Difficulty:

Machinarium is deviously difficult. Anyone familiar with the adventure genre knows about the frustrations of combing objects and using these objects in the environment to solve complex and multi-part puzzles. To cope with the difficulty, Machinarium offers a two-part hint system. The first form is a use-anytime hint balloon that shows the end result of the particular puzzle Josef finds himself in. It doesn't tell you how to reach that end, but it does help if you have been particularly observant of your surroundings.

The second system involves a little red book in the top-right corner of the screen with a digital lock. The book holds a detailed walk-through of the puzzles, but in order to earn the privilege to look at the book, you have to play (and beat!) and small side-scrolling shooter mini-game. Even when you beat the mini-game, the book doesn't tell you the whole solution. It uses cryptic and confusing characters to illustrate a general solution to the puzzle instead of a specific and detailed walkthrough. Which begs the question: "Why bother?" Why bother with the mini-game when it still won't give you the answers you need and you still have to play the shooter every time you open the book? You had better write those steps down, because you won't be able to look back and forth to determine on which step in the puzzle you might be stuck.


Game Mechanics:

The entirety of Machinarium consists of clicking on different parts of the screen. Josef interacts with anything in his immediate vicinity, but you can extend that range by using Josef's robotic legs to raise or lower his body. At times, it can be a little aggravating to pinpoint the path Josef travels because of the 2-D plane, but the best solution to any problem is to keep clicking. I often found myself madly clicking every pixel on the screen looking for the next interactive object to continue my pursuit of Machinarium's esoteric puzzle design.

When Josef picks up an object, he stows it away in his gullet by swallowing it whole. The object is then available in an inventory menu where you can combine, observe, and remove objects at will. It is still difficult to tell what objects can and cannot be combined, but, once again, it is easily resolved by trial-and-error.

Machinarium is a wonderfully delightful indie title. Unfortunately, the steep puzzle design and lack of any proper replayability really damper an otherwise excellent game. Machinarium may be the most beautiful game of the year and it is definitely a must-play, but be aware of its old-school traditions and conventions before diving in.


-HanChi, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Hanchey

Minimum System Requirements:



Microsoft Windows XP/Vista/7, 1.8 Ghz Processor, 1GB Memory, 380MB Hard Drive Space
 

Test System:



Windows Vista, 3.16 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 4 GB RAM, DVD Drive, 500 GB Hard Drive, NVIDIA GeForce 9800 GT

Related Links:



Nintendo Wii City Builder Microsoft Xbox 360 Alpha Protocol

 
Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated