Review / Machinarium

It’s around the moment where you’re atop a tower, swinging from a roll of toilet paper, working at disarming a bomb that’s going to explode in four minutes, when you realize that Machinarium is something special. The game, from start to finish, is a throwback to the point-and-click adventures of yore and if names like Full Throttle, Out of This World, and Myst bring tears of nostalgia to your eyes, then Machinarium is for you.

Like many point-and-click adventures, the game centers around a number of elaborate set pieces wherein you must acquire items to solve environmental puzzles and move the story forward. Unlike most typical adventures, Machinarium does not feature a verbose main character, nor does it force you to engage in tedious conversations with other characters to gain information. In fact, there’s no talking in the game whatsoever. The game takes place in a city of robots who primarily communicate with each other in the form of telepathic thought balloons. It is also through these thought balloons, also used as a device to depict flashbacks and memories, that much of the game’s story is revealed. The introduction involves your character, a small, gray, puppy-eyed robot, being placed in a trash heap and dumped outside the city walls. Your first goal is to regain entrance to the city. While doing so, you come across some old rivals who are planning on bombing the city’s tallest building. The rest of the game focuses on your efforts to foil this terrorist plot, although I won’t dare say another thing about the incredible story.

The first thing you’ll notice about Machinarium is its stunning artistic vision. The hand-drawn art is beautifully done and paired well with the game’s color palette, which oscillates between harsh, cold grays and blues and warmer tones of orange and brown. More than anything else, the game should be credited for effectively creating an interesting, living, immersive world with the complete absence of spoken language. While robots will occasionally grunt or groan to each other, much of their communication is conducted through roughly drawn thought balloons, wherein small cartoon stories play out. While there may be no speech, the music in Machinarium is abundant and fantastic. A fusion of modern techno and moody violin and piano, the score appropriately frames the emotions of each scene in the game.

The art, images, and music are all phenomenal, but the heart of an adventure game is in its puzzles and boy, does Machinarium have a lot of heart. The puzzles often perfectly strike that delicate balance between being challenging and being enjoyable. Often, just as your curiosity and bewilderment are about to peak, an “aha!” moment is afforded you, a puzzle is solved, and a new challenge is presented. That’s not to say that the game is not hard. In fact, some of the puzzles are so challenging that they seem strangely out of place. Moreover, the game relies far too heavily on board-based minigame puzzles. A particularly egregious example involved having to learn the arcane rules and strategy of a boardgame and subsequently beating an AI opponent. While I might be dating myself, anyone whose skin crawls at the mention of The Dig‘s geometric wand puzzles will equally loathe Machinarium‘s minigames.

An interesting system exists for providing assistance when a puzzle, or minigame, gets too challenging. If you’re lost as to where to go next, you can click for a hint, which will come in the form of a thought balloon from your main character. These thought balloons do not spell out exactly what you need to do, but show a picture of what objective you should be working at accomplishing. If that’s not enough, you can play (you guessed it) a hint minigame, very reminiscent of the Flash-based helicopter game with which I’m sure most of you are familiar.

Like everything else in the game, the menu system was also built with artistic vision in mind. The menu bar, hidden at the bottom of the screen, is appropriately austere and only pops up when you mouse over the edge of your screen. Saving and loading games are appropriately quick and easy. The game can be viewed at 80% screen size or 100% and if, like me, you play through on a 13-inch Macbook, you’re going to want to keep the screen at full 100%.

Adventure gaming seems to have been making a bit of a comeback, lately. Last year’s best game, in this reviewer’s humble opinion, was Braid. The Secret of Monkey Island was recently remastered for Xbox Live Arcade and Tim Schafer, godfather of the LucasArts adventure game, has found huge success with his new-age adventure Brütal Legend. Machinarium does much to continue the revival. Quite simply, it is an excellent, fun, beautiful, meaningful game. Not only will you enjoy it whilst playing, but you’ll find yourself thinking about it long after you’ve finished. Whether you’re a fan of adventure games, interesting games, stunning art, brainteasers, or great stories, Machinarium has something for you. It is highly recommended.

+ A traditional adventure game updated for the current generation, this game provides great gameplay, stunning visuals, and an interesting story
+ Puzzles often strike a balance between fun and challenging, and for those rare maddeningly difficult puzzles, a clever hint system can be used to move forward
+ The game exudes polish and provides a number of unique, memorable experiences

– The game is not very long and will provide days, rather than weeks or months, of enjoyment
– There is an over-reliance on difficult, frustrating minigame puzzles
– A few puzzles approach Myst IV levels of difficulty