I’m not exactly a fan of TV chefs. Smug, pretentious wannabe-aristocrats or overly-lively ‘youths’, I couldn’t care less if they drink or swear on telly and I’d rather watch a thirteen-hour-long documentary about soap than sit through a single episode of ‘Jamie’s Guatemala’. But I suppose I’ve got to hand it to them: they know about food. And they all agree on one thing – the best food is done using simple, fresh, high-quality ingredients.
Machinarium is a strange beast in the graphic adventure zoo. It’s simple, cheap, and has such relaxed system requirements you could install it on your toaster. Yet somehow it stands head and shoulders above many more complicated games. In an age where the old classic point-and-click games of yesterday are getting the ‘enhanced 3D’ treatment, Machinarium creators Amanita Design just shrug and create a 2D point-and-clicker in the old style, but with enough imagination and creativity to come up with something that can hold its head high in today’s gaming marketplace.
Look at Plants vs. Zombies. Look at World of Goo. These are games that teach an important lesson: good game design isn’t about skidoos and enormous explosions. Machinarium lives in this pocket of great game design that could have existed almost as well on an 8-bit machine in the 1980s, because what it offers is timeless.
Set in a whimsical world of robots and junk, where oil is sold in bars and every electrical junction box contains some kind of puzzle, you play a heroic little robot cast out of the city by…
Sorry, but I’ve got to stop myself from going any further. The game gives you no back story, so why should I? There are no controls to speak of, in fact there is no appreciable language of any kind. No dialogue, no in-game books or journals to read – nothing. There’s no real reason why you need to be able to read to play this game. There aren’t many games for which you can really say that!
You’re expected to tinker. Sit down, click to start a new game, and then just sort of start clicking on things and seeing what happens. The apparatus of the point-and-click adventure game is still in place – stuff goes into your inventory, you can combine things to make other things, and you need to give things to people in order to achieve arbitrary results. But this isn’t really what the game is about. It’s more about solving a constant barrage of little brain-teasers and fiendish lateral-thinking puzzles. Because there’s no real interface, it’s a wonderful spectator game. There’s no learning curve to the way the game is played, however each new puzzle or game needs a fresh approach. The best way to approach any of these puzzles is (as I mentioned up there, look) to tinker. Sometimes, you’ll just be messing with a puzzle, for the sheer fun of it, with no real goal in mind and suddenly aha! It all falls into place and you’re a winner. Even these accidental victories count, though, and you’ll swell with pride every time.
Graphically it has an ethereal and imaginative style that transcends 2D. If they’d tried to make it all 3D and everything, it’d never look nearly as good. The hand-drawn backgrounds reminded me of the excellent art of Tony DiTerlizzi, the guy behind the Spiderwick Chronicles and the worlds of Planescape. The music is precisely right as well, drawing you in to the world just as the music of Samorost did.
There’s not much to really criticise, at least that isn’t in some way justifiable. It’s very short, but with Gamersgate putting it out at £12.95, you get what you pay for. It’ll probably last you around ten hours or so, depending of course on your ability with puzzles. The proof of the pudding is in the completing, of course (you’ll never hear a TV chef say that), and when the final credits were rolling I found myself wanting more, which I suppose is both a good thing and a bad thing. It never got annoying, even when I was tearing my hair out trying to solve the thing that’d make the other thing do the stuff.
If puzzle games and graphic adventures are your meat and drink, you won’t need this review – you’ll have already gone out and bought this game. However, if a bit of mild puzzling once in a while to break up the zombies and Nazis, Machinarium comes highly recommended. It won’t last you more than a weekend, but it’s a weekend you’ll remember fondly.